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Juniper adds new top-of-rack switch to data center networking line

Juniper is adding a top-of-rack 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) data center switch, the EX 2500, but will enterprises buy into Juniper's network switching foray?

Juniper Networks expanded its nascent line of Ethernet switches this week with the introduction of the EX 2500, a top-of-rack data center switch with 24 ports of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE).

Chris Spain, senior director of product management at Juniper, said the EX 2500 is designed to sit at the top of a rack of servers with 10 GbE connections. Juniper continues to offer the EX 4200 for the top of a rack of 1 GbE servers.

The switch supports both front-to-back and back-to-front cooling configurations, and it supports 480 gigabit per second (Gbps) throughput with full power and fan redundancy in a one RU footprint. Juniper claims latency of 700 nanoseconds for the device.

Like all of Juniper's switches, the EX 2500 runs on the Junos operating system, which simplifies administration of network devices.

"It's designed with high availability and low latency in mind and also in terms of green capabilities," Spain said. "If you look at using it in conjunction with the EX 8200 [chassis switch] aggregating these devices, you'll be able to build a very large, very low-latency fabric for server connectivity."

Juniper, best known for the routing products it sells into service providers, introduced its EX line of Ethernet switches early last year in an effort to compete for enterprise customers with Cisco Systems, HP ProCurve and other players in that market.

Given the state of the economy, it's difficult to judge how well Juniper's move into switching has gone over with enterprises since the EX line was introduced. Overall, the company has earned about $56 million in switching revenue, according to its earnings reports from last year. It reported $28 million in EX revenue in the fourth quarter alone, which could indicate that Juniper could earn $100 million in switch revenue in 2009.

"My personal view is that the response [to the EX switches] has been extremely good with our customers, both new and existing," Spain said. "It's enabled us to break into many customers that we haven't sold to before."

On the other hand, Nick Lippis, CEO and analyst for Lippis Enterprises, described Juniper's performance in the switching market as a "major disappointment."

"This is very low. Remember that Cisco's switch revenue is between $12 billion and $15 billion, ProCurve and 3Com are $1 billion each, while Extreme is about $350 million," Lippis said. "With those numbers, [Juniper has] no market relevance."

Robert Whiteley, principal analyst and research director with Forrester Research, disagreed with Lippis. He sees Juniper becoming a major player in the switching market.

"I think they are doing quite well. They are doing better than a lot of switch startups," he said. "They're doing pretty well with revenue and with customers. In light of ProCurve and Cisco gaining steam, I think this is going to become a three-horse race [with Juniper] soon."

The EX 2500 plugs a gap in Juniper's switching portfolio, Whiteley said. Like most switch vendors, Juniper was caught a little off guard by how quickly some customers are moving to 10 gigabit servers in the data center, and a they needed a 10 GbE top-of-rack switch to serve that small but growing market, he said.

The EX 2500, as a top-of-rack 10 GbE switch, will find some success in the market, Lippis said, adding that Juniper has "all the right things in place." But he expressed disappointment with the overall development route Juniper is taking with its EX data center switches.

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"It's an old-fashioned design, meaning the top-of-rack switches today," he said. "The new design dimension is for [fabric] extenders. You have that with the Nexus 2000 and 5000, and we'll see a whole bunch of other companies come out with this concept."

Cisco announced the Nexus 2000 last month. Described as a fabric extender, the device sits at the top of a server rack, but it does not function as an individual switch. Instead, it serves as an extension of an end-of-row switch, such as the Nexus 5000 and 7000 or the Catalyst 6500.

"In essence, what you have [with the Nexus 2000] is a low-cost, top-of-rack device that gets all its configuration, policy and programming from an end-of-row device," Lippis said. "The beauty of this is that it allows you to manage all server connections from one switch and allows you to radically reduce the amount of cabling required."

Whiteley disagreed, saying Juniper's architecture carries a strong message about consolidation that appeals to many enterprises.

"Juniper says there's no need to have as many [network] tiers in the data center: the access tier, aggregation tier and core tier," he said. "They argue you can get rid of aggregation tier."

Juniper's other top-of-rack switch, the EX4200, ships with virtual chassis technology. Up to ten 4200s can be connected together through software that allows them form a virtual chassis aggregation switch. Whiteley said this technology allows enterprises to plug these access switches directly into the core. The EX 2500 does not yet ship with this technology.

"They can remove that aggregation tier," Whiteley said. "It is a story that resonates. There are plenty of companies that are interested in anything that tells a story about efficiency and they're happy to be ripping out those aggregation tiers."

Lippis described Juniper's go-to-market capabilities for its EX switches as "broken."

"They have great relationships with service providers," he said. "And a lot of their relationships with enterprises come through service providers in the form of sell-through. But their relationship with IT departments is minimal. They've got to fix that problem. The way they could fix it is with what they're doing with the cloud with IBM. Since HP and IBM are so [angry] with Cisco, they're looking for someone else, and with Juniper broadening out its switching line, they may give HP and IBM an alternative [switching] partner in the data center."

However, Juniper's CEO Kevin Johnson noted recently at the company's recent analyst event that 30% to 40% of the switches it has sold are to first time Juniper customers, suggesting that it is reaching into new areas of the market with some success.

The EX 2500 will be available this spring and will sell for $18,000.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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