Juniper Networks overhauls WAN optimization platforms

In the super-competitive WAN optimization market, Juniper wants to differentiate itself with smaller boxes and not so much software hoopla.

Juniper Networks is stepping up its wide area network (WAN) optimization game with a series of three new platforms that are more scaleable, speed up application performance and offer mix-and-match hardware components.

Juniper executives say it's not a software upgrade or a lot of new applications that make the new WAN optimization platforms exciting, but an overhaul of the hardware. The WXC 1800, WXC 2600 and WXC 3400 platforms are at once smaller and quieter and have parts that can be popped out of the structure (for example hard drives and power supplies) without dismounting it. Those parts can then be used in any of Juniper's other networking equipment, including routers and switches.

In competitive products, replacing a component in the WAN optimization platform would mean dismantling the entire rack to remove the unit and replace the component, according to Tim Richards, Juniper's senior product manager. "The mean time to repair is then measured in tens of minutes as opposed to a matter of seconds," he said.

Many Juniper competitors sell sealed form factor pieces because they think it "makes life easier for companies," Richards said. "But now people are demanding the same capabilities they see in routing and switching." Juniper's other equipment is already integrated so parts are swappable.

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As the competition mounts in WAN optimization, with companies like Blue Coat Systems and Riverbed Technology constantly upping the ante with new technology, Juniper has to differentiate itself. Taking the hardware approach is apparently the company's strategy of choice.

"As far as features go, [all of the companies] used to have differences," said Matthias Machowinski, an analyst at Infonetics. "Now with most of them you see this convergence to the mean where everybody has to have the same features on their platform." And everybody touts scalability, he said, but "commonality in components" is compelling.

The WXC WAN optimization platforms aim to improve application performance in order to make a remote office function as if it were on the local area network (LAN). They speed things up by eliminating redundant transmission, accelerating TCP and other application-specific protocols and prioritizing bandwidth according to application importance.

The new appliances can accelerate WAN traffic up to 2 Mbps for the WXC 1800 used in small offices, up to 8 Mbps for the WXC 2600 used in medium-sized to large branch offices and small data centers, and up to 45 Mbps for the WXC 3400, which is deployed at higher-speed remote locations, head offices or data centers.

For partners, ease of maintenance is a selling point for the new equipment.

"The old boxes weren't field-serviceable," said Jimmy Norton, a systems engineer with Juniper partner Modcomp Systems and Solutions in Deerfield Beach, Fla. "A hard drive would go bad and you would have to ship the entire box back or have a spare on hand."

While many companies tout scalability, Norton said the high- and low-end versions of Juniper's new series are more extreme than before and are therefore an important differentiator in the market.

"The big issue we ran into with the older platforms was that there weren't enough options," Norton said. While there were three versions of Juniper's box to serve small, medium and large networks before, the large didn't go as high and the small was not feasible for a tiny "office in a trailer," he said.

"The small box is just as powerful as the old bottom-line platform, but it has a smaller form factor and it is quieter. It could be sitting on a secretary's desk," Norton said. The large box is more powerful than before with more disk capacity. "This helps us position the product better."

Analyst Jim Metzler of Ashton, Metzler & Associates said the new generation of WXC products marks another step toward Juniper's common hardware platform strategy, which will bring "operational simplicity" to Juniper's WAN acceleration portfolio.

While the platforms