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Juniper Networks on Oct. 18 will seek to silence critics who bemoan the company’s lack of an Ethernet edge aggregation switch for service providers by launching its new X-Series product line.

The X-Series switch/router is built to optimize both Layer 2 and Layer 3 functions and provide high-density Ethernet interfaces.

The 14-slot X960 chassis can accommodate up to 480 Gigabit Ethernet ports through a 40-port line card. It can also support 48 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports through a four-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet line card, according to sources close to Juniper, who asked not to be identified.

The product line is aimed at shoring up Juniper’s position among Metro Ethernet service providers.

“The financial analysts are all over Juniper’s back to get into the Layer 2 switching space. Alcatel is taking market share from Juniper in that space,” said Frank Dzubeck, president of Washington consultancy Communication Network Architects.

Eve Griliches, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said, “Alcatel has picked up some very interesting greenfield accounts, so they do have some momentum. But Alcatel also doesn’t have a lot of the legacy features that are required for full scalability in routing.”

Griliches said she believes that what has hurt Juniper more is a lack of density on the router side. The high-density X960 chassis with both switching and routing fills that void.

The X960, due in the first half of 2007, has a backplane capacity of 480G bps with 40G bps per slot. It can accommodate 12 line cards. The other two slots are taken up by a pair of switch control boards. The X960 also has two new routing engines: a 1GHz engine supporting 1024MB per second and a 2 GHz engine supporting 2048MB per second, according to sources.

To read more about Juniper’s currently offered multiservice edge router, the Juniper M120, click here.

It also provides a range of QOS (quality of service) features, including support for up to eight queues per port and up to four scheduling priorities as well as per-port shaping. The X960 will run the Junos operating system software.

Juniper is also planning to add a six-slot chassis to the X-Series line that can accommodate existing X960 line cards and other components. Also in the works for a later release are fine-grained queuing line cards supporting per-VLAN (virtual LAN) queuing. Further down the road, Juniper also plans to add support for SONET (Synchronous Optical Network) interfaces as well as a 32-port Gigabit Ethernet line card, sources said.

Despite the critics who have been calling for Juniper to step up with a Layer 2 device, Griliches does not believe that Juniper is late to market with the planned X-Series, she said.

“We’ve been talking about these markets for the last 18 months, but subscribers and services are just beginning to come on board. There’s never been a better time,” she said.

Cisco targets a new router at IPTV service providers. Read more here.

Still, Cisco officials say heavy concentration on Ethernet interfaces misses the mark when it comes to what service providers require. “What we’re hearing from our customers consistently is that they’re looking for a converged network infrastructure based on Ethernet but which can take in disparate legacy interfaces to help make their networks more efficient,” said Brendan Gibbs, director of marketing for Cisco’s routing group, in San Jose, Calif.

How well the X-Series switch/router does among service providers depends on the cost, and whether service providers are prepared to implement L3 services at the edge of the network, Dzubeck said.

“Metro Ethernet networks are flat, not hierarchical. Customers are saying [L3 routers] cost too much. This is an economics scenario,” he said.

Alcatel has succeeded with its hybrid Layer 2/3 7450 Ethernet Services Switch because of its lower cost, he said.

“Juniper has been selling against them by saying [the market] will eventually move to Layer 3. That is a very nice thing to say, but it doesn’t produce business tomorrow,” Dzubeck said.

Juniper officials would not comment on the X-Series launch.

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