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Juniper's Aurrion buy brings silicon photonics to DCI strategy

Juniper Networks' acquisition of Aurrion adds important silicon photonics to the networking vendor's data center interconnect technology.

Juniper Networks Inc. has agreed to acquire silicon photonics manufacturer Aurrion, marking a continuation of the company's strategy to become a larger supplier of high-speed networking gear for connecting data centers.

Juniper co-founder and CTO Pradeep Sindhu announced the acquisition this week in a blog post, which promised customers the Aurrion deal would eventually lead to "fundamental and permanent improvements in cost per bit per second, power per bit per second, bandwidth density and flexibility of networking systems." Sindhu did not disclose financial details of the transaction.           

How or when the cost benefits would occur is not clear, but acquiring Aurrion, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., does bring important technology for building fast networking connections between data centers and in metro Ethernet networks. Carriers provide the latter to connect the local area networks of businesses to a wide area network or the internet.

In a January teleconference, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim told financial analysts he was targeting both markets for long-term revenue growth. Several days before the call, Juniper announced the acquisition of BTI Systems, a maker of data center interconnect technology.

Will Aurrion help Juniper catch up with rivals?

Lee Doyle, an analyst at Doyle Research, which focuses on the networking industry, said he sees the Aurrion and BTI acquisitions as Juniper trying to catch up to rivals.

"Juniper has largely missed out on the optical side of the [networking] market," he said. "They're addressing what the market requires; now, they have to execute on it."

Aurrion's technology is used to integrate indium phosphide material into the silicon photonic chips that convert data-carrying electrons from computers into light pulses that can travel over optical fiber. The chips also convert light back into computer-readable data. Indium phosphide is important in the process because electrons move much faster over the material than they do over common semiconductor silicon.

Silicon photonics, which can move data at a rate of 100 Gbps, could one day replace much slower copper cabling in data centers. Experts, however, expect that transition to take years, since it will require enterprises to rip and replace networking gear.

Nevertheless, Sindhu seemed optimistic on the future of silicon photonics, which has been under development since the late 1980s. "We believe we can make significant improvements to the foundations of all of our networking products within a relatively short time," he said.

Other tech vendors are also investing in silicon photonics, hoping to one day provide faster networks for video, big data analytics and IP communications. IBM and Intel have invested heavily in research and development, and, in 2012, Cisco made a big commitment with the $271 million acquisition of silicon photonics vendor Lightwire.

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