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As enterprise networking continues to evolve, two classes of customers are starting to emerge. The first is driven by traditional enterprise network managers looking to embrace software-defined networking (SDN) as a method to manage complex networks at scale via a higher level of abstraction that reduces their dependency on command-line interfaces.

The other approach involves turning those networks into programmable resources that application developers can invoke using APIs. In that model, network services are directly invoked by developers alongside server and storage resources that are exposed using REST APIs. In effect, the network services themselves become headless in the sense that all network services are invoked directly via the API versus a dedicated user interface.

Historically, solution providers that specialize in networking have generated most of their revenue by helping IT organizations master complex networks deployed on premise. To make that simpler to continue to do networking, vendors such as Juniper Networks are investing more in reference architectures, such as Juniper Networks Unite, which makes it simpler to manage distributed networks via a common management plane using a single console.

At the same time, however, new classes of open network operating systems have started to emerge. Based mainly on distributions of Linux, these network operating systems are being embraced mainly by cloud service providers and Web-scale application service providers to reduce their network operating costs. But now, both enterprise IT organizations and managed service providers have also taken note of this open networking trend, with many of them beginning to experiment with replacing proprietary network operating systems using software running on standard x86 servers that can be programmed via an API.

Denise Shiffman, corporate vice president of switching, security and cloud products at Juniper Networks, said the company is committed to investing in both its existing JunOS software that powers the Juniper Networks Unite framework, while also continuing to make JunOS available to be deployed on top of Linux as part of the company’s support for the Open Compute Project spearheaded by Facebook.

The end result is something of a bifurcation of the enterprise networking market. While traditional networking will continue to dominate for some time, solution providers would be well-advised to take note of the rising influence of developers and APIs when it comes to IT infrastructure decisions, in general, and networking, in particular.

In the short term, there will continue to be essentially two networking markets for solution providers to address. One consists of classic enterprise customers where Juniper Networks has historically battled it out with Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and others. But alongside that market is a new emerging space that, while for the moment is largely complementary to the traditional enterprise networking market, will one day soon begin to consume large chunks of that market both inside and outside the cloud.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.