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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Juniper’s MX Router Goes Virtual

Juniper is virtualizing its MX routers and adding more cloud punch around its Junos operating system.

Today’s announcement of the vMX 3D Universal Edge Router will eventually put Juniper on the map in terms of having a virtual router to compete with Brocade‘s Vyatta line and Cisco‘s Cloud Services Router (CSR) 1000v. The vMX is due to be available in the first quarter.

Juniper is also introducing a turnkey network functions virtualization (NFV) platform called Contrail Cloud, consisting of a pre-configured cloud in a rack. Finally, Junos is giving a nod to the DevOps crowd by infusing Junos with functionality for tools such as Puppet and Chef.

All these moves are aimed at helping Juniper do what all the other vendors are doing: trying to keep up with the new and more fluid types of networking that are emerging, typified by software-defined networking (SDN). While Juniper is far from alone in that goal, it’s has had the added distraction of a corporate makeover initiated by CEO Shaygan Kheradpir, one that’s apparently not done yet.

Like Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper prides itself on using ASICs at the heart of its routers — and is being forced to concede to the increasingly virtual nature of networking. Juniper recompiled the code that normally runs on the Trio chipset (the ASICs at the heart of the MX router line), optimizing it for an x86 host.

The result is a virtual router with all of the MX’s functionality, Juniper says. What’s gained is the ability to provision the router quickly because it’s virtual. What’s missing is the high performance of a hardware MX — which is why Juniper and the others will continue to argue that they need ASICs at the heart of their newest, biggest routers.

Juniper’s virtual-router entry is arriving relatively late, but the company hopes its heavy presence among service providers can compensate for that. The MX and the Trio chipset are already qualified for carrier networks, as is Junos, so it could be a simpler step to get the vMX qualified. “The testing will be more surgical than broad-sweep,” says Stephen Liu, Juniper’s senior director of service provider marketing.

Juniper also had some service-provider backing. AT&T started helping develop the vMX “over a year ago,” Liu says. Not coincidentally, Juniper has been qualified as a Domain 2.0 vendor for AT&T’s User-Defined Network Cloud.

The cost of a vMX license will vary depending on performance, which can be chosen in increments as low as 100 Mb/s. Juniper says it’s gotten a vMX to run at 160 Gb/s using multiple Intel CPU cores (details weren’t immediately available). For the moment, that would exceed the 80 Gb/s that Brocade is claiming out of its Vyatta virtual routers.

Something tells me we’re going to see those numbers ratchet upward as vendors try to one-up each other. But then again, virtual routers start getting unwieldy if you’re shooting for performance that’s too high. About 160 Gb/s is “where the economics start to peter out,” Liu says.

On Cloud and DevOps

Contrail Cloud is a turnkey platform for cloud computing, incorporating Juniper’s Contral SDN controller and third-party compute and storage elements. The whole thing can be orchestrated by Juniper’s own OpenStack distribution, although Juniper will also let customers pick other distributions.

Juniper has also partnered with Amdocs to integrate Contrail Cloud into service providers’ back-end systems.

As for the DevOps piece: Junos now includes client agents for Chef and Puppet. These bits of software are necessary for Chef or Puppet to talk to the device being managed or provisioned.

This makes Junos Chef- or Puppet-ready, which in turn should make it easier for IT staffers to tinker with the network. Until now, that’s been the purview of networking and IP experts. “What we’ve done now is make the IP layer bilingual,” Liu says.

Juniper is also introducing Junos Continuity, a feature that lets Juniper introduce new hardware features without forcing a revision to Junos. Liu describes it as a matter of making Junos more modular.

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