I spent a day at Juniper Networks’s NXTWORK customer summit. As an analyst, we had our own events for getting introduced to the new products and solutions, but an especially enjoyable part was to interact with customers outside the official functions.
The big news was the announcement of the disaggregation of Junos software. New vendors such as Big Switch Networks, Cumulus Networks, and Pica8 have created network operating software that runs independently of the underlying switch, but this is a first for a mainstream network equipment maker.
This shows Juniper’s emphasis on software and confidence in the capabilities of Junos to stand on its own. Previously, Juniper had shown that the OCX1100 open networking switch (meant for large public cloud deployments) was based on the OCP hardware design, but Junos was tied to it. This time, Junos is going to be completely separated, so that it can run on third-party switches as well as Juniper switches, such as its new data center access switch, the QFX5200 (appropriate for private clouds). This switch can also run third-party network operating systems so the disaggregation goes both ways. This means that a customer can acquire the hardware separately from the software.
Note: Junos does require the switch to be compliant with ONIE boot loader and SAI (switch abstraction interface) but these are expected to be common on OCP switches in the near future.
Wait, there's more. It's in a VM.
The more interesting news is that Junos is going to be packaged in a VM which runs on a Linux-based hypervisor.This means that other VMs such as another standby Junos, or a service function such as vSRX virtual firewall or third-party VMs can run side-by-side. It enables easier service upgrades since it’s a matter of swapping VMs. For customers, it enables the adoption of multiple functions on a switch (perhaps this enables the deployment of a mini version of NFV), using tools or apps from even third parties.
Benefits and Opportunities from Choice
From a business perspective, it enables Juniper customers who want to experiment with white box switching to make a safe bet by easing into this world, without making a big jump to using a different hardware vendor and new software. It enables them to retain the use of a first class network OS like Junos, while obtaining the option of using alternative switch hardware in the future, continue using Juniper hardware, or both.
Even if one chooses the new Junos on Juniper hardware, it enables the experimentation of using OCP-compliant hardware on a known brand before attempting to use a white box. Ultmately, enterprises prefer incremental changes and Juniper recognizes that they are offering a path to take incremental steps toward a new model of networking.
The customers I met were all curious about it, and although not many were ready to jump into using white boxes immediately, having the choice seems to appeal to them.
The pricing of the disaggregated Junos has not been announced but it would be interesting to see how the value will be assigned to the software compared to the hardware.
It would be exciting to see what type of ecosystem will evolve around this platform. When core changes are made such as a new hardware foundation, a new virtualized platform, and pricing model, the changes can be far reaching. Even if this works as a catalyst for new operational processes, ignoring the classic CapEx changes, it would be worth watching.