Silicon Valley start-up Juniper Networks, touted as Cisco Systems? biggest threat in the Internet core backbone business, has released the first details of its grand design.
But the plans for Juniper, which has $62 million in investments from many important Cisco customers and competitors, are not about its ultra-faster hardware but are about the software that will allow Internet service providers and communications companies to scale huge networks to meet demand.
In the US Juniper has been testing Junos, which it calls the first routing operating system for high-growth Internet backbone networks, at @Home Networks, Ericsson, MCI Communications, Worldcom's UUNET Technologies and Verio since early this year. Ericsson and UUNET are also among the companies that have invested in Juniper, along with 3Com Corporation, the Anschutz Family Investment Company, AT&T Ventures, Lucent Technologies, Northern Telecom and the Siemens/Newbridge alliance.
Juniper believes that it will be the features, reliability and functionality of its software that will enable it to stand out from the pack of around a dozen of so companies that are working to challenge Cisco. "Software will be our franchise going forward because it will out live any single hardware platform we announce," said David Barone, the product manager for the upcoming Juniper architecture. Juniper is initially concentrating its sales effort in the US but is talking to potential customers in Europe and the Asia/Pacific region, he said.
Juniper is keeping details of the hardware platform as secret as possible so Cisco cannot benefit from any pre-launch information. Barone said the company is testing the hardware in parallel with the software and will have products available "shortly". Juniper competitors claim the launch is late because of problems with the hardware but Barone insists the company is on schedule.
Juniper has decided to initially emphasise its software approach because it believes it has the best solution to control gigabit, terabit or higher packet-forwarding performance.
There are three elements key to Junos, according to Barone. One is its "traffic engineering". It and Cisco are the only two companies using the new Internet Engineering Task Force's MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) protocol for routing around congestion points and interoperability testing by the two companies will start soon.
Secondly, Junos achieves a high degree of reliability because it is a modular rather than monolithic operating system. Therefore any tweaking to protocols such as SMTP do not have an unforeseen impact on other parts of the OS.
Finally, because Juniper has attracted a "core talent base in protocol development", new features can be added quickly to the OS. John Ryan, principal at telecommunications analysis company Ryan, Hankin and Kent, said the really significant aspect of the Junos announcement was that it had full support for Border Gateway Protocol Version 4 (BGP4), which is a fundamental Internet routing protocol.
"One of Cisco's advantages is that is has a trustworthy implementation of BGP4. At the same time, the lack of one has proven to be the Achilles Heel for new vendors trying to crack the market," Ryan said.
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