Juniper Unveils Broad SDN Strategy, Challenges Cisco, HP, Others

Juniper's initiative is a mix of products, services and a new licensing model that will unfold this year and into 2014, according to executives.

Juniper Networks, which has been quieter than other established networking vendors when it comes to software-defined networks, is now rolling out an SDN strategy that goes far 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.

That changed Jan. 15, 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 center solutions providers also are getting into the SDN and network virtualization field; this includes VMware, which last year bought startup Nicira for $1.26 billion, 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 virtualized networks is the promise of creating more dynamic, scalable and flexible networks that are easier to program, less costly and fit nicely in data centers that are becoming increasingly virtualized. 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 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.

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 organizations 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.