Juniper Takes Aim at Cisco with QFabric Networking Strategy

Juniper is rolling out its QFabric networking architecture, designed to collapse the traditional three-layer data center networking infrastructure into one.

Juniper Networks is rolling out a new networking platform executives say will simplify the data center infrastructure, driving up throughput, scalability and efficiency while reducing latency, operating costs and the number of devices required for a networking architecture.

During a Webcast event from San Francisco Feb. 23, Juniper executives unveiled their QFabric architecture, a $100 million initiative formerly called "Project Stratus" that was launched after three years of development. The goal of the project is to collapse the data center networking infrastructure from the traditional two or three layers down to one, a move that will enable enterprises and midsize businesses handle the demands created by the onset of cloud computing and the growth of the mobile Internet.

"As these trends accelerate, its creates exponential demand, and it's that exponential demand that requires a new approach," Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson said during the event.

QFabric also gives Juniper a higher profile in the highly competitive data center networking space, a market still dominated by Cisco Systems, but with a cadre of rivals trying to grab a larger share. Juniper still needs to continue to build on its initiative, but the QFabric push is a strong step, according to Forrester Research analyst Andre Kindness.

"Even though Juniper still needs to deliver on parts 2 and 3, this product launch moves them up and puts Juniper Networks back in the Data Center Derby with Arista, Avaya, Brocade and Cisco," Kindness said in a Feb. 23 blog post. "Juniper's vision overlaps layer 3 and 2, which keeps packets from running across fabric for something that can be done locally thereby eliminating waste. The design allows partitioning of network by workgroup, too. QFabric's strongest differentiation is the single management plane that makes all the components behave as one switch without introducing a single failure point. Juniper's QFabric drives simplicity into the data center, a value long overdue."

The QFabric architecture essentially enables network administrators to manage the networking infrastructure as a single switch, with a single view of the fabric. Three components make up the low-latency, high-performance fabric, including the QF/Node, which Juniper executives said is the distributed decision engine. In addition, the QF/Interconnect is a high-speed transport device, while the QF/Director gives network administrators a single, common window through which they can control all devices as a single one.

"It doesn't just behave as a single switch, it is a single switch," David Yen, executive vice president and general manager of Juniper's switching business, said.

Juniper unveiled the QFX3500 node is the first product in the QFabric product portfolio, and will be available later this quarter. Initially, it will work as a traditional 10 Gigabit Ethernet, though it will become more of a node in the QFabric architecture later in the year. The QF/Interconnect and QF/Director will be available for order in the third quarter.

Johnson and other Juniper executives said QFabric will offer a host of benefits for businesses. It will be up to 10 times faster than legacy networks, use 77 percent less power, require 27 percent fewer networking devices, and occupy 90 percent less data center floor space.

"These are significant numbers that don't come about every day," Pradeep Sindhu, founder and CTO of Juniper, said during the event.

Sindhu noted that because Juniper's products support Ethernet and Fibre Channel, businesses will be able to gradually adopt the QFabric architecture, replacing competing products with Juniper offerings when needed. He also said that while QFabric is aimed at the internal data center, Juniper later this year will offer technology that will enable a network architecture that can be used over the WAN to connect multiple data centers.

Juniper's rollout comes at a time of transition for Cisco. For the past two years, Cisco aggressively has been expanding its reach beyond its networking base, growing into such areas as servers-with its UCS (Unified Computing System)-collaboration technologies and smart grid solutions. Some analysts have said that doing so has taken the company's focus away from its networking solutions, giving competitors such as Juniper, Hewlett-Packard and Avaya an opening to gain ground in the market.

While some of those markets saw growth for Cisco in the past quarter, revenues in the core switching business declined. Still, Cisco executives are confident in their data center strategy.

"Cisco's standards-based architectural approach combining unified computing, a unified fabric and unified network services provides a stronger foundation than fragmented point-product approaches," John McCool, vice president and general manager for Cisco's Data Center, Switching and Services Group, said in a statement. "For example, the Nexus platform supports a unified fabric and we announced last June Nexus 7000 FabricPath, a standards-based -flat network' solution to accelerate virtualization and cloud computing. We've also built our network platforms with investment protection in mind----the Nexus platform, like the Catalyst before it, was designed to deliver innovative new capabilities and services for many years without the need to ever rip and replace."