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Cisco vs. Juniper: How different are their SDN strategies?

Jim Duffy | Feb. 8, 2013
Analysts see more convergence than divergence with recent Cisco, Juniper releases.

On the surface, Cisco and Juniper's SDN strategies seem to have sharp contrasts if recent announcements are any indication. For example:

" Juniper places much more emphasis on the software angle of SDN, even ushering in a new software licensing business model; Cisco's attempts to make hardware as much, and perhaps even more, relevant than software.

" Cisco is attacking five markets at once -- data center, enterprise, service provider, cloud, academia -- with its strategy, while Juniper is focusing initially on data centers.

" Juniper views SDNs as much more disruptive, potentially allowing it to significantly increase share; Cisco has thus far made no such dramatic market impact statements regarding SDNs.

" As part of its hardware focus on SDN, Cisco is funding a separate spin-in company -- Insieme Networks -- which is believed to be building big programmable switches and controller(s); Juniper has no such hardware investments, but did buy Contrail for $176 million, again emphasizing the software aspect of SDNs.

" Cisco has a timeline of 2013 deliverables; Juniper's timeline pushes a controller and SDN service "chaining" capability out into 2014, and the new software business model into 2015.

Yet analysts say there are really more similarities than differences in both strategies from the fierce rivals.

"I think there are some similarities," says Brad Casemore of IDC. "Both Juniper and Cisco are emphasizing ASICs, and therefore hardware, in their SDN strategies. Both companies also see network and security services -- Layer 4-7 -- as virtualized applications in a programmable network. They each have controllers, but they also will promote hybrid control planes -- decoupled and distributed. Juniper is positioning for a software-licensing business model, true, but it's relatively early along in that process."

"It's a different packaging strategy but both seem equally focused on the value of software in SDN," says Mike Fratto of Current Analysis. "Key points being modular, flexible, and exposing APIs for integration."

Juniper recently divulged its SDN strategy after months of silence - seven months after Cisco announced its Cisco ONE plan. Salient points of Juniper's plan include separating networking software into four planes -- Management, Services, Control and Forwarding -- to optimize each plane within the network; creating network and security service virtual machines by extracting service software from hardware and housing it on x86 servers; using a centralized controller that enables service chaining in software, or the ability to connect services across devices according to business need; and the new software-based licensing model, which allows the transfer of software licenses between Juniper devices and industry-standard x86 servers, and is designed to allow customers to scale purchases based on actual usage.


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