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With EX Series, Juniper aims to be a switch hitter

With the unveiling of its new line of switches, the EX Series, router giant Juniper hopes to break into the lucrative market currently dominated by Cisco.

With the unveiling of its EX product line, Juniper Networks takes its first swing at the massive switch market, but entrenched players may make it difficult for the networking giant to score a home run.

Juniper says its new switches -- the EX 3200, the EX 4200 and the EX 8200 -- push it into new territory. Traditionally, the routing giant's market has been with service providers and governments. With the EX Series, Juniper is targeting the network performance-minded enterprise with an emphasis on uptime and reliability.

"Today represents a transcending chapter in Juniper history," said Eddie Minkill, executive vice president of Juniper's worldwide field operations. "Juniper is uniquely positioned to help companies [that] demand high-performance networking."

In development for a year and a half, the EX Series contains a host of features designed to boost uptime and which range from dual hot-swappable power supplies to advanced network-healing methods that can drop self-healing times by several orders of magnitude.

Get a tour of the EX 4200 series network switch.

Watch a video tour, conducted by Juniper's Michael Peachey, of the EX 4200 network switch.

"Speed … is what we call the new currency," Minkill said. "It is not the best decision but the quickest decision that is important." The view of the network as "plumbing" is outdated because consumers and businesses expect instant responses and more and more communications are carried through IP, he said.

"There are participants in markets … for whom the network may not be critical," Minkill said. "That is not our market."

Such a limited market scope might hurt the Series' adoption, according to Jim Metzler, vice president of Sanibel, Fla.-based consultancy Ashton, Metzler & Associates.

"I don't know who they are going to appeal to," he said, adding that most enterprises are not prioritizing carrier-grade robustness and millisecond latency. A few major exceptions exist, particularly in the financial sector, but he disagreed with the assertion that enterprises see the difference between 5 and 4 9's of uptime as a critical tool in keeping customers.

"Is it good technology? Absolutely," Metzler said. The problem is that people will not switch simply to use good technology, or even better technology, when what they have works, and Metzler said Juniper has found a solution for a problem people do not currently have. If the EX Series is to become a success, he said, a better marketing strategy must be implemented that could focus on cost reduction or other, more enterprise-focused problems.

Juniper executives were also touting the switching platform's ability to simplify the network. One consistent, cross-product version of Junos, the company's security-hardened operating system, will sit in all routers and switches, which could make the testing and rollout process a bit less Herculean for managers having to update hundreds of products across multiple sites. It also allows for scripts to be written once and rolled out across the network, and for designers to test on one code base with the knowledge that it will be consistent throughout the Juniper line. This, Metzler said, was a strong factor in Juniper's favor.

Juniper is trying to grab a share of a switch market that is projected to grow to $18.6 billion by 2009, compared with its native router market, which is projected to reach only $4.8 billion by then. But Juniper's success will depend on how well it can compete with Cisco and an already crowded field. Cisco earned 72% of the switch market revenues during the third quarter of last year, with HP, Nortel and 3Com fighting fiercely for the remainder. Already, at least two other switch vendors have issued responses to Juniper's announcement.

Juniper unveiled three EX products this week. The first is the EX 3200, billed as a simple, standalone switch aimed at low-density branch offices that need its 10/100/1000BASE-T connectivity. 24- and 48-port versions are available, which support Power over Ethernet (PoE).

The EX 4200 is a souped-up version of the 3200, designed for access and aggregation deployments. Juniper is touting this device's "Virtual Chassis" technology, which can connect 10 EX 4200 switches to act as one logical device that can support up to 480 10/100/1000BASE-T ports. Because of the modularity of the Virtual Chassis, switches can be added on as needed. Juniper said this scalability reduces the initial investment as well as operational expenses associated with true chassis-based systems.

For those with greater demands, the EX 8200 provides either an 8-slot 1.6Tb chassis or a 16-slot 3.2Tb chassis model that, like the other models, include hardware-based packet buffers and application performance visibility features.

"We've made a big investment to deliver a lot to our customers on our own," said Michael Banic, director of product marketing. That in-house development allowed not only tight integration through the use of Junos as the operating system, but it also gave Juniper the chance to work with third-party partners such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle in developing an API and integrating with security and packet-prioritization solutions. Banic said those partnerships, brought on early in the development process, add a lot of comparative value to Juniper's offerings.

While Banic declined to give projections for early sales, he said that there were a number of natural insertion points for enterprises throughout the upgrade cycle: natural obsolescence, enterprise moves to IP communications, and customers looking to more tightly integrate their infrastructure with fewer disparate network layers.

Banic also emphasized the security angle of using the Junos platform throughout the network and being able to keep it on one upgrade cycle while also using its integrated User Access Control to granularly assign permissions to users based not just on their role but also the location and the time.

"People will probably be very excited about [the EX Series]," he said. "They have a relationship with Juniper for security, and for them [it's] really exciting that they can have these capabilities in their hands."

Despite the feature-rich, high-performance focus, Juniper may have a hard time cracking the switch market, given the competitive landscape. Metzler said that what was really needed was not on the technical end at all but on the support and marketing side: education about how Juniper products could solve problems IT managers were facing. He said Juniper might do better to focus on savings or security than on strict performance, and really educating potential customers about the benefits of their platform in these areas.

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