Enterprises tend to be conservative with their data center networks, which makes Juniper Networks’ efforts to displace legacy architectures with its new data center network fabric, QFabric, a challenge. Juniper needs public reference customers who have deployed a full QFabric solution in order to attract risk-averse prospective customers.
In yesterday’s first quarter 2012 earnings call, Juniper revealed the first customers who have deployed a full QFabric system. According to a transcript of the earnings call via Seeking Alpha, Stephan Dyckerhoff, Juniper’s EVP, Platform Systems, said:
We now have over 150 customers for the QFX product line, and are seeing them embrace the solution in a variety of different configurations, ranging from top-of-rack installations to full fabric deployments.
We are pleased to have the first full fabric deployments running in live production. Those deployments include Qihoo 360 in China and Australia-based Oracle [Orica]. In Q1, we also had a QFabric win in Europe at Jan Yperman hospital in Belgium. Customer feedback overall is good, and we are encouraged with the pipeline we are building.
Juniper has caught some flack in the industry for the slow roll-out of its full data center fabric and a general lack of reference customers who have deployed a full fabric. Most initial customers of QFabric have been deploying the QFX3500 as a traditional top-of-rack switch. This device operates as a “node” in a full QFabric solution. It’s reasonable to assume that all of those QFX3500 customers are at least considering a full-fabric deployment, but it’s not guaranteed.
Juniper did put me on the phone with a healthcare-focused cloud provider (Codonis) a few months ago to discuss its plans for a full-fabric QFabric installation, but that implementation was mostly in the planning stage. Juniper has also announced that Deutsche Boers (operator of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange), Thomson Reuters, Bell Canada and Terra (Brazilian online media company) are all designing full-fabric deployments of QFabric, but none of those companies have announced whether they have put the system into production yet.
The lack of North American customers with production deployments is troubling. Juniper needs reference customers that U.S. companies can talk to. Qihoo 360 is a Chinese web security software developer. Will a stateside network architect be impressed by that reference? I doubt it. Jan Yyperman Hospital is a former Nortel Networks reference customer, so I’m assuming Juniper displaced a legacy Nortel network in its data center. That could be a promising reference when it eventually gets QFabric in production. Oracle Australia is a nice win. Will Oracle adopt the technology elsewhere? Network architects will want to know. Orica is an Australian chemical company. (A transcription error by Seeking Alpha suggested Oracle is a customer).
A Goldman Sachs analyst on the earnings call asked Juniper to specify how many of its 150 QFabric customers have deployed a full fabric. Juniper Dyckeroff declined to be specific:
…[W]e have a mix of deployments for the customers who have adopted the QFX product line. They range from top-of-rack to full fabric. The reason they adopt the product line is because we have strategic alignment with them on the architecture that they want to deploy going forward. And so the focus for us is to give them a great experience as they adopt the key pieces of technology and there’s a good number of them that actually adopt the full fabric…
Juniper’s slow roll-out of QFabric has been unfortunate, especially since much of the early hype surrounding the technology has been usurped by the rise of software-defined networking. The two technology’s aren’t necessarily interchangeable, but web-scale companies and cloud providers (a sweet spot for QFabric) are looking hard at software-defined networking, which has got to be a challenge for Juniper.