Industry Solutions and Trends
Technology is more than just networking and Juniper experts share their views on all the trends affecting IT
Industry Solutions and Trends
Cloud-Grade Innovation Happens Everywhere

Everywhere Networking

On June 20th, Juniper announced the concept or “Cloud-Grade Networking,” which builds on carrier-grade reach and reliability and enterprise-grade control and usability to bring cloud-level agility and operational scale to networks everywhere.


One of the tenets of Cloud-Grade Networking is the ability to run anywhere and everywhere—on any software, on any hardware, in any cloud. Juniper calls this requirement Everywhere Networking, and it refers specifically to the disaggregation of the networking technology stack so that applications can run in any cloud, cloud workloads can run on any device, and software can run on any hardware.


Good Engineering Practice

I started my career in software engineering almost two decades ago.  When I joined Juniper, I found it odd that “disaggregation” was part of the corporate lexicon, with a specific emphasis on the separation of the control plane from the data plane.  Wasn't this form of disaggregation merely table stakes for modern routers, or software engineering for that matter?


Disaggregation is just extending the core tenets of modular design to the commercial side of the business. When you have a large development team, the only practical way to build a product is to create clear interface boundaries, then decouple the components so that teams can act semi-autonomously. The more disciplined the engineering team is, the more strictly those boundaries are enforced.


The new conversation about disaggregation centers on the fact that vendors are now exposing these boundaries to the end customer. It's understood that the interface boundary has become hardened, mature, and standard enough that we can now let customers leverage them for their use.  I do recognize that, from the customer’s perspective, this is revolutionary concept.  I can't help but smile when I think about it because it feels like good engineering practice is finally emerging as the differentiator it should have been all along. 


More than Economics

The central theme for most disaggregation discussions these days is how it will enable superior economic advantage.  Separating hardware from software allows each layer to be procured independently.  The classis scenario in short form is as follows: hardware devolves to the lowest common denominator, aka merchant silicon, resulting in huge savings for everyone.


However, while cost savings is important, I think reducing disaggregation to a mere cost-cutting technique misses the major point learned from the web-scale community.  The web-scale community is printing money because of top-line growth, not bottom-line optimization.  The real value in disaggregation is architectural; that’s what has separated the web-scale companies from the rest of the market.  Architectural advantage equals business advantage.  This is what's driving the growth.


One of the defining tenets of Cloud-Grade Networking addresses the question of how networks are operated.  Basically, the major cloud properties have all built extensive monitoring and management frameworks around their resources (not only network, but also compute and storage), and they use these tools to optimize the underlying infrastructure. For optimization to be possible, they require fine-grained control. Disaggregation helps ensure that individual components (not just systems but also subsystems) are controllable. A strong interface layer provides a stable way of integrating with the surrounding tooling.


Also, for this extensive operational machinery to work, you want to make sure the underlying network is as simple as possible. The key to simplicity is stomping out snowflakes; uniqueness is bad for highly automated environments. So the web-scale companies have standardized on individual building blocks. Disaggregation allows them to isolate these building blocks, effectively locking them in place while allowing them to make changes elsewhere.


More than Hardware and Software

We deliberately chose the term “Everywhere Networking” because “disaggregation” has become so overused, it has drained it of any specific definition. When most people hear the word “disaggregation,” they immediately think about hardware and software decoupling. While that is a good thing to have, it is only one aspect of disaggregation—one that is critical for moving away from the legacy architectures perpetuated by a carrier-grade and enterprise-grade mentality to a new cloud-grade mindset.


For instance, you can apply the principles of Everywhere Networking to more than just a router or a switch; it can also be applied to large modular chassis.  Line cards have historically been tightly coupled with the chassis design; with our June 20 announcement, we introduced a universal chassis by decoupling the line card feature functionality from the platform itself.  This means that, for the first time, a single Juniper chassis can be leveraged for data center spin routing, core routing applications, and (in the near future) edge routing applications by simply selecting the appropriate branded QFX Series, PTX Series, or MX Series line card.  This unique engineering accomplishment is a form of Everywhere Networking:  disaggregation in the hardware itself.


 As we look at the rest of the technology stack, there are lots of opportunities for Everywhere Networking. Does the control plane need to be tightly coupled with the device? Can we disaggregate the chassis into smaller components by providing APIs to the underlying silicon? Should disaggregation only apply to merchant silicon?


The point here is that we need to take a much broader look at Everywhere Networking than just merchant silicon switches.


More than Breaking Things Apart

So far, our discussion has focused almost exclusively on how to break things apart; we haven’t spent enough time talking about how to bring them back together again.  For every component that is developed and sold separately, there is a need to integrate it into a fully-operational solution.


Currently, the burden of achieving this integration falls largely on the major cloud providers.  I should point out that once these providers settle on the disaggregated components, they buy them as integrated solutions through systems integrators. But if we want to democratize the cloud, we need to make integration easier for everyone.


This is a delicate balancing act.  We don’t want a world where all components can be mixed and matched freely; this would effectively mean that everyone is running a snowflake instance, which makes things more unstable.  We need to provide enough diversity to allow for meaningful choice, but not so much that everything stops working.


Juniper's approach here is to disaggregate by default as part of a robust engineering design, then be measured on how we integrate components. The end state simply cannot be more unstable than the starting state.


Commercializing Everywhere Networking

As one of the product evangelists at Juniper, I believe that everything starts with building great products. This has never been truer.  In the past, engineers everywhere could cut corners knowing that they could address the technical debt later because it was hidden underneath a broader product veneer.


In an Everywhere Networking world, this simply isn't the case any longer. In many ways, we believe that disaggregation puts a bit of architectural purity on display. And this allows Juniper to commercialize our engineering discipline—something we have never been shy about in the past.

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