Uncommon Wisdom

Oct 29 2009   12:31PM GMT

Juniper’s radical service-layer software and semiconductor architecture speaks to carriers and enterprises

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

We can’t apologize for the characterization here; Juniper announced a radical combination of an extensive service-layer software system and a new semiconductor architecture, taking the most profound step the company has taken since it was founded.

The new chip is a family, the first member of which is Trio. It is based on a “Network Instruction Set Processor” model that builds software on the device using instructions customized for network behavior control rather than general-purpose instructions, as NPs do. In this respect, the chip is almost like an ASIC, but unlike an ASIC it’s programmable at the primitive NISP-instruction level, so new features can be added right down to the instruction level. It’s this architecture that accounts for the considerable improvements in performance, scalability, power efficiency, etc. that Juniper has demonstrated (through independent lab tests).

The software (Junos Space) is centered on a complete restructuring of the Juniper Junos operating system, and it extends Junos to cover not only Juniper devices but also independent software development, and even a new device client (Junos Pulse) that will provide security and identity management, VPN control, and connection control.

The software side of the announcement is the most critical because it is based on middleware to create what is, in effect, a platform-as-a-service cloud on which operators can build service features and service management components.The software there can then leverage software running on the routers through the old Juniper PSDP program, and through that could even, in theory, be linked to special “primitives” programmed into the new Trio NISP chip.

From a selfish vendor perspective, the most important thing is that Juniper ties the service layer development downward into its devices (through its router development programs like the old PSDP) and even potentially down into the chips themselves. That creates a value circle for them and it also lets operators build differentiation by linking their service solutions tightly into the network, giving better integration, operations, and performance than OTT players could achieve.

Juniper released applications for Ethernet activation, surveillance and monitoring, and problem management in the network. These are built on the Junos Space architecture. This new model is so radical that frankly it’s hard to believe it came out of Juniper, never known either for software or for making game-changing moves. This is clearly one such move, though, because it will at the minimum catalyze the whole service-layer marketplace.

Juniper also announced an expansion of its IBM OEM deal to include the SRX, which offers security control and falls under the Junos Space software umbrella at least in a development sense.

Finally, BLADE Network Technology announced it would license Junos for blade server switches, possibly the first porting of a network OS to another platform. Just assimilating all of this will no doubt create some headaches, but early indications from operators suggest they’re very interested, and there is also surprising early interest among large enterprises, particularly in the cloud computing potential.

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