Juniper's QFabric System: Questions And Converts

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QFabric itself isn't one single product, but rather a set of devices and software, which starts with top-of-rack QFX switches and includes interconnects and a device management platform intended to provide better control of data center assets.

Officially unveiled in February 2011 after three years under development as Project Stratus, QFabric is the key to Juniper's stated strategy of "flattening" the traditional three-layer data center into something that consumes less power, needs less equipment, and is far easier to manage. QFabric competes against a galaxy of other data center vendors, from Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Dell to Brocade, Extreme and Alcatel-Lucent, all of whose visions settle somewhere in the converged networking/data center opportunity.

Sunnyvale-based Juniper hasn't offered many details on QFabric adoption, although it told analysts during its second-quarter conference call in July that it now has 200 customers for QFabric -- including systems integrator General Dynamics -- up 50 since the first quarter's reported 150 customers.

During the call, Juniper described QFabric nodes as having "very good uptake" in the quarter but was not specific about what customers are buying -- "node" customers could be those merely acquiring QFabric switches and not buying into the whole infrastructure-plus-interconnect-plus-management-software vision.

Indeed, to both partners and analysts, it's tough to get a handle on how well QFabric has been received by the market.

"I think it's a great vision, but this is a market where vendors are moving to stacks and those who don't have stacks are aligning themselves tightly with those who do. I don't know where QFabric fits into that," Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal of ZK Research, told CRN. "It's hard to get any real sense of whether it really works or not because a lot of the customers so far are only using the top-of-rack switch."

QFabric is asking a lot of customers, Kerravala said, because it is a data center overhaul and an investment in a vision that is singularly Juniper's vs. vendors merely pitching switches and other infrastructure that are part of multivendor environments.

Said Kerravala: "If you've got Cisco's market share, you can take that approach. If you've got Cisco's channel, you can take that approach. But Juniper has neither."

"It's not the easiest sell," said the top sales executive at a national Juniper partner, who asked that his name not be used because he's pitching QFabric to several customers. "It is a proprietary play -- when you get right down to it, you are asking customers to rip and replace. That's an all-in type of decision for customers that are still risk-averse and don't want to spend a ton of money."

NEXT: Juniper Targets The Midmarket

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