Juniper Steps Up Data Center Competition with Cisco

A year after entering the competitive data center switching space, Juniper is rolling out the latest EX Ethernet switch, the EX2500, and outlining its long-term strategy, dubbed The Stratus Project. The moves bring Juniper into even closer competition with the likes of Cisco, Brocade, Extreme and Nortel in an area of the industry that is getting a lot of attention from vendors. Fueling the need for a better networking fabric in the data center are such trends as the growth of virtualization, dense server architectures and multicore processors, the increase in the number of applications, and rising data center consolidation projects.

Juniper, a strong player in the service provider and carrier spaces, made its first step into the data center a year ago with the release of its first EX Series Ethernet switch, a move that brought it once again into competition with the likes of Cisco Systems and Extreme Networks.

Over the next few months, Juniper will be adding to the EX Series product family and its other data center technologies, part of an overarching initiative dubbed "The Stratus Project," which is under the aegis of the company's newly announced Data Center Business Group.

On Feb. 24, the same day that company officials unveiled The Stratus Project, they also rolled out the latest Ethernet switch, the EX2500 10 GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) switch.

In operation internally for more than a year, the initiative is being headed up by David Yen, executive vice president of emerging technologies and a former longtime Sun Microsystems executive.

In an interview, Yen said that various trends within data centers are driving the need for a single 10 GbE networking fabric that can reliably and securely handle all aspects of the data center-from servers and storage devices to appliances, applications and network traffic-and that can scale as needed without adding complexity.

Juniper's goal with its Stratus Project is to give customers the products and technologies to meet those demands.

"Data centers will grow larger," he said. "A new, adequate solution must be provided."

Juniper introduced its first data center offerings in November, and has since rolled out other products in its line of EX Series Ethernet switches, MX Series Ethernet services routers and SRX Series services gateways. Yen said more products will be released in the coming months.

Company officials said that with the products they already offer, customers are seeing a difference. Juniper's current offerings, by increasing capacity and reducing complexity, can help businesses reduce TCO by up to 52 percent, cut power and cooling costs by up to 44 percent each, and lower rack space in the data center by 55 percent.

A long list of trends-including the consolidation of data centers, the rise in the use of virtualization and the number of applications, the increasing density in the facilities fueled by such technologies as blade servers and multicore processors, and the promise of cloud computing-is driving the need for new networking capabilities.

As density in the data centers has grown, so has the number of networking layers, Yen said. Many facilities have as many as three or four layers of Ethernet networking to keep up with the explosive growth of data center resources and network traffic, all of which hurts latency times and increases power costs.

Having a more streamlined and less complex fabric can help reduce the number of networking layers needed, which will help curtail problems and enable businesses to grow their data centers to take advantage of such technologies as cloud computing and virtualization.

"If you don't support a converged fabric ... you're limiting flexibility" within the data center, Yen said.

Cisco and other companies, such as Extreme and Brocade, saw this and already are pushing forward with products ahead of Juniper, Yen said. And that will be among the bigger challenges facing Juniper as it makes its push into the data center.

For example, Cisco, which is looking to increase its presence in the data center, is looking to growth its Data Center 3.0 initiative. The company is looking to give enterprises a one-stop shopping place for all their data center needs by offering a slew of new and traditional technologies. Cisco is also partnering with VMware on the virtualization front, and there are rumors that it is looking for a way into the server business.

In addition, Cisco is building out its Nexus Series of switches, which it kicked off in January 2008 with the release of the Nexus 7000.

Nortel Networks in January also launched a new offering, the ERS 5600 series line of Ethernet switches aimed at unified communications projects at large enterprises.

Also in January, Brocade rolled out the DCS-4S Backbone, a switching platform that officials say eases data center consolidation projects and reduces infrastructure and management costs.

Another challenge for Juniper will be the economy. According to a Feb. 24 report from Infonetics Research, the Ethernet switch market, which started strongly in 2008, tailed off markedly in the second half as the recession kicked in. Revenues were down 7 percent from the third to the fourth quarter in 2008, and down 2 percent from the fourth quarter in 2007. However, the North American market was still strong-up 2.6 percent over 2007-and there was a shift in the sales mix to higher-priced products, which could bode well for profit margins.

Despite the hurdles, both Yen and Andy Ingram, vice president of marketing and business development at Juniper, believe the company can gain strong traction in the data center. The company has a strong history in such areas as security, with its VPNs and firewalls offerings, and both men said Juniper not only is preparing to roll out solid products, but also has a strong road map in place that customers can rely on.