Juniper hopes Project Stratus fabric will breach data center networks

Juniper's newly announced Project Stratus doesn't bring much new information but points to the direction in which the company has been slowly heading for a while: the data center. The only question is whether they will be able to penetrate that market even as they struggle to make inroads into enterprise switching.

With Project Stratus, Juniper Networks partially unveiled what it promises will be a bold fabric-based data center strategy to address cloud computing pain points.

Officially announced at Juniper's Worldwide Analyst Meeting this week, "Stratus" details were scarce, but Juniper made clear that it is intent on penetrating the data center with a message of network simplicity, flexibility and performance. But Stratus won't reach the market in 2009.

"Our customers require long-term planning for their future data centers," said David Yen, executive vice president of Juniper's newly formed Data Center Business Group. "They prefer to work with strategic data center vendors that have a compelling vision, expertise and determination to deliver the ultimate solution. That's why we are disclosing the project today, but for competitive reasons we are not publicly disclosing any details of the project regarding significant milestones, the configurations, the pricing, or availability."

Project Stratus, named after the thin, flat cloud formations, is planned to launch a Juniper data center fabric, which includes the hardware, software and infrastructure needed to run a data center.

What will set its offering apart, Juniper said, is the focus on simple, elegant scaling, a skill in great demand because as cloud computing becomes increasingly popular, the demands on data centers have increased greatly, charging them with not only more ports but more virtual machines that must be managed and moved at-will from one physical server to another.

The lack of hard data points left industry veterans with mixed reactions, even as the announcement overshadowed normally noteworthy additions like its first 10 Gigabit access switch for data center access, the EX 2500.

"We're kind of early on, so usually when you pre-announce something, you want the market to slow down, to say, 'Wait for us,' " said Nick Lippis, CEO for consultancy Lippis Enterprises. He said competitors like Cisco Systems and Arista Networks are ahead -- even years ahead -- of Juniper in terms of cloud computing, but the market is young enough that it was still anyone's game. Lippis said that such a long-term pre-announcement made little strategic sense, however, particularly since so little information was given out.

"They were talking about the major requirements for that sector -- low latency, oversubscription, 10 Gigabit -- all of these things that have been [known] for a long time," he said. "There was absolutely nothing new except the term 'Stratus,' maybe, for some people."

In an emerging market, a bold move or a blunder?

Not everyone saw the announcement as completely lacking in substance, however, particularly when coupled with the EX 2500 announcement and news that Juniper was unveiling a new silicon initiative that places four chips, with 1.2 billion transistors, in a set capable of 604 Gbps of input/output (I/O).

Both are important building blocks as Juniper tries to take its vision of networking deeper into the enterprise data center, said Abner Germanow, director of enterprise networks at IDC.

"They announced their philosophy and vision for where they want the networked data center to go, and what it should look like," Germanow said. "They have products to [begin] fulfilling that vision today, and a project they're working on to help make that vision a reality."

Juniper also has the mixed blessing of not having a large number of legacy data center products that this new line will be competing against, Germanow said, which gives the company the flexibility to be disruptive.

Cisco, on the other hand, must protect its existing investments, even as it hopes to sell customers on a similar vision of future super-data centers.

On the flip side, Juniper has almost no data center experience, and so Stratus will be selling into the closely guarded territory of more experienced competitors that are just as intent on cashing in on the cloud computing revolution.

The company's last attempt at such an incursion, into the enterprise Ethernet switch market last year, saw some success but came at a steep price.

"They're less than 10% of Foundry," Lippis said, pointing to Juniper's $56 million in revenues on its switching line. "They spent $800 million to get into this marketplace, and I really don't see them doing that great."

Lippis traces part of these market tractions back to Juniper's telecom roots. Even today, the company has reached many of its enterprise customers through existing relationships with service providers rather than through VARs or traditional networking channels.

Lippis did, however, note one key relationship that could make the data center strategy more successful. IBM has been looking for data center growth, even as it has become distant from Cisco. That distance could provide a wedge for strong growth if Juniper nurtures the two companies' relationship.

Think Juniper's Project Stratus announcement is flying high, or pie-in-the-sky? E-mail news writer Michael Morisy your thoughts on this or any other news ideas you would like to see covered

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