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Juniper vMX: A carrier-grade virtual router

Juniper announces a new virtual MX router and an NFV platform based on the Contrail SDN controller and OpenStack.

Juniper Networks has virtualized its MX router and introduced a converged infrastructure stack to support Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).

The vMX is a virtualized version of Juniper's workhorse carrier-grade router that is now designed to run on x86 servers.

"We are not just taking the Junos operating system and sticking it on an x86 environment," said Stephen Liu, senior director of product marketing at Juniper. Juniper has extracted the micro-code from the Trio ASIC that powers the MX data plane and added it as a compiler on the vMX, enabling full feature parity between the virtual and physical routers. The Trio "forwarding plane is where all the magic gets done, features like QoS, hierarchical queuing, and things like that."

Juniper is positioning the vMX as a router built for agility, where service providers can spin up new services quickly. It's rated to run at up to 160 Gbps, but Liu said service providers will typically use it in parts of the network where 100 Gbps throughput is needed. Juniper will continue to recommend the hardware-based MX for use cases that require high-density 100 Gbps ports and power efficiency.

Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., worries that Juniper is cannibalizing part of its hardware business by introducing the vMX. "If you're going to bring out a virtual router, you've got to do something to establish a mission for it that is incremental to, instead of competitive to, your MX," Nolle said.

Nolle suspects that Juniper is losing out on some hardware sales to virtual routers from Brocade and Cisco and has decided it's better to defend against those products than adhere to hardware purity. Nolle said Juniper may also be offering the vMX as part of its overall cost-cutting strategy.

"Since they are on a cost-cutting strategy to make Wall Street happy, virtualizing everything and [moving away] from hardware makes their costs go down," Nolle said. "Revenue goes down, but the cost of a software product, once you're done with R&D, is zero. They may see this as a more attractive business model."

MX is a state of the art platform and it does 1,000 times what a Vyatta can do.
Aqeel Asimvice president, cloud services, InterCloud Systems

InterCloud Systems, an IT solutions provider and cloud provider that works with carriers and large enterprises, is both a channel partner and a customer of the MX router line, said Aqeel Asim, vice president of the company's cloud services business. "We sell a lot of the MX today," he said. But vMX will find a lot of traction in the company's cloud, he said, where InterCloud will offer it as a service to customers. The company has also deployed the vMX inside its own infrastructure as a gateway into the cloud.

"The biggest advantage is that it's the same [virtual] device, the same command line interface, the same functionality," Asim said. "The throughput tests on paper look great. I would say in about 90% of MX deployments that [vMX] throughput will be enough."

InterCloud has used other virtual routers in the past, particularly Brocade's Vyatta platform.

"We've been using Vyatta in production for almost three years," Asim said. "That was just a plain router. MX is a state of the art platform and it does 1,000 times what a Vyatta can do, in terms of QoS, MPLS, OSPF, BGP. It's a totally different feature set."

Contrail Cloud:  Juniper's new NFV platform

Juniper also introduced Contrail Cloud, an integrated software platform intended as a foundation for NFV and cloud deployments. It combines OpenStack, Juniper's Contrail SDN controller and a reference architecture for underlying server, storage and Juniper switching and routing resources.

"We've specified cloud in a rack, with routing and switching in the compute and storage hardware reference architecture that customers can build to," Liu said. "It's all pre-tested, pre-qualified and supported by Juniper. You can run virtual network functions on top of [it]."

InterCloud has helped some customers deploy NFV using elements of Contrail Cloud, specifically the Contrail controller and OpenStack, Asim said. "We had a financial services company that had thousands of subscribers [to its financial data]. Each time it added [a subscriber], it had to ship new hardware. They came to us for a cloud-based CPE [customer-premises equipment]. We implemented that use case with Contrail and Juniper's OpenStack distribution."

The new vMX router should help with such implementations, he said. Typically InterCloud would use a physical MX as the gateway to connect virtual CPEs into the cloud. Multiple tenants would have to share the same MX. With a virtual router, the provider can give each tenant a dedicated gateway instance, Asim said.

CIMI Corp.'s Nolle said Contrail Cloud is similar to a lot of NFV platforms emerging from networking vendors today, that combine network and cloud orchestration technologies. Juniper, like most of those vendors, lacks an essential piece to make NFV a turnkey product that service providers can deploy.

"The MANO [management and orchestration] function is missing. It's not OpenStack," Nolle said. "[Vendors] are coming up with a platform that could support someone else's [MANO] orchestration], but you have to ask, why is the guy who has the orchestration going to make room for someone else's platform? The real question with NFV is not who can provide pieces for NFV. It's who can do enough to make the NFV business case a reality. No one is making it completely today. There is no full solution to this point."

Junos improvements for streamlined operations

Finally, Juniper announced some enhancements to its Junos operating system to improve network operations. The company added modularity to the platform so that the baseline operating system no longer requires an update when a network operator adds a new line card to a router.

"Any time I [as a network operator] update the baseline OS [to support a new line card], that forces me into qualification testing of 12 to 18 months," Liu said. "We made improvements to Junos [so that] when we introduce a new line card, you don't need to upgrade the operating system anymore. You just upload a driver. This allows you to be more surgical around the testing that you have to do. You just spot test the new line card and put it into production right away.

Juniper also integrated Chef, Puppet, Ansible, Python and Ruby into Junos to enable more automation in network operations, he said.

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