Friday, May 30, 2008

Juniper Switches Tracks

Having only come into this network equipment beat in March, it was a surprise to me to learn of Juniper’s new move into the switch market. Yesterday morning, I headed down to Juniper's executive business center where Bobby Guhasarkar, senior manager of product marketing Ethernet platforms group, gave me a run-down on the company’s new switches.

Brand new switches. It seems that Juniper has never made switches. I was unaware of this. I’d always assumed they had such equipment since they specialized in network infrastructure and control systems like routers and firewalls.

But not switches. Until this year. Juniper began shipping its first switches in March. The EX 3200 and the EX 4200 are stand-alone units that run JUNOS. They were designed from scratch and offer much of the functionality that’s available in Juniper’s routers.

Guhasarkar said that the design goal was, from the start, to build a cheaper layer 3 switch with low latency. The use of Juniper’s existing network hardware operating system in these switches means that they can be administrated through Juniper’s existing management software. That also means these switches can do things like traffic shaping, mirroring and monitoring.

“Traffic shaping is something JUNOS has had for a long long time, and the beauty of what we get in this first release of these switches is ninth-generation software. It’s the same software that’s been running on all the routers. It’s the same traffic shaping code, the same SNMP code, the same chassis management code,” said Guhasarkar.

Another interesting feature of these new switches is the 4200’s ability to band together with 10 of its cohorts to form a virtual chassis. Such a chassis can be administrated as a single entity instead of a stack of individual switches.

With all these new-fangled features, I had to ask Guhasarkar where the line is between a switch and a router.

“Well it doesn’t make it a router in the Internet sense. We can’t accept a million routes from the Internet,” said Guhasarkar. The main difference between their routers and switches are in the logical scale tables. The key difference is “How many MAC addresses does it have to keep track of? At juniper when we say router, we kind of think about them as very large serious boxes. You can’t get in a US$4,000 switch what you can get in a million-dollar router.”
-- Alex Handy

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