Juniper Opens Up About SDN Strategy

Juniper Networks has joined the likes of Cisco and HP after it unveiled its SDN strategy going forward

Juniper Networks has followed in the steps of other networking vendors after it revealed its own SDN (software defined networking) strategy, which goes beyond bringing the OpenFlow protocol to more of its switches and routers.

Juniper executives had been saying the company had designs on the burgeoning SDN space, but until now, that essentially constituted supporting OpenFlow in its networking hardware and, more recently, buying startup Contrail Systems for its SDN controller technology.

Aggressive Move

That changed 15 January, when CEO Kevin Johnson and Bob Muglia, executive vice president of Juniper’s Software Solutions Division, took the stage at the company’s Global Partner Conference to unveil an aggressive SDN strategy that includes new products and a new licensing scheme that lets users focus on the software they’re using rather than the devices they’re running.

And the effort will go well beyond OpenFlow, with Muglia saying during the Webcast keynote that OpenFlow “is important, but it’s a protocol. It’s only a protocol.”

During a question-and-answer session with the press afterward, Juniper CTO Pradeep Sindhu reiterated that belief, saying that OpenFlow was an “interesting early attempt” at SDN that has a role in new networks, but not a central one.

Juniper’s broad push into the SDN space comes at a time when established vendors – including Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard – are rolling out plans, and startups that include Big Switch Networks also are unveiling solutions. Some data centre solutions providers also are getting into the SDN and network virtualisation field; this includes VMware, which last year bought startup Nicira for $1.26 billion (£787m), and Oracle, with its acquisition in 2012 of Xsigo Systems.

SDNs essentially decouple the network logic from the underlying hardware, having it instead managed by a software-based controller. The draw of SDNs and virtualised networks is the promise of creating more dynamic, scalable and flexible networks that are easier to program, less costly and fit nicely in data centres that are becoming increasingly virtualised. Vendors and businesses are taking notice, according to analysts at IDC, who in December said that SDN revenues will hit $360 million in 2013 and grow to $3.7 billion (£2.3bn) by 2016.

Some analysts have said SDNs pose a threat to the likes of Cisco, HP and Juniper, which make massive amounts of money selling complex, expensive switches and routers. SDN could mean reducing the need for such complex hardware, though executives with Cisco and other vendors have dismissed that idea, saying that networking systems will continue to be a key element in the networking infrastructure.

Four Steps

In outlining Juniper’s initiative, Muglia rolled out four steps businesses can start taking to begin gaining the benefits of SDNs, and unveiled initial products that will help organisations as they begin their journey. The first step is creating a single software platform through which all networking devices can be configured, and Juniper executives pointed to the company’s Junos Space software platform as a starting point for this.

The second step is removing networking and security services from the networking hardware by creating virtual machines to run these services, enabling the services to scale while using industry-standard x86 systems. Muglia pointed to Juniper’s JunosV App Engine, a software virtualisation platform that will be available in the first quarter and will be licensed through the vendor’s new Juniper Software Advantage licensing approach.

Leveraging a central controller is the third step, the executives said. A controller will enable the services to connect across the devices in the network, which Muglia called “SDN service chaining.” Such chaining capabilities will come in 2014 via the controller technology Juniper inherited through the Contrail acquisition and the JunosV App Engine.

The final step focuses on the hardware, which will be a key to delivering high performance throughout the network. Optimising the security and networking hardware could mean more than 10 times better performance in networking tasks, and Muglia said Juniper will continue to evolve its MX Series and SRX Series products to eventually support the SDN service chaining concept.

The plans will give Juniper an advantage over competitors in the growing SDN space, Muglia said, adding that the company has “an SDN strategy that’s independent of others in the industry.” However, he also said that open standards and interoperability will be key factors in SDNs going forward, and that Juniper already is working with various other vendors – from BigSwitch to IBM to VMware and Nicira – in pushing open-standard protocols.

OpenFlow will be one of those protocols, but not the most important one, Muglia said. OpenFlow has been at the heart of the SDN movement over the past year, but a growing number of vendors – such as Cisco and, now, Juniper – are saying that SDN and network virtualisation are much more than that single protocol.

In a whiteboard meeting last month with journalists, Martin Casado, CTO of Nicira, said that after developing OpenFlow and initially basing Nicira around it, he came to the conclusion that it is the virtual switches in hypervisors – such as VMware’s vSwitches – that are the best solutions for enabling more automation and programmability of network infrastructures.

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Originally published on eWeek.