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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.