Juniper, EMC Ally For QFabric Reference Architecture5:00 AM EST Mon. Oct. 29, 2012
EMC may have no apparent plans to acquire a networking hardware company, but it's still thumbing its nose at strategic partner Cisco thanks to a new alliance with Cisco arch-rival Juniper, CRN has learned.
Juniper and EMC plan to announce this week the completion of interoperability testing between Juniper's QFabric data center system with EMC's VMAX and VNX storage arrays, and that Juniper QFabric will now be included in EMC's Support Matrix for pre-tested, multi-vendor solutions.
What that means is that solution providers can now draw on a validated reference architecture for using Juniper QFabric products with EMC storage -- an approach not unlike the designs EMC has with Cisco and other vendors under its VSPEX program. EMC and Juniper will also collaborate on partner enablement and co-marketing around how to design data center architecture using their respective products.
"This was a multiple-month effort where EMC tested QFabric with a plethora of different vendors in the hypervisor space, with different servers and operating systems," Dhritiman Dasgupta, Juniper senior director, product marketing, told CRN. "We're not asking customers to find out all the interoperability needs on their own because we can tie this together with EMC's blessing."
[Related: Juniper's QFabric: Questions and Converts]
The EMC qualification includes Juniper's QFX3500 10-GbE top-of-rack switch, and both the midmarket-focused QFX3000-M and higher-end QFX3000-G QFabric systems.
"It's something the partners can leverage in the sales cycle," said Steve Pataky, Juniper vice president, worldwide channel development. "They can show that the choices the customer has made on how they want to design the network are all going to work together."
QFabric, which Juniper launched to great fanfare in February 2011, isn't so much a single product as a set of devices and software, including the aforementioned QFX switches working in concert with data center interconnects and a device management platform.
The approach is key to Juniper's stated strategy to "flatten" the three-layer data center into something that is more cost-efficient, easier to manage and able to compete with Cisco, HP, Brocade, Enterasys and many other vendors pitching converged infrastructure designs.
But QFabric has thus far seen a slow uptake among enterprise customers since its commercial availability began a little over a year ago. Juniper claims the system has more than 200 customers, but analysts have criticized Juniper for being cagey about how many of those customers merely bought the top-of-rack QFX switches versus invested in the whole system.
Juniper insiders tell CRN that very few of Juniper's QFabric customers -- fewer than 20, according to one source with direct knowledge of the QFabric group -- are full-fledged QFabric deployments.
According to Dasgupta, however, the uptake on the switches has been strong and enough to excite customers about how to do a data center migration onto the full QFabric platform. It will simply take some time, he explained.
"It's been shipping just for a year, and the top of rack switch for 18 months," Dasgupta said. "The customers that have bought the 3500 switch we're confident will migrate to the full QFabric architecture at some point, and we also have quite a few reference-able customers for the entire fabric at this point."
NEXT: How Juniper's Moving QFabric Through Partners
Juniper has tried several moves already to boost QFabric's momentum with Juniper's channel partners, including the introduction of a midmarket-centric QFabric -- an overall cheaper package, with a different interconnect device and less firepower -- in June. The EMC alliance is another step in that effort, executives explained, because it formalizes the good fit between EMC and Juniper products many solution providers already know about.
Juniper didn't provide numbers on how many of its solution providers also partner with EMC, but the majority of those targeted partners with which Juniper is working intensively on QFabric have storage practices, Juniper's Pataky said.
In a previous interview, Juniper executives told CRN that fewer than 10 solution providers sell the G-level QFabric, but that Juniper has more than 450 Select- and Elite-level partners certified to sell its data center products and that about 80 partners sell the end-to-end servers, storage and networking portfolio.
Earlier this year, Juniper's channel teams began aggressively marketing QFabric through those partners, including a select group of 30 Juniper partners to which it provided advanced sales and technical training around the systems. That work has gone well, Pataky said, adding that Juniper and EMC would lean on distributors like Arrow to help partners move the needle on QFabric, as well.
"If you go into a customer and have an architectural point of view backed up by great products and technologies, you've earned the right to have a different conversation with that customer," Pataky said. "We see this as opening up a massive opportunity around other areas like data center security. These can be much bigger than just switch fulfillment implementations."
Juniper will also be looking to expand its strategic relationships with other storage providers, including IBM, with which it quietly completed interoperability testing several months ago, Juniper's Dasgupta said. Juniper declined to name other potential storage partners.
Top Juniper partners agreed that the uptake of QFX switches has been strong and that overall QFabric adoption will be a slower, more deliberate process that'll pay bigger dividends in the long term.
"It's a big commitment, and it is complex, moving from a tiered system to a single switch in the data center," said Peter Jansson, senior system engineer at IGX Global, a Juniper Elite partner based in Rocky Hill, Ct. "In some cases in a QFabric deployment you're [addressing] 6,000 10-gig ports, and some data center architects do get scared by the sheer size of the numbers. But the response on the [M-level] micro-fabric in particular has been quite interesting and is definitely opening a lot of doors."
