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Cisco nabs Juniper QFabric architect David Yen

Juniper QFabric architect David Yen jumped ship to head up Cisco's data center business, including UCS and Nexus lines. It's a sign the Cisco reorganization is well under way.

Juniper QFabric architect David Yen has jumped ship to head up Cisco Systems’ data center business, placing him in charge of the Unified Computing System (UCS) and Nexus product lines. Nabbing Yen is the latest step in the Cisco reorganization promised by CEO John Chambers last month.

Yen— who was the voice behind every major Juniper release since he joined the company three years ago— was scheduled to keynote at Interop Las Vegas 2011 today, but the lineup was changed overnight. Yen's spot will now be filled by Alex Gray, Juniper's vice president of the Campus & Branch Unit. Campus networking is a far different topic from the data center focus Yen had planned to address at Interop, and branch technology has not necessarily been Juniper's focus this year.

Yen will be general manager and senior vice president of the Cisco Server Access and Virtualization Technology group and will now report to CTO Padmasree Warrior. He will replace three Cisco executives—Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain and Luca Cafiero, who founded the UCS business. All three will continue to serve as technical advisors to Cisco CEO John Chambers.

Yen's appointment is clearly part of Cisco's efforts to fight flagging sales and intense competition from HP Networking and unexpected corners, such as Juniper Networks, Brocade Networks and Arista Networks. Last month, Cisco leaked a memo from Chambers admitting to loss of focus and saying the company would reorganize to better focus on its central businesses: core routing, switching and services; collaboration; video; data center virtualization and the cloud; and architecture. Just days later, Cisco dumped its Flip video camera business after months of being criticized for losing focus on networking as a result of consumer-oriented tech plays.

How big of a loss for Juniper?

Yen, who has spent 20 years at Sun in the server business before joining Juniper as executive vice president of Fabric and Switching, is a technology “it-man.” His engineering skills are matched by the rare ability to vocalize the story behind the technology—and Juniper has used those skills wisely. Yen has taken center stage at Juniper's most noted releases, including the 2.6 terabits per second Trio chipset that powers Juniper's data center vision. He was also in the spotlight during the Juniper QFabric data center network fabric launch, which is a Best of Interop 2011 finalist.

Still, some analysts believe Yen's departure is more of a gain for Cisco than a loss for Juniper.

“I know and respect David, but Pradeep [Sindu, Juniper CTO] has had the guiding role in Juniper's activities, especially QFabric,” said Tom Nolle, president of research firm CIMI Corporation. “The underlying semiconductor chipset has long been completed and there is not likely going to be an interruption on the QFabric release.”

For Cisco, however, Yen's deep technology background sends an important message that the company will better focus on tech strategy. .

“QFabric is something Cisco should have done, but didn't do,” said Nolle. “Cisco's greatest strength against Juniper is simple: They make servers. What I think Cisco is doing here is grabbing the guy who understands the data center better than Cisco.”

In 2008, Cisco lost its own data center star when former senior vice president Jayshree Ullal left to head up Arista Networks. Ullal has led Arista to important data center inroads with an extremely innovative network architecture vision and some key financial industry customers of high-performance networking. Cisco has also lost a host of other high level executives in recent years that some believe lead to Cisco's current problems.

“Cisco loses five hundred execs over the last six months, and then gets the wallet out to buy a signature head to look better,” said EtherealMind blogger Greg Ferro. “It's a classic maneuver.”

To learn more about Interop, view our 2011 Interop Las Vegas conference page.

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