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Juniper wants to collapse your data center... in a good way

Juniper Networks today unveiled it “3-2-1” architectural vision, also under an umbrella of technologies its dubbed the New Network. It’s a recipe for collapsing the data center network from three layers (access, aggregation and core) down to one. Step one, Juniper says, it collapsing down to just two tiers (access and core).

Juniper argues that most data center networks today devote too many ports in the network to connecting switches to switches. Instead, ports should mostly be connecting servers to servers in order to chop latency and reduce the number of network devices needed in a data center.

How does Juniper propose to solve this problem? Well, first Juniper wants enterprises to try flattening their networks to two tiers by ditching the aggregation layer in data centers. Enterprises today spend $1 billion out of $4.8 billion in annual data center switching dollars on aggregation switches, said Mike Banic, Juniper’s vice president of enterprise marketing, citing IDC research. That’s a lot of extra switches with a lot of extra man-hours spent managing them. Juniper argues that enterprises could do better by eliminating the aggregation layer, allow access layer switches to do all the switching between servers. Those access layer switches would only need to use their uplink ports for communications with the data center core and ultimately the campus LAN and WAN.

Juniper claims its Virtual Chassis technology is the key to this elimination of the aggregation layer. The Virtual Chassis technology is a software feature that allows multiple Juniper switches to act as — and be managed as — one single switch. Juniper has had the feature on the market for awhile now in its 1 Gigabit Ethernet EX4200 switches. By pooling multiple EX4200s into a virtual chassis, enterprises are able to eliminate aggregation switches and connect servers more directly together rather than sending packets up and down a three-tiered network.

Today Juniper extended this collapsed data center vision with several new products that should make this approach accessible to enterprises that want to upgrade from Gigabit servers to 10 Gigiabit servers.

  • The EX4500 switch is a 48-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Layer 3 switch that will support converged enhanced Ethernet, data center bridging and Virtual Chassis technology. This switch will be available this month, but the converged fabric and Virtual Chassis features will be available in subsequent quarters.
  • An EX8200 40XS, a 40-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet line card that will allow the EX8216 half-rack core chassis to scale up to 640 10 Gigabit  ports. Juniper will also add its virtual chassis technology to the EX8200 switch series in 2011.
  • Several new applications built on Junos Space, the open development platform Juniper introduced last year to allow the creation of specialized applications to be built right into the network hardware which runs the Junos operating system.  These applications include Juniper Ethernet Design, an app that allows network managers to automate configuration and management of hundreds of switches

Juniper promises that down the road it will introduce additional products and technologies to further collapse data center network architecture from two layers down to one. This is the heart of what is promised in its still sketchy Project Stratus roadmap. There are still very few details about how exactly this single-tiered data center architecture will look. But Dhritiman Dasgupta, Juniper’s senior product marketing manager offered a decent preview while speaking on an Interop panel about the future of the data center network last month. He said:

The best network is the network that connects ports inside a switch,” he said. “It’s completely flat. Any port can talk to any other port. The ports share a consistent state. You can add line cards and it just scales seamlessly. If I could extend that to my data center network, that would be the best network to solve the challenges that virtualization brings.

Project Stratus gives you a network that is built like the inside of a switch. It extends that out to the entire data center network,” Dasgupta continued. “You can have hundreds of thousands of ports with tens of thousands of virtual machines at the end of each of these ports, all working together in harmony in one flat Layer 2 network. You process the packet once, and you have all the information you need to take it from point A to point B.

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