Juniper Networks' new control plane scaling platform, the JCS 1200, could take telecom networks another step forward as they seek to make their infrastructure more modularised and efficient.
The JCS separates the rules governing where data packets go from the underlying routing infrastructure. These two functions have traditionally been combined within the router.
Juniper bills the appliance as a way to speed up deployments of new services and features by reducing testing times, but Michael Howard, an analyst with Infonetics, is more impressed by the product's ability to more efficiently deploy control plane computing power as needed.
"I view it as part of a bigger trend toward virtualisation, where you can essentially deconstruct the parts of your network and then scale the parts independently," Howard said "If you look at what happened in the past over a long period of time with blade servers and storage networks, these areas of our computing world have been virtualised."
The cost savings could be considerable, he said, allowing network operators to avoid the expense of a new router if, for example, they need more control plane capacity only to manage the addition of a new video service.
Although this may mean fewer router sales per customer for Juniper, the strategy could pull in new customers, Howard believes. He also said the device was appealing because it simplified deployments: Rather than managing and installing a new router, a new device was simply added on to the existing configurations.
There is a tradeoff: Any time a new class of device is introduced into the network, configurations become a little more complex and the learning curve becomes a little steeper. The consistent interface of JunOS, the operating system Juniper uses across its product line, helps mitigate some of that complexity with the JCS 1200, Howard said.
Scott Heinlein, senior manager of service provider marketing for Juniper, said the device would be particularly attractive to telecoms as they diversify from being primarily voice-based service providers to video and data service providers.
"Voice is going to be commoditised," Heinlein said. "Somehow, [telecoms] need to make themselves more relevant in the value chain." The way to do that, he said, was by delivering new services "“ think video and social networking "“ that they could operate and charge the end user for, processes that would require substantial work in the control plane for determining which services go to which user, and with what priority.
"With this increased focus on adding services," he said, "there needs to be focus on scaling the control plane."
Howard said moving the control plane from the router was a clever step, but more evolutionary than revolutionary in nature. He said Juniper and other providers were in a constant game of feature leapfrog. Cisco, for example, announced a 40-core networking processor on the same day, while Infinera has developed bandwidth virtualisation technology that creates separate virtual pipes within a single optical network.
"They're each going to have their own approaches, and I don't think we'll immediately see others taking the control plane out," Howard said. "But if it turns out to be a market advantage for Juniper, they'll follow."