Friday, March 9, 2012

A sad failure?

Very recently I have read an article on Network World about some investment firm warning on issues with Juniper's problems and/or delays on shipping certain recent products and technologies. Amongst them QFabric was cited.

It is all "alleged" information, as much as I know, but it comes to no surprise. I don't have a close knowledge of the service provider core routing market to speak about the T4000 or the PTX system, but I have followed very very closely QFabric since it was announced (and before it was announced as well).

It is quite shocking that one year, yes, one full year, after a big announcement like that one, from a company like Juniper so quick to come up with customers endorsing them, no single customer reference is out there. Of course this may change any day now, possibly, but it will not hide the failure already. It clearly means when it was announced it was not ready (it shipped six months after), and it seems to indicate that when it shipped it had a number of issues ...

Despite all the mind share captured, all the good press, all the bloggers fascinated with Juniper's QFabric marketing claims (naively  I must add, in most cases), the fact is that JNPR's switching market share remains marginal. Marginal, after being in the marketplace for over 4 years now considering the EX product line, which still is the only one selling in some volume afaik. Contrast this with Cisco's UCS for instance, and the impact it has had in little more than 2 years as a comparison.

I may be wrong, and I really hope I am wrong, but I think JNPR will need to recognize the failure and change the strategy. To me, based on what we know now, it is a failure, and a sad one. Sad, because I expected better from Juniper, and sad because healthy competition is great for every company in the market, and most important, for customers.

And I think it is a failure for various reasons:

1. Architecturally. It is very, very complicated to scale a distributed ethernet switch to the levels that Qfabric is intended to do.  And if it can be done (and having experience with distributed ethernet switches to very low level I have serious doubts about it)  it is very difficult that such thing is done while maintaining the system economic and simple to operate. It already isn't either of those two.

2. QFabric missed the industry trends. There are two key trends:

- Large L2/L3 fabrics (or simply put, networks :-) ), with  some form of edge-based overlays to deliver network virtualization. While QFabric could provide the basis for this, it fails at scale. It is too big for smaller deployments, too small for large ones. But more importantly, it has no value proposition. If I want to build a L3 fabric to then run a Distributed Edge Overlay (DEO) I can use standard OSPF or ISIS engineered networks which will support a much larger number of switches in the fabric than QFabric allows and can be potentially built using a number of vendors, and even combination of vendor equipment etc. Why would you do it with Qfabric?!

- Software Defined Networking: you can jump on the band wagon by adding marketing, claiming open APIs and whatever. Organizations looking at this have anyone one of two angles: integration into cloud stacks (i.e. OpenStack, where JNPR's Qfabric role is marginal/none), or open capabilities to manage forwarding elements from a controller (i.e. ala BigSwitch) using Open interfaces like OpenFlow. JNPR's approach today fits none. QFabric is proprietary in its architecture and does not lend itself well to allowing companies build tradicional fabrics not migrate to OF controllers as it is today.

In the end ... for those who are happy with building networks using tradicional ethernet technologies and evolving with those, QFabric does not offer any compelling value proposition. And for those facing real problems with today's state of ethernet technologies ... well ... the solution cannot be to simply build a larger ethernet switch.

But that said, I know there's great talent working on QFabric, and I really hope they will get it right, as right as it can be.

As always, opinions posted here are my own ...

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