Juniper Networks at long last has laid out its software-defined networking (SDN) strategy, which includes a revamped software licensing plan that the company says will change its business model and differentiate it from competitors.

Juniper has been the least vocal of the major network vendors in articulating a strategy for attacking the SDN market - a market that IDC expects to be worth $3.7 billion in 2016.

Last year, rivals Cisco, HP, Brocade and Arista all initiated plans to harness SDNs in various ways to help customers transition to more flexible, virtualised networking architectures from those dependent on the proprietary characteristics of physical infrastructure. And Alcatel-Lucent recently disclosed funding of a year-old startup company focused on cloud SDNs.

While Juniper in December did spend $176 million to acquire SDN controller startup Contrail Systems, it has not been forthcoming about its overall SDN plans, other than dropping hints and suggestions at financial conferences and offshore trade shows.

This week, that changes. Juniper's plan includes six principles that the company claims address the most pressing challenges facing the networking industry over the next two years:

  • separate networking software into four planes - Management, Services, Control and Forwarding - to optimise each plane within the network;
  • centralise the appropriate aspects of the management, services and control software to simplify network design and lower operating costs;
  • use the cloud for scale and deployment, and to enable usage-based pricing;
  • create a platform for network applications, services, and integration into management systems;
  • standardise protocols - including OpenFlow - for interoperable, heterogeneous support across vendors;
  • and apply SDN principles to all networking and network services, including security, from the data centre and enterprise campus to service provider mobile and wireline networks.

In addition to those six principles, Juniper outlined four steps customers can take to implement SDNs this year. Those include implementing a single, centralised master network management, analytics and configuration capability for all network devices for comprehensive insight of network operations; creating network and security service virtual machines by extracting service software from hardware and housing it on x86 servers; using a centralised controller that enables service chaining in software, or the ability to connect services across devices according to business need; and optimising hardware for high performance SDNs.

Analysts say Juniper's strategy is consistent with the way the rest of the industry is adopting SDNs.

"It seems to be right in line with where the market is and what customer requirements are," says Rohit Mehra of IDC.

Juniper says some of its current Junos Space applications can deliver centralised management. These will be extended and augmented over time.

The controller will be based on the company's recently announced JunosV App Engine, which will ship this quarter, and the recently acquired controller technology from Contrail. JunosV App Engine is intended to allow customers to quickly turn up new services and applications. It includes a Linux operating system and KVM hypervisor with APIs to Juniper and third-party applications that run on an x86-based server module in the router.

Juniper had previously stated that it was looking to coalesce the industry around an open source-based de facto industry standard SDN controller to go up against Cisco's Insieme development and the one obtained by VMware through its acquisition of Nicira. But the company's stance has "evolved" since disclosing that intention last September, says Bob Muglia, executive vice president of Juniper's Software Solutions Division.

Juniper now views open source as an advantageous interface technology between controllers, and between controllers and switches, rather than as the core of controller capability, Muglia says.

The controller will be delivered in 2014 and include the software service chaining capability, Muglia says. Juniper's MX router and SRX security gateway hardware will be optimized for the software service chaining capability, with Juniper's QFabric data center and EX series campus switches to follow.

Juniper's Differentiator

Though the overall strategy is consistent with where the industry's going, Juniper's differentiator is the new software licensing model, which is called Juniper Software Advantage. It is based on enterprise software licensing models - many of Juniper's top executives, including Muglia and CEO Kevin Johnson, are from Microsoft - and allows the transfer of software licenses between Juniper devices and industry-standard x86 servers to protect customer investments.

The licensing strategy is also designed to allow customers to scale purchases based on actual usage. Juniper will announce specific software licensing packages throughout the year, and will transition its software business model by the end of 2015.

The licensing plan distinguishes Juniper's SDN strategy from Cisco's and its other competitors. None have articulated a revamped software licensing strategy based on adoption of SDN.

But IDC's Mehra says the entire industry will have to move to a software-based business model with the advent of SDN. And Nav Chander, another IDC analyst, says Juniper will have to sell the new enterprise-based licensing model to its service provider customers, which account for 65% of Juniper's revenue.

"This is going to be a big change for service providers," Chander says. "This licensing and pricing plan hasn't been socialized with that community yet."

Most of the way Juniper accounts for revenue is from hardware sales, he notes. The new licensing model may shift most of the revenue accountability to software.

Another challenge for Juniper's SDN plan is to release products in a timely manner, Mehra says. There was a long lag time between the introduction of Juniper's QFabric data center and cloud switches and shipment, which resulted in a slow ramp for the product line.

"They need to speed up products to market," he says. "Startups and incumbents are not waiting. They need to make the right moves and execute on this vision."