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Sun 23 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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The big switch

When Juniper Networks finally announced its enterprise switch series, Brid-Aine Conway was in New York to find out if and how that move will shake the market.

When Juniper Networks finally announced its enterprise switch series, Brid-Aine Conway was in New York to find out if and how that move will shake the market.

It wasn't a huge shock to the IT world when Juniper Networks announced its new family of Ethernet switches at the end of January. The rumours, speculation and conjecture that this was the only way forward for Juniper had been circulating even before the company started pouring millions of dollars into building the switches two years ago.

When the history is written about this marketplace, it will be an OS strategy that determines the winners and losers

What is interesting is how this move now changes Juniper's market position in regards to both its potential customers and its competitors, particularly the network behemoth, Cisco.

Juniper's supporters will claim that it is slowly eating into Cisco's dominant market shares where they compete - the doomsayers look at the breadth of the existing gap, the longevity of Cisco's dominance and its formidable record for squishing the competition.

Up until now, Juniper has focused mainly on the service provider market where Cisco's presence has not yet been really felt. In areas like enterprise core routers, though Juniper is in second place, the gap between them is often large. Most analysts estimate that Cisco's market share in core routers is around 60%, compared to around 30% for Juniper.

In fact, pundits sometimes refer to Juniper's customers as feeling ABC - Anything But Cisco - pointing out the fact that they often come to Juniper through unhappiness with Cisco or as the only other alternative if a customer doesn't want to go with the market leader.

Juniper is not above acknowledging this itself, although it does so obliquely - but as Scott Kriens, CEO of Juniper, remarks, this announcement puts the company in a whole new position: "Now being able to compete fully, being a comprehensive answer to enterprise network needs, I think that is going to open up new customer dialogue and create new visibility for us in the market compared to the absence of the product up until now.

Mark Bauhaus, Juniper's executive vice president of service layer technologies, elaborates: "Juniper is different; we're a changed company as of today's announcement. With secure high performance switching we have a complete portfolio end-to-end and it's integrated so there's a new conversation that we can have with the market-place.

And I think customers, once they see that, are going to want to take a look at our product offerings side-by-side and make their own comparison, they now have two choices where they used to have only one. For a lot of people, Cisco is the other choice and we're absolutely comfortable competing head-to-head with a complete portfolio."

The question on most analysts' minds is whether or not Juniper is ready to stand up to the giant of enterprise networking. Juniper has built its strength on the provision of high performance networks for service providers, a niche in the networking market. Now, Juniper needs a whole new strategy to connect with enterprise customers.

Bauhaus, however, believes the company has that strategy: "We're coming from a strength in service providers to a strength in enterprise. In fact, enterprise requirements have in a sense come to Juniper in terms of speed, reliability, safety and security. So banking, for example, certainly has these requirements, as well as international commerce, national security, citizen management, citizen tools - all have the same kind of attributes of high performance.

"Juniper has brought in a number of executives new to the company - a new CFO, a new CMO, myself running one of the main divisions, new sales executive talent - all from the enterprise world and that's very much on purpose. It turns out that a lot of the requirements are the same.

That end-to-end security, whether it's with unified access, SSL VPN, firewalls, intrusion protection, UTM, security built into routing and switching, it's all the same stuff that an enterprise needs. So we're explicitly adding features for those markets and we're adding talent to the organisation to scale into those markets," he adds.

Juniper seems confident it has the strategy to back up its move - the next question is whether or not it has the goods.

The EX-series of Ethernet switches launched in New York has a number of factors which may lead to customers taking a new look at its overall portfolio.
The company is making the usual promises of high availability the enterprise world hears from network vendors - in this case, because of the switches' redundancy features.

"There really hasn't been an offering that provides this level of redundancy and hot-swappable key components and especially at this level of scale - being able to go from high performance on the low-end up through a virtual chassis kind of environment to incredible speed and throughput.

For a lot of people, Cisco is the other choice and we’re absolutely comfortable competing head-to-head with a complete portfolio.

So being able to have redundant power supply, redundant cooling and swappable units locally that can be pulled out and put back in without rebooting, without shutting down, that's huge and it makes it even more possible to have five-nines capability in remote locations," asserts Bauhaus.

Juniper is marketing its portfolio as now having an "end-to-end" networking solution and the one feature of the new switches that really makes this assertion is the fact that the EX-series runs on Junos - Juniper's single-source network operating system - just like its other products do.

Bauhaus feels this is the aspect of the portfolio that will provide the main return on investment for companies: "It's the exact same OS that you get from a high-end router from Juniper, a low-end branch routing box, a security gateway or a core SP routing environment. All the products top-to-bottom from our company are built on a Junos basis and it's the same Junos, it's the same source code.

So every quarter when we come out with what we call a train release - a new release of features and bug fixes - it's the same set of software for all of our products and that's very different from our competition which has a different OS, a different version for every box, just about, that they provide for the market.

So for customers, that's a huge differentiator - that integrated common OS across the entire high performance network infrastructure."

It is clear Juniper feels this is its key weapon in the fight against Cisco in the enterprise arena - its all-purpose network OS. While all networking vendors are chasing each other's tails in terms of security, redundancy, speed and reliability - one or the other a little ahead, but often none standing out - Junos is the real differentiator that marks Juniper's offerings out from the rest, whether for good or ill remains to be seen.

Kriens, though, seems confident enough about Junos to have his whole company riding on it: "I think that when the history is written about this marketplace that it will be an OS strategy that determines the winners and losers.

It won't be a box decision or a hardware contest, it'll be whoever puts the most comprehensive, reliable and scalable operating system into the network infrastructure market.

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