Juniper Networks this week will gloss over the fact that its chassis-based data centre switch is shipping later than planned by playing up its total cost of ownership position.

The eight-slot EX 8208 was supposed to ship by the end of this year. Juniper held it up until the first quarter of 2009 to extend beta testing and quality assurance.

But what Juniper will talk about is how the 8208, combined with other Juniper EX- and MX-series switches and routers, can reduce total cost of ownership by up to 52 percent in capital expenditures, 44 percent in power and cooling, and up to 55 percent in data center rack space.

Juniper, a relative newcomer to data center switching - its EX line rolled out earlier this year - says businesses are constrained by legacy architectures that cannot scale with increased processing demand. Juniper recommends adopting its switching, routing and security platforms, and Junos operating system, for a more agile and efficient infrastructure.

That may or may not be a tough sell, regardless of a shipment delay. Cisco dominates the data centre network infrastructure with the Catalyst 6500, and CIOs have a lot of money invested in it and in training. But Cisco is encouraging customers to transition to its new Nexus 7000 switch, and competitors see that as a ripe opportunity to strike.

Also, Juniper says it can eliminate an entire layer of Catalyst 6500 - or any other - aggregation switches. The company claims a combination of its EX-, MX- and SRX-series products can eliminate the aggregation switching layer, between the top-of-rack/end-of-row and core layers, in a data center network design.

This is accomplished through the virtual chassis technology in Juniper's EX 4200 Ethernet switches and the 8208s. This combination can reduce the number of interswitch links and the amount of equipment required in the data center by up to half, Juniper says.

Virtual chassis allows as many as 10 of the fixed-configuration devices to be interconnected into a 480 Gigabit Ethernet port "switch."

Analysts say it's the hinge of Juniper's strategy.

"They want the intelligence of end of row switches, but you can't afford to put that intelligence at the top of every rack," says Abner Germanow of IDC. "Virtual chassis is a good way of balancing those two architectures."

The most compelling application, according to Forrester Research's Rob Whiteley, is the ability for data center managers to extend a tool like VMware's VMotion across physical boundaries yet within the same logical Ethernet domain. This allows virtual machine mobility between physical data centers, he says.
"It hugely simplifies your VMotion architecture, and it basically puts that intelligence burden on the network," Whiteley says.

Juniper also says its SRX VPN, firewall and intrusion prevention services gateway can replace more than 12 separate appliances for securing a data center. And all of this can be managed through a single Juniper Network and Security Manager interface to achieve a 25 percent reduction in operating costs, Juniper claims.

Major data center vendors are pitching a unified switching fabric approach that would consolidate legacy technologies like FibreChannel over 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Standards for those are not expected until 2010, but some vendors are getting a jump-start with prestandard implementations.

It seems that Juniper won't be one of them.

"Along with partners like IBM, we are investing in the standardisation of Converged Enhanced Ethernet, which is a requirement for delivering standards-based Fibre Channel over Ethernet. As the standards get ratified, Juniper will be looking to productise the technology. Driving down complexity in the data center network requires standardization."

For now, Juniper says its approach has been endorsed by EX reseller and Cisco data center competitor IBM, and customers AOL, Commerce Bank, and Laboratory of Neuro-Imaging at UCLA.

Germanow says Juniper will still have to pass muster with those longtime legacy users.

"An unknown for Juniper is to make the argument for Junos across multiple product lines, and whether or not an enterprise can see the near-term value of that without buying multiple products," he says. "But the switch is clearly a contender and on the short list of a number of data center switch evaluations."