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Friday News Analysis: Lightweight Junos for Cloud Builders on an Open Switch

749 Words. Plan about 5 minute(s) to read this.

Finally! An Open Switch With a Reliable Operating System (Juniper)

Today, Juniper Networks announced a fundamental transformation in the networking industry. Until now, disaggregated networking software and hardware has been in the domain of only those customers who had a large amount of resources to take “unproven software,” combined with original design manufacturer (ODM) hardware, and then self-integrate and deploy.

Other customers will have a new option to consider moving forward. Juniper announced the OCX1100 that combines the carrier-class capabilities of the Junos® operating system with Open Compute Project (OCP) enabled hardware that is maintained by Juniper’s award winning 24×7 support services. Alpha Networks will be Juniper’s ODM; the hardware has been submitted to OCP for approval.

Another cringe-worthy title from the Juniper marketing machine, which is too bad. The “fundamental industry transformation” costume wasn’t needed. (We should try that on the podcast. Packet Pushers — fundamentally transforming the networking industry…EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.) Ahem. So…um…in short, Juniper has entered the whitebox switching fray. To poke at the quote a bit…

  • Every NOS vendor releases unproven code. That’s why we most of us wait for a couple of point revs to go by before installing the new shiny version. To uniquely categorize all NOS vendors (Cumulus and Big Switch for starters) as “unproven software” is silly, and should send up a red flag to any reader. Do a POC, and see how whatever NOS you might like to run works in your environment when that NOS is running the feature set you require. In my experience, the vendor producing the code is decoupled from the quality of that code.
  • The 24×7 support services notion is not unique to Juniper. Dell Networking offers similar one-stop shopping for support if you are going the open networking route. This early value proposition is attractive, and will become a normal thing over time, I strongly suspect. OTOH, JTAC hasn’t impressed me that much. It’s nice to be able to call someone 24×7, but only if they can help. How well is JTAC prepared to support this specific platform? Time will tell, and while my expectations are hopeful…they are not high.

Okay, stepping away and thinking this through, is this announcement interesting? Do we care that Juniper has made a lightweight version of Junos targeting cloud builders that runs on at least one switch slated for the Open Compute Project? Eventually, most of us will care because of what is represented by this move. This means that Junos should be able to run on other open switching hardware, which highlights something key — for many consumers, the silicon is becoming less of a differentiation. Rather, the OS is the big deal. And frankly, Junos is a nice environment to work within, at least from my perspective. On those occasions when I come down from Whiteboard Mountain and enter the Valley of Configuration, I’d rather walk through that valley with Junos than just about any other CLI I’ve used. And the CLI isn’t even the big deal, really – it’s about the other configuration options available to me with Junos as I look towards automation.

But think bigger picture. Juniper has taken Junos and placed it on a whitebox switch. Arista could certainly do this. Harder for Cisco to get there for some flavors of their OS (I suspect), but the Nexus 3K & 9K lines are at least partially merchant silicon. Right now, it’s still leaders who are stepping into this model of “buy a whitebox, run a NOS of your choice” model. But how long will it take for market pressure to insist that all networking vendors offer this sort of flexibility? Some have already gotten the message and announcements will be coming, although I can say no more about that for now. Assuming this networking consumption model takes off, the economics of switching will change dramatically as the customers catch on to the trend and sort out how to make the most of it. Lots of moving parts here (customer operations, capex/opex modeling, hardware compatibility lists, pushback from investors who don’t want the sales model to change, etc.), so it will take years to settle into a new normal.

Read more of the hand-waving post here.

Read a much more technical post about the Juniper OCX1100 here. (When you read “Atom” for control-plane and go whaaaa? Think OCP spec. Bulk buy, lowest possible cost, very specific consumer the OCX is aimed at. Not most of us.)

Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
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