Why I Switched Network Vendors after 12 Years from Cisco to Juniper Networks
Sep 26, 2011
This is a guest blog post. Views expressed in this post are original thoughts posted by Jasper Jans, Network Engineer at EspritXB. These views are his own and in no way do they represent the views of the company he works for.
About a year ago we decided it was time to look at our organically grown network infrastructure. Due to mergers and acquisitions it had put on some weight around the middle. Operating a network predominantly build around the Cisco portfolio, and hence pretty much unfamiliar with what else was available in the world of networking, we set out on a path to find a suitable replacement. So for the past year we have evaluated products and solutions from many vendors amongst others Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Juniper, MRV, Transmode and the likes. While going through the motions I came to some observations that I’d like to share with you.
Maybe I asked an odd question – I’ll let you guys be the judge of that – but when we started our evaluation we decided that instead of providing just a long list of requirements, we’d also include a question where the parties participating would not just present us with a list of equipment that would cover our requirements. Instead they were asked to look at our current design, challenge it, and propose what they thought would make the best way to build a new network that should take care of our needs going forward. Are you guys familiar with the “yes that is all possible” reply when you ask about several different design options? Juniper in combination with the integrator whom we were doing business with actually completely understood our question and our reasons for asking it. As one of the few parties they were willing, or maybe daring enough, to present us with a network design that I can honestly say we would not have considered before. Not only did they present us with a single answer to our design question; when we challenged them on it they had very plausible arguments on why we should do things differently and also where to draw the line. Is it taking a risk? I guess so. It is easy to present several options so that you increase the odds of presenting the one your customer is looking for. But to actually present a single solution as the best for our needs and to stick by it – that is showing a certain amount of faith in what you are selling if you’d ask me.
If you know and operate a single vendor network looking at other implementation options even something as basic as a CLI can be quite a learning curve. Looking at Junos however, which we were mostly unfamiliar with, was different. Somehow things clicked. Sure things were in a different place. Yes some commands were new, others unavailable. But there was a natural order to it all that made sense. Having an interface section that deals with interfaces and a routing section that deals with routing instead of mixing the two surely seemed odd at first, yet logical. Having a single CLI no matter the underlying hardware, having the same interface naming across platforms, it all helped to minimize the required learning curve.
I’m sure we have all done it at one point or another – let Google be your guide when it comes to finding platform information. One thing that struck me as odd – when looking for reviews, and comparisons of the Juniper product line Google was not very helpful. Sure I could find Juniper products pitched against similar products from other parties, but these tests often had a certain bias in the sense that these were paid for by someone who also specified the testing criteria. I had a really hard time finding independent test results for the products we were looking at. When I spoke to our Juniper contact about this I received a peculiar answer. I was told Juniper in general does not release test reports and comparisons, because as I had already observed myself – it is very hard to make a report that is unbiased towards one product or the other. Now the really interesting part about all this was the question I was asked in return; “Would there be something in particular I had in mind that I’d like to see feature or performance wise with regards to the Juniper equipment I was looking at? If so, Juniper would be happy to make said equipment, along with an engineer and test tools available for me in their lab in the Amsterdam office”. Being used to getting the slideware reply on a question this was a real breath of fresh air to me. One I’m happy to say I made use of more than once with very positive results.
We all know that IT departments are hard at work turning every piece of physical kit into something that runs as a virtual instance somewhere, all very foggy – or should I say cloudy. Looking at Juniper I discovered that a similar feature had been available for a long time in their products. The so called logical system option combined with a few other interesting design choices would allow us to rebuild our network using fewer physical devices while at the same time providing equal or higher levels of availability compared to what we were used to. In the end costs always play a role, and that is one area where virtualization is hard to beat.
I have learned a lot the past year about what products, technologies but also philosophies are out there in the world of networking when you look beyond what is familiar to you. The points mentioned above are just a few that came to mind. I’m very eager to hear about your own stories when you looked outside your comfort zone and considered another vendor. And for those of you that are considering a network refresh – all I can say is shop around, the grass might not be greener on the other side of the fence, but if you don’t open the gate and take a look you will never know. And for those of you wondering which products we went for in the end, it’s a combination of the MX-series (core/edge), M-series (edge), SRX-series (take a guess) and EX-series (out-of-band).