Juniper to Release SDN Controller Later This Year

The controller is part of Juniper's new JunosV Contrail SDN software family, and a key step in the company's multi-step SDN strategy.

When Juniper Networks bought startup Contrail Systems in December 2012, company officials thought it wouldn't be until the first half of 2014 before they could release a software-based controller for software-defined networks.

However, once Contrail was in the fold, Juniper officials found that they were "further along than [they initially] realized," Brad Brooks, vice president of business development and marketing at Juniper, told eWEEK.

Juniper on May 6 announced that its JunosV Contrail Controller—part of a family of products that are part of the company's larger, multi-step software-defined networking (SDN) strategy—is currently being tested by the likes of China Mobile and AT&T and will start shipping in the second half of this year. It's a key part of the company's SDN efforts, Brooks said.

"This piece is really the lynchpin around SDN," he said.

SDNs offer the promise of more flexible, scalable and programmable networks by taking network intelligence out of physical switches and routers—most of which have to be programmed manually—and putting it into software-based controllers. With virtual servers and storage, data center resources have become increasingly agile and dynamic, with the network becoming a bottleneck. However, with SDN and network-function virtualization [NFV], "it brings networking into the cloud space," Brooks said.

SDN also expected to become a booming business. IDC analysts said it could grow into a $3.7 billion market by 2016, though SDN startup Plexxi—along with the Website SDN Central and venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners—said in a report last month that the SDN market will grow from $252 million last year to more than $35 billion by 2017.

Either way, the SDN space will be big, and a range of vendors—from established players like Cisco Systems, Juniper and Hewlett-Packard, to startups like Big Switch Network, to tech companies with relatively new networking businesses, such as Dell, Oracle and VMware—are looking to establish themselves.

In January, Juniper officials began to lay out the company's SDN strategy beyond support of the OpenFlow protocol in its networking hardware, and over the past few months have taken steps to make the strategy a reality. The new JunosV Contrail software is the latest push, enabling businesses with cloud IT systems to make necessary changes in the networking infrastructure when deploying new applications and services as they can with other data center resources, Brooks said.

A key differentiator over various competitors is that Juniper is taking an overlay approach to SDN, he said. Rather than forcing businesses to make drastic changes to their networking infrastructure to adopt SDN, the JunosV Contrail software will work as an overlay atop the existing network, bringing with it greater automation and orchestration and centralized control, keys to private and public cloud platforms.

As part of the push to enable businesses to leverage their existing networks, Juniper's JunosV Contrail software will support such common protocols as BGP and XMPP, enabling customers to run the software on the networking hardware they already have in place from Juniper or Cisco. It doesn't support the OpenFlow controller protocol that is a cornerstone of many vendor SDN efforts.

Brooks said that Juniper didn't want to wait for OpenFlow-enabled switches before releasing its software, and didn't want to force customers to bring such switches into their environments to start using the JunosV Contrail products. OpenFlow is a relatively new protocol that needs to gain wider support in hardware and creates a learning curve. For customers, being able to use existing networking gear with familiar protocols like BGP and XMPP makes more sense, he said.

Juniper will offer a new per-socket licensing model for the software, making it hardware-independent, Brooks said. In addition, Juniper will offer elements of the code for the JunosV Contrail software available to the OpenDaylight Project, an open-source effort to create a common SDN platform. Juniper is among the founding members of the project, along with the likes of Cisco, IBM, Brocade, Big Switch, HP, Dell and Arista Networks.