Juniper, one of the big technology vendors in the crosshairs of the revolution occurring in the networking industry, has finally decided to tell its story around the rise of software-defined networking and OpenFlow. Basically, Juniper’s willing to offer everything to everyone. It understands that some of its business will get commoditized, but it still believes there are customers and markets willing to pay for specialized hardware.
It’s a pretty realpolitik view of the world, which is smart considering that Juniper in many ways saw the bottleneck that the network would become a few years back. To address some of the issues of scaling out virtualized networks, it built its QFabric product that allowed customers running an all-Juniper system to flatten out the network and address some of the scaling problems. But now that OpenFlow and even open source controllers such as Big Switch’s Floodlight are on the scene, Juniper is opening up as well.
Network Virtualization shines a light on the deep, dark underbelly of network infrastructure today. For too many years, we’ve treated it as plumbing: a service that needs to be ultimately reliable, infinitely scalable, and as close to zero-cost as possible. But the more we’ve driven cost out of the system, the less attention we’ve paid to our customers needs – flexibility and dynamic control which is where the real value lies.
Sure, Juniper is spinning its software-defined network story to downplay the threat of commodifying its switches and routing gear, but Mike Marcellin, VP of Platform Systems Division marketing at Juniper, acknowledged that in some areas, such as the top-of-rack data center switches, this was already happening. So Juniper will open up SDKs and support OpenFlow, Floodlight and other protocols those customers might want, while still offering pricier and more high-margin gear for service providers inside their core and edge networks.
Meanwhile, it’s also spending a lot of time trying to placate its customers by understanding what they want and how they need see software-defined networks offering them value. If Juniper does this well, the shift here may be less about it’s looming obsolescence and more about how it turns from churning out mass-produced gear that tries to solve most customer needs to trying to creating boxes that can be customized through software to serve individual customers. Instead of being the Holiday Inn, it has to become the Ritz-Carlton. Software defined networking and the threat and opportunity it poses is a topic we’ll discuss more fully at our Structure 2012 conference next week.