Juniper Networks embraces SDN, decouples Junos from the hardware

Juniper Networks recently made the announcement to allow Junos on white box hardware. Here are some potential use cases and concerns.

Image: iStockphoto/Petrovich9

Software is eating the world. VMware wants the entire data center to be driven by software, Amazon wants to abstract away everything, and networking isn't immune.

Network vendors such as Cisco, Brocade, and Juniper have long positioned a combination of proprietary hardware and software as the primary source of value for network stacks. Dell was the first major network vendor to disaggregate the software from the hardware by allowing third party network operating systems on their hardware platform. Now, Juniper is going one step further by allowing Junos to run on white box hardware.

Juniper announced the disaggregation of Junos from their hardware platform in November. The result is the ability to run Junos across a data center with heterogeneous network hardware. Common use cases may include x86 servers with multiple network interfaces to provide network function virtualization (NFV) services or white box top of the rack switch solutions.

The disaggregation may appeal to customers looking to leverage a common network operating system, while having complete flexibility at the hardware layer. As network requirements grow, customers could depend on a consistent control plane for managing the physical network infrastructure.


As with Dell's approach, there are questions about support. Dell is the first level of support for their hardware and third party operating system. Dell's approach alleviates concerns around finger point for issue resolution. Regardless of the source of the issue, the software and hardware are supported directly by Dell. Hardware compatibility has to be a concern for customers.

I don't expect Juniper to support simply running Junos on any vendor's network hardware. The version of Junos available will run on a Linux platform. I'd expect the network devices to be x86-based. I'd also expect Juniper to issue a hardware compatibility list detailing the specifics around chipset and NIC requirements. Don't expect to take your Cisco 9000 switch and run Junos.

The control of an HCL will allow Juniper to offer a reasonable level of support for a customer looking to run Junos on white box hardware, or even in a virtual machine for NFV solutions.

Network Function Virtualization

By building a version of Junos written to run on Linux, Juniper will enable an interesting platform for NFV. Most vendor's solutions build upon open source projects such as Open vSwitch. In theory, Juniper could license NFV switches, routers, and firewalls that run Junos. Operating teams would not need to adjust their tools or processes for NFV devices. From a network monitoring perspective, these devices would look like any other physical Junos device.

Existing Juniper customers may find this an appealing option for building a cloud-based data center.

The challenge

It's difficult to decouple software that's tightly integrated with hardware. Unexpected issues are bound to arise as customers bring together unexpected combinations of use cases and hardware. It is a bold move by Juniper, and I suspect customers will take a hard look at extending their investment in Junos.

What do you think?

Is this move by Juniper bold, or just a natural progression of the software-defined infrastructure? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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By Keith Townsend

Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fo...