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MetaFabric: The new Juniper data center architecture evolves QFabric

With MetaFabric, Juniper spins a new architecture that ties together networking within and between data centers and evolves QFabric.

Juniper Networks announced a new architecture -- MetaFabric -- that ties together its switching, routing and software into a comprehensive approach for data center and cloud networking.

The new Juniper data center architecture pushes the networking industry beyond a "myopic" approach, said Andre Kindness, senior analyst for Forrester Research. "All scenarios have been about virtual machine (VM) movement from server to server and programming [that movement]. But the bigger story is between data centers, and then between data centers and the cloud. These hybrid environments -- no one is really addressing that."

Networking has lagged behind other elements of the IT industry on the subject of interconnecting data centers and the cloud, Kindness said. MetaFabric is Juniper's attempt to get customers to think bigger than the data center network and thus create a larger cloud network.

"For the first time, [Juniper is] putting a wrapper around all the things they are doing," said Joe Skorupa, research vice president at Gartner. "They are really offering a great deal of flexibility in terms of how you build out the fabric in your data center, and they are also doing some nice things in terms of being able to extend these environments across the WAN."

MetaFabric also hints at the next step in the evolution of QFabric, Juniper's signature data center technology. External control and management planes housed in QFabric's Interconnect and Director devices can collapse back into the vendor's QFX node devices, including Juniper's newly announced QFX5100 switch.

"The architecture of [QFabric] is still there, but some of the components are being merged, eventually, right into the spine of what will be the new fabric," said John Merline, manager and architect for data networking at Northwestern Mutual, a Fortune 100 insurance company. "It's a simplification with fewer moving parts. The writing is on the wall [for QFabric Interconnect and Director]."

MetaFabric: Lots of Juniper data center moving parts

Juniper updated a number of disparate platforms to underpin MetaFabric, including MX router enhancements, a new QFabric node/switch (QFX5100) and a new network management platform (Junos Space Network Director).

The MX router now supports Ethernet VPN (EVPN), a new encapsulation technology for MPLS networks that allows customers to extend Layer 2 networks across the WAN. "Other vendors use proprietary protocols for this, but we think it's important for an open environment to use standard-based protocols to enable seamless mobility for VMs across subnets, across data centers and across the WAN," said John Davidson, senior vice president and general manager of Juniper's campus and data center business unit. The MX EVPN support also includes VM traffic optimizers to create efficient paths for VM migrations across the WAN.

The new Junos Space Network Director is a broad network management platform with visualization, analysis and control capabilities for both virtual and physical networks.

Northwestern Mutual's Merline said the single-pane-of-glass management for virtual and physical networks is particularly appealing because of its compatibility with VMware. He is looking at VMware NSX for network virtualization. "We'll be able to see the overlay network on top of the physical network, so when something is not working right, you will have a single pane of glass for troubleshooting," he said.

Juniper's QFX5100, meanwhile, is a new series of QFabric node devices that can also operate as traditional 10 and 40 Gigabit Ethernet [GbE] top-of-rack switches. Based on Broadcom's Trident II silicon, the QFX5100 series offers multiple combinations of 10 and 40 GbE ports. It also offers a handful of new features, including a topology-independent, in-service software upgrade capability.

MetaFabric includes evolution of QFabric

Finally, Juniper beefed up its Virtual Chassis technology, which allows engineers to manage and operate up to 10 Juniper switches as a single device. A new technology, Virtual Chassis Fabric [VCF] combines the legacy Virtual Chassis technology with some of the external control plane elements of QFabric. Now, customers can group together 20 devices into a VCF and tap into some of the control-plane elements of QFabric without using the external Interconnect and Director devices that Juniper traditionally required.

"[VCF] is a spine-leaf architecture that gives you the simplicity of the Virtual Chassis and the benefits of QFabric, where the external control plane of QFabric is actually integrated into the control plane of the switches themselves," Davidson said.

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Integrating QFabric into your existing infrastructure

Those QFabric control-plane elements include the ability for Juniper devices to share topology and routing information with each other, as well as the capacity to push MAC addresses across the network without relying on Spanning Tree Protocol.

Davidson framed VCF as a midrange scalability option for customers who want to build fabrics larger than what they can construct with plain Virtual Chassis, but smaller than what they would do with QFabric. That's exactly what Merline will initially use it for at Northwestern Mutual.

Merline has deployed five QFabric systems in his two data centers -- four of the large G systems for the production network and one M-class QFabric for his lab environment. However, Northwestern maintains a completely separate network for its demilitarized zone (DMZ), which Merline would like to upgrade with QFabric. He doesn't need the high number of ports he would get with a full QFabric deployment, so he envisions building a DMZ using VCF running on Juniper's new QFX5100.

But VCF also reflects an evolution, Merline said. Rather than building a QFabric with the Interconnect and Director devices orchestrating and interconnecting the QFX nodes, customers will now be able to build a spine-leaf network of QFX switches that have absorbed those external devices.

"Ultimately they were heading down this route where you don't need to use the Interconnect," Forrester's Kindness said.

All of Juniper's QFX devices will support VCF, as will the EX9200 and all future EX devices. Juniper also announced a reference architecture and a professional services practice aimed at supporting MetaFabric.

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