Jansson agreed with Pataky's assessment that the QFabric concept was a door-opener for customers looking to invest more strategically in data center assets.
"What we've been able to do is have quite in-depth conversations with our clients, especially when they're going from 1-gig server-attached architecture to virtualized 10-gig architecture and blade chassis," Jansson said. "It's something we believe in from a data center architecture point of view. It's a slow process, for sure. But the customers who have deployed the QFX-3500 in its initial stage, we've found, are very keen to explore what sort of solution the full Fabric can offer."
NEXT: Does Juniper Threaten EMC's Cisco Relationship?
QFabric speculation is ramping up, while in the meantime, Juniper itself is undergoing significant internal changes. In the last few week, Juniper confirmed exits of four EVP-level executives as part of an ongoing restructuring meant to remove $150 million in operating expenses. Those transitions include the impending departures of Stefan Dyckerhoff, EVP, Platform Systems Division and R.K. Anand, EVP and GM of Juniper's data center business, both of whom were key QFabric proponents in Juniper's management ranks.
A Juniper source told CRN the EMC reference architecture was set to be announced earlier in October. But, the announcement was delayed, that source said, because of negative press surrounding Juniper's layoffs and also the much-discussed, then thoroughly-debunked rumor that EMC was potentially going to acquire Juniper.
Such a move, which most analysts quickly dismissed as far-fetched, would put EMC squarely at odds with Cisco, with which it partners in the joint data center venture VCE as well as on several other fronts. But, Cisco's relationship with EMC and EMC-majority-owned-VMware is thought to have been strained following several recent moves made by each vendor, particularly VMware's acquisition of virtualized networking startup Nicira this past summer.
During EMC's third-quarter earnings call last week, however, EMC CEO Joe Tucci denied that EMC would acquire a networking hardware company, saying its Cisco relationship was on solid ground.
"Some have called into question the viability of our relationship with Cisco in VCE because of VMware's entrance into the networking space," Tucci said in prepared remarks. "The reality is that software-defined networking complements the network infrastructure, and EMC has no plans to drive deeper into networking by acquiring a networking hardware company. We believe continued innovation in the network infrastructure by a partner ecosystem will enable higher performance transmission of data in the next-generation data centers. In short, we are committed to work closely and cooperatively with Cisco, our premier partner."
In an early October interview with CRN, Cisco CEO John Chambers also affirmed Cisco's relationships with EMC and VMware but also said Cisco isn't afraid of a co-opetition model.
"When we partner ... well, I'm not looking at my wife and saying I'm going to partner with you till I find somebody cuter. That wouldn't work. That's how we approach partnerships," Chambers said. "We are far from perfect, but we do not say we're going to partner and then move on our partners. Almost every major vendor in the [industry] wants to partner with Cisco right now. The network is at the sweet spot of every major market transition going on. It's all about the network. Will EMC be a very good partnership for us? Maybe our best? Yes. Will we compete against VMware as it relates to networking? Absolutely. And when we compete, we don't lose."
Solution providers see little ambiguity in EMC's move with Juniper, however: it's a way to keep a check on Cisco in much the same way Cisco has kept a check on EMC through its extensive partnerships with other storage providers like NetApp and Hitachi Data Systems.
"Cisco and EMC have become the best of frenemies," said a top executive at a national solution provider who partners with Cisco, EMC and Juniper, who said he would look at the EMC-QFabric architecture. "They do like each other and need each other but everything has to become a check-and-balance type of move. No question this is EMC hedging against Cisco's relationship with NetApp by bringing in another Cisco enemy."
Meanwhile, Juniper partners continue to evangelize QFabric. IGX, for example, worked closely with Juniper since QFabric's pre-launch days, when it was under development as Project Stratus. Juniper's been active with IGX and other partners helping to get the solutions a good look -- including assistance with proof-of-concepts (POC), IGX Global's Jansson said -- even if some customers continue to hesitate.
"Some customers are concerned about [putting] all [their] eggs in one basket," he said. "There's a mentality change in a single switch, but that's a mentality change IGX is willing to help them deal with. Customers who have already deployed a virtual chassis technology, either by Juniper's EX4200 or EX8200, are much more open to a strategy like this."
EMC's participation definitely helps the QFabric pitch to enterprise customers, Jansson said.
"Having someone of that caliber take an interest in QFabric and being able to say that they can support an implementation between EMC and QFabric, that's very lucrative from our point of view," he said. "Some of our larger customers do have EMC in their data centers, and that EMC recognizes QFabric as a viable partner in a storage deployment should be good."
PUBLISHED OCT. 29, 2012