We became a Juniper Networks Partner when they purchased Netscreen about 5 years ago. Typically we see partner programs go downhill when a big company eats a smaller one. Juniper’s acquisition was different in that the partner program and Netscreen technology became even better. Since that time we have picked up some of Juniper’s other technology products resulting in more sales for Juniper and a well rounded portfolio of product offerings for us. Over a year ago Juniper came out with their first ethernet switch. Since we are a “Best of Breed” organization we found ourselves in the position of evaluating this technology to determine its viability.

Cisco owns a landslide share of the switching market so our due diligence process required us to re-evaluate their switching products before deciding if we wanted to pick up Juniper’s EX series of ethernet switches. Before we could compare, our first step was to understand Juniper’s story, see their roadmap and hear their market strategy. Once we completed the business analysis, we decided to get two senior engineers JNCIA-EX certified so that we would be able to have a firm grasp on the underlying technology, which is the JUNOS language. I attempted to summarize the main points of our findings below.

Juniper’s Story

Juniper’s strategy is clear, they make a compelling business case for enterprise customers to switch away from Cisco… and they approach it not from just a technology perspective but from a long term business perspective. They understand why organizations have gone with Cisco in the past and offer an alternative choice that is just as, if not more, compelling. Juniper brings what they call the “Power of One” to the table. This is the story that the majority of their competitive differentiators are based on. The Power of One is a single operating system, a single code release, and a single modular architecture. This is a technical answer on the surface but what the Power of One offers, is a number of business cases for picking Juniper over Cisco.

A single operating system allows for decreased operational expenses because a customer’s network team only needs to know JUNOS and then he/she can support all devices from firewalls, switches to routers.
The single code release is a competitive advantage over Cisco because of the overhead Cisco has supporting the 100’s of branches of IOS and the other IOS flavors the have created over the years. This means Juniper has to spend less dollars on development/R&D on a feature per feature basis compared to Cisco. It also means that you don’t need the CCIE guy, think big bucks, who understands the complexities of the IOS code branch to hardware platform branch to upgrade the firmware on a device.
The modular architecture actually comes at no cost from Juniper’s heritage as a Service Provider network vendor. Juniper’s customers, before moving into the enterprise space, were Service Providers who required the highest performing and most reliable networks. Juniper brings this same architecture and operating system to the enterprise with JUNOS.
Essentially, Juniper is saying that by moving to a Juniper/JUNOS environment you can cut licensing costs, get more operational efficiency, have the most reliable modular architecture, and do so with a large well established company just like Cisco(Juniper’s Market Cap at the date of this writing is over 12 Billion and although not quite Cisco’s 123 Billion it is still big enough to instill confidence in prospective customers).

The real arguement that should stem from Juniper entering the enterprise switching market is if the Power of One story brings the tangible value it claims to be able to deliver, instead I typically see technically focused religious debates about IOS vs JUNOS.

Technical Thoughts

Juniper’s JUNOS software is more logically laid out than Cisco’s IOS. Both have a hierarchical look and feel but JUNOS truly had a lot of thought put into it. I should note that there are other switching operating systems that are more intuitive than either IOS or JUNOS but that’s beyond the scope of this article. However, what I like about JUNOS is that once you get it, a light bulb goes off and everything makes logical sense from that point on. It does take a while, even for intelligent Network Engineers to really get it though. My gut feeling is that a good IOS guy who also understands fundamental switching and routing concepts can move to JUNOS after investing 1-2 days of training… although someone who only knows Cisco’s IOS by going through the motions on a day to day basis will take much longer to learn JUNOS. At the risk of not sounding Pro Juniper I will say that this is a major disadvantage to Juniper and a major advantage to the incumbant. Juniper is trying to solve this by offering lots of training aimed at people who already know Cisco IOS.

Another worthwhile technical point, JUNOS also separates the forwarding plane from the control plane. Without recreating what is already on Juniper’s web site, this means the switch can be under heavy duress(DOS attack, layer 2 loop) and still be managed. I tried this out at CIO Solution by creating a layer 2 loop without RSTP turned on and I was able to manage the device from either the web or CLI. This is very impressive. There are a couple of other wiz bang features in JUNOS that a technical guy would love but none of them really result in a business case for moving from Cisco to Juniper and I am sure the an IOS guru could retaliate with features IOS implements the JUNOS does not.

Which OS offers less lines of configuration to complete an equal config? I can’t say for sure and although i think that’s probably a fun debate amongst friends in the end its less important than some of the other business drivers.

What customers really want is choice, provided that choice gives them the same or a better product. The addition of Juniper’s switching platform provides this choice to a market that in the past has been dominated by Cisco. CIO Solutions strongly feels that Juniper switches are now a viable choice for customers who, in the past, felt that Cisco was the only game in town.