Juniper Gambles on the Data Center


Things may be looking bad for the Ethernet switch market, but when you are a company like Juniper looking to break into the enterprise side of the house, sometimes you just have to close your eyes and jump in anyway.

That's the position the company finds itself in as it pulls the wraps off the new EX2500 switch, the leading edge of a broad new enterprise strategy that the company has dubbed The Stratus Project. The idea is to devise a robust unified networking fabric that will put the company on par with Cisco, Brocade, Extreme Networks and even Nortel, which still maintains a sizeable customer base even as it struggles to emerge from Chapter 11.

Juniper's angle is that the EX line, additions to which should be forthcoming over the next few months, will integrate with the company's MX routers and SRX gateways to offer a unified fabric that at once increases network capacity while reducing complexity, cutting both TCO and rack space requirements in half.

To achieve that goal, the EX2500 is the company's first 10 GbE switch aimed at data center access. The device offers 24 10 GbE SFP+ ports capable of 700 ns latency. It is also built on open standards as a means to garner as much support from third-party server, storage and software platforms as possible.

On the surface, though, there seem to be two chief obstacles with the plan. The first is that Juniper is coming in rather late in the game. Cisco has been focusing on unified data center infrastructure for close to a year now with its Data Center 3.0 initiative built around the Nexus 7000 switch, while Brocade rolled out the latest of the Backbone line of switches, the DCS-4S, earlier this year.

The second problem is the economy, which has hit the Ethernet market pretty hard according to the latest research. The Dell'Oro group is expecting a decline of 10 percent for the switch market in the first quarter, although it is still holding out hope for the 10 GbE segment based on the idea that virtualization and consolidation will continue to drive up throughput requirements. Those numbers jibe with earlier data from Infonetics Research, which saw a strong beginning in 2008 contract to a 7 percent loss from the third to the fourth quarters.

To their credit, Juniper executives seem to be aware of these challenges. But in business, timing is everything, and the unofficial rule of thumb is that the tail end of a recession is the best time to launch a new venture because you get swept up in the recovery as customers begin to feel good about spending again. The key phrase, though, is "tail end." This recession seems to be much more severe than the past couple, and it is very likely that any recovery is still a ways off.