Juniper Targets Cisco's Data Center Dominance

By Sharon Linsenbach  |  Print this article Print

Juniper is pushing its vision for simplified data center architecture as a means for its solution providers to deliver efficiencies to their customers and displace Cisco's legacy schema.

If you could achieve "data center nirvana" for your customers, what would it look like? Analysts say a simple, scalable architecture based on a single, logical core device with unlimited ports, seamless server and storage connections, and a unified management solution would come pretty close to perfection.

Fortunately for solution providers, most businesses’ data centers are far from that utopian idea. They are complex, largely unorganized mish-mashes of heterogeneous hardware platforms, multitier storage infrastructure, multiversion operating systems and diverse management consoles. 

The recession is forcing end users to rethink and simplify their data center and network architecture. Gartner research shows spending in data center simplification will continue as businesses try to reap cost savings.

Viswesh Ananthakrishnan, director of data center solutions at Juniper Networks, says customers who’d otherwise be wary of making large investments in their infrastructures could present opportunities for solution providers to bring efficient, cost-saving solutions to the table.

Juniper says its latest data center initiative can help its solution providers achieve both goals by addressing two common data center mistakes— inefficient architectures and overly complex management structures— to bring customers closer to data center nirvana.

Customers don’t deliberately make their data center architectures complex. But as their organization grows, their data center needs to scale accordingly, and that can mean as many as four, five or even six tiers in a data center, says Ananthakrishnan.

In fact, about 50 percent of the networking interconnections in a data center are used to link networking equipment to the network—not for servers or storage, according to Gartner.

Gartner analyst Mark Fabbi says in a 2007 study that as much as $130 billion was wasted by companies who made poor data center architecting decisions.

"A classic three-tier data center architecture becomes very difficult to scale. You start to devote more and more links to other links and less to servers," Fabbi says.

Michael Baker, CTO at Torrey Point, says while Cisco Systems’ hierarchical network designs have become the standard for designing and building networks and linking data centers, Juniper’s methodology not only reduces complexity but eases management.

"You burn massive amounts of ports in this 'cascade theory’ that Cisco sort of pioneered—it’s an industry-standard hierarchical design. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things, by any means," Baker says. Torrey Point is a solution provider that partners with Juniper.

Cisco, which has a number of data center initiatives, did not respond to requests for comment. A number of Cisco resellers also declined to comment.

One way to avoid this architectural faux pas is to stick with a two-tier architecture while increasing port density and expanding capacity so scaling up isn’t necessary. Ananthakrishnan says Juniper’s data center solutions accomplish this by both collapsing layers and consolidating appliances to make the data center network more efficient to operate and manage.

"Reducing the number of uplinks can go a long way. All of our top-of-rack or ends-of-row switches have at least two connectors that go into a single aggregate layer," he says. He adds that regardless of a data center’s size, all need to encompass load balancers, security devices, servers, switches and storage, each of which have separate operating systems and management software. Juniper’s approach collapses these devices into a single platform, he says.

Another major issue for customers’ data centers is the myriad operating systems needed to control disparate devices and software. Fabbi says using a unified OS and management console can ease the management burden and streamline customers’ business operations.

"With multiple differing OSes, you get a lot of inconsistencies. You can simplify operations and reduce the management complexity by streamlining under one OS," says Fabbi.

Juniper’s major differentiator is its JUNOS operating system for networking devices such as switches and routers. Juniper says it provides a consistent operational view and a regimented release schedule for updates, as well as ease of security management.

For solution providers, the ability to unify customers’ data centers under a single, unified network OS is a competitive advantage. Being able to develop standardized implementation and management can make solution providers much more agile and flexible, says Ananthakrishnan.

When the implementation and integration is so simplified, solution providers don’t have to get bogged down with the nitty-gritty of smaller, less lucrative data center projects and can go after bigger jobs that can expand their business.

"We hear our partners tell us, 'A lot of my competitors are pushing Cisco, but with JUNOS I can differentiate myself by simplifying management across switches, routers, security devices—all the stuff in their data center. I can give them one release train and consistent behavior across devices,’" he says.

For Baker, that translates to a better quality of service and a higher-functioning, more secure network implementation.

"The way they do code releases, the release cycles are really tight, the same binaries are used in every release, so there’s a much higher probability that you will be successful and secure, even across a variety of hardware and software infrastructure. I’m a lot more comfortable rolling out Juniper products knowing they are better tested than Cisco–because they are," Baker says.

Ananthakrishnan says that while it may seem counterproductive for solution providers to remove the complexity from networking, it actually liberates Juniper solution providers to focus on solving customers’ business problems rather than simply their technical ones.

"Some guys think if there’s more complexity, [it] means more money since the customer won’t know what they’re doing without him. But really, what partners are trying for is have their engineers focus more on solving business problems," he says.

"If we take away the difficulty from the lower-level stuff, our solution providers can focus on higher-level applications of the technology," he says.


Sharon Linsenbach Sharon Linsenbach is a staff writer for eWEEK and eWEEK Channel Insider. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, Sharon was Assistant Managing Editor for CRN, a weekly magazine for PC and technology resellers. Before joining CRN, Sharon was an Acquisitions Editor for The Coriolis Group and later, Editorial Director with Paraglyph Press, both in Scottsdale, AZ. She holds a BA in English from Drew University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her significant other and two neurotic cats. When she's not reading or writing about technology, Sharon enjoys yoga, knitting, traveling and live music. Sharon can be reached at Sharon.Linsenbach@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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