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Juniper Launches a Hurricane, But the Empire (Cisco) Strikes Back with Nexus

So the wait's finally over, the worst kept secrets in the tech industry, Cisco's Nexus 7000 (codename DC3) and Juniper's EX series (codename Hurricane) have finally been launched. So, how do they stack up?

In my opinion, this first round went easily to Cisco for a number of reasons that I'll score round by round:

Vision: Advantage Cisco Cisco's vision and Juniper's vision were targeted at different market segments. Cisco's messaging was data center focused and Juniper's was more broadly focused on the concept of "networking". However, within their respective segments, Cisco did a much better job of creating differentiation.

Cisco's vision revolved around the transformation of the data center and how, as the data center becomes increasingly more virtualized, the network will play a key role in enabling the full vision of virtualization to come to fruition. Much of Cisco's focus was on redefining data center networking to be more than a really big, fast switch, and they made a strong case for a product like Nexus.

Juniper's vision revolved around issues that we've heard before. Messages such as, The enterprise network is important, it's a strategic asset, the equipment that supports it needs to be fast, reliable and secure, etc. There isn't a vendor that sells into the high end that doesn't tout the virtues of being fast, reliable and secure. There were a couple of points around the concept of open networking and the value of a single OS train that Juniper could have expanded on but did not. I'll discuss these points later though.

Product: Advantage Cisco From an overall product perspective, it's hard to compare a single product (Nexus) to a line of products (EX) but Cisco gets the nod here as well. EX is an Ethernet switch. It's a very fast, high performing Ethernet switch that rivals the products available from other performance leaders such as Force10 and Foundry Networks.

The main differentiator for Juniper when describing EX was the fact it runs the Junos operating system. This resonates very well with network operators, but isn't at the top of the enterprise decision criteria. Within the base of customers that run Juniper routers--that value Junos--Juniper has a good opportunity to displace the switching vendor at that company. It's unlikely Juniper will be able to lead with the switch, though, to obtain new customers. That task is likely to fall to Juniper's security group.

Cisco's Nexus 7000 sets the bar with 15 terabytes of switching capacity and paints an interesting roadmap for where networking should go. One of the more interesting elements is the unification of FiberChannel, Infiniband and Ethernet into a single product. I find it interesting how, as an industry, we hype convergence - wired and wireless, voice and data, etc, but in the data center we continue to build out parallel networks. The main reason for this is that Ethernet was never designed to perform like a computer backplane. The faster speeds get and the more reliable, the more likely it is that this will change. I believe that long term, all data center connectivity, network, storage and server will be owned by the network group and Cisco's taken a huge step towards that here.

If I were really scoring this, I'd ding Cisco a bit in that many of the advanced modules are not available yet, but neither are the modular switches from Juniper, so they both take a hit.

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Juniper and Open Networking In a mature market, like switching, significant share gain isn't likely to happen without some sort of transformational event. An example would be the voice market. If Cisco had built just another PBX, I don't believe they would have ever gained any share, since the world didn't need another PBX vendor. Cisco took advantage of the shift to VoIP to gain ground. Similarly, I don't believe the Ethernet switch market is going through any kind of transition that will cause this kind of transformation either, but Juniper did hint to one that could occur - open networking.

Juniper's opened up Junos and released SDKs to allow application vendors to integrate network things into applications. They highlighted some innovation between Juniper and IBM's Tivoli group. Think back to the mainframe-to-Windows transition. IBM's mainframes were, for the most part, closed and the ecosystem around it existed to support it and make it work better. Microsoft came along and opened up their operating system and created hundreds of ISVs, large and small, that wrote applications that ran on Windows. All of a sudden it became much more important to be ecosystem-led rather than ecosystem-supported, and the rest is history.

You can draw the analogy to today's network environment, where Cisco is the incumbent vendor that is ecosystem supported, and Juniper is the vendor trying to change the game. It's an interesting vision, but it's been tried by Vyatta and most recently by 3Com with their OSN (open systems networking) initiative, but it's never been tried by a company with the stature of a Juniper. I would have liked to have seen Juniper lead with this message, rather than emphasizing fast, reliable and secure.

Overall, the week we as industry watchers have been waiting for finally arrived. Nexus 7000 finally launched, and the following day, the long-awaited switch from Juniper arrived. I don't believe either vendor will have a significant short term impact. Cisco's bread and butter will continue to be Catalyst, and Nexus penetration will be similar to CRS-1, although I do believe, slightly faster. Juniper will get some early wins in their loyal base, and then need to sharpen up their messaging to capture larger share. I know I'm not painting the rosiest picture but hey, it's the most exciting thing to happen in switching since Force10 launched!