Juniper's white box switch is the company's first users can use with any network OS of their choice (Photo: Juniper)

With Open Commodity Switch, Juniper Goes After Web-Scale Data Center Market

Juniper Networks and Taiwanese hardware manufacturer Alpha Networks have designed a “white box” network switch for web-scale data centers using principles of Facebook’s Open Compute Project and submitted the design to OCP for review and adoption.

Juniper plans to start shipping the switch in the first quarter of 2015. It will come with the vendor’s Linux-based Junos OS, but users will be able to run any network operating system they want on it.

For Juniper, the move represents a step out of the pack of “incumbent” network vendors that have jealously guarded their inseparable, proprietary (and expensive) hardware-software bundles. Companies like Cisco, HP, and Brocade have not brought commodity low-cost hardware switches to market.

Commodity Switches With Non-Commodity Software and Support

White box switches and other commodity data center hardware have been the way web-scale data center operators – companies like Facebook, Google, or Amazon – have been able to drive down the cost and drive up efficiency and flexibility of their IT infrastructure. Because these companies have extensive internal engineering resources, they have relied primarily on self-designed hardware and software to operate their data centers.

However, vendors like Juniper, Hyve Solutions, and Quanta, among others, say there is now also a growing group of companies (primarily network carriers and cloud service providers) that want the same level of efficiency web-scale operators have achieved.

Juniper’s white box switch, called OCX1100, comes with the OS and traditional enterprise-level support by the company. The vendor hopes it will appeal to those large cloud providers that want web-scale infrastructure but don’t necessarily have the internal engineering resources of a Facebook or a Google.

Jonathan Davidson, Juniper senior vice president and general manager of its Security, Switching and Solutions business, said the product fills a “functional gap between white box and traditional switching.”

There isn’t a white box switch on the market that comes with a “carrier-grade” operating system, he said. Junos OS is what Juniper hopes will be the main competitive strength of the product, since the company has extensive experience in building and deploying robust network operating systems.

But, true to Open Compute principals, the vendor is letting the user decide whether they want to use Junos or another OS. There is a number of network operating systems for open switches out there, most prominent one being a Linux variant by a startup called Cumulus Networks.

Adopting Facebook Wedge Principles

The Open Compute Project, Facebook’s initiative aimed at creating an open source hardware and data center design community similar to the open source software one, currently has switch design specs by Accton, Alpha Networks, Broadcom, Mellanox, and Intel.

Facebook has designed its own switch, called Wedge, and previewed it earlier this year. But it has yet to contribute the design or the spec to the open source project.

Juniper’s OCX1100 design is consistent with Wedge principles by disaggregating an x86 control plane and a Broadcom forwarding plane, Davidson said. Unlike Wedge, however, Juniper’s switch supports ONIE (Open Network Install Environment), which is what enables installation of any operating system on it, he said.

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About the Author

San Francisco-based business and technology journalist. Editor in chief at Data Center Knowledge, covering the global data center industry.

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