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Juniper launches MX-based EX9200 for data center and campus cores

Shamus McGillicuddy

Customers who were expecting Juniper Networks to evolve the EX8200 for higher bandwidths and next-generation technologies are in for a disappointment. Juniper this week said it will continue to sell the EX8200, but will no longer invest in its hardware platform. Instead, it's launching a new line of higher-capacity switches that are based on its MX series of carrier-class routers.

Juniper is positioning the new switch, dubbed the EX9200, as a campus and data center core platform. The EX9200 and MX

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chassis are identical, although they will not be interchangeable. Juniper said the line cards, routing engine and supervisor on the EX9200 are all new hardware and will not work with an MX chassis. Only peripherals like power supplies and fans will be interchangeable across the MX and EX9200, according to a source familiar with Juniper's technology who requested anonymity.

While the components that plug into the EX9200 chassis may be new hardware, many of their specs are very similar to comparable hardware on the MX series. Line-card port density is the same; fabric capacity is identical at 240 Gbps per slot; and buffer memory per port is also identical at 384 megabytes, the source said.

The EX9200 will be available in 4-, 8- and 14-slot models, all of which will ship this spring. While 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) line cards will be available immediately, 100 GbE support won't ship until the fourth quarter of this year. Like the EX8200, the EX9200 will also support Juniper's Virtual Chassis technology, although feature parity for Virtual Chassis will take some time.

The EX9200's beefed-up capacity comes at the expense of the EX8200. Not only will the EX8200 lack 40 or 100 GbE support, Juniper will stop investing in the device's hardware platform, according to Dhritiman Dasgupta, Juniper's senior director of product marketing. Software investment will continue by virtue of the fact that the EX8200 runs Junos, the common operating system that runs on all Juniper switching and routing products.

"There were just some limitations with the platform that didn't allow us to scale to very high densities," Dasgupta said of the EX8200. "We also wanted to introduce this whole new programmability aspect as we rolled out our next-generation data center and campus core. That's why we made the decision [to build the EX9200 around the MX. It gave us high-speed interfaces and programmability."

Juniper EX9200: MX silicon enables programmability

To that end, the EX9200 will share the MX's Juniper ONE programmable Application Specific Integrated Chip (ASIC), which will allow Juniper to add support for new networking protocols -- such as VXLAN and NVGRE -- as they emerge. It will also have much of the Layer 2 functionality that the MX routers lack, but it will not have the carrier-grade WAN routing capabilities of the MX.

"The MX platform is top-notch, though I've never done switching with it," said Aaron Conaway, a network engineer with a company that develops electronic transaction processing technology.

Still, customers who were hoping to upgrade their EX8200 switches to 40 and 100 GbE bandwidth will be disappointed that they have to rip and replace their core switches. And while the EX9200 is physically identical to MX routers, the switches will be priced for the enterprise, something that may upset customers invested in the MX line.

Juniper: EX9200 does not signal end of QFabric

Even as Juniper markets the EX9200 as both a data center and campus core platform, the company will continue to position its QFabric line as an alternative data center networking architecture for single-tier, high performance networks, Dasgupta said.

The introduction of the Juniper EX9200 has led some to speculate that the vendor was moving away from QFabric, but Dasgupta insisted that the company remains committed to the architecture and that it will continue to invest in QFabric hardware and software with the aim of reducing overall latency, enhancing security and routing and addressing requirements for software-defined networking.

Dasgupta said QFabric is performing well and that the EX9200 addresses a different use case. However, not everyone is convinced.

Juniper "is going to have problems positioning this against the EX8200," said one networking industry analyst who requested anonymity. "QFabric didn't work out the way they wanted and now they're scrambling to make up for it in their enterprise business. What it says to me is desperation. You only [rebrand a product like the MX] when you're losing out on market share and sales are flattening out and you don't have something coming out to replace it."

Yet the analyst also said enterprises in general will likely be pleased by the news, despite the fact that some EX8200 customers will be concerned about upgrading to the new switch.

"Enterprises will be happy because they get a carrier-class device. There's nothing wrong with that if you're open and honest about it. But now [Juniper is] going to spend 80% of their time dancing around their customers explaining this."

The rollout of the EX9200 also reflects a general understanding among many networking vendors that they've neglected campus switching while focusing on the data center. Cisco responded to this realization by reinvesting in the Catalyst 6500, a platform believed by many industry observers to be heading toward retirement, the analyst said.

"All these companies put a lot of investment into the data center and forgot about the campus," the analyst said. "And they're all hosed because of it."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director.


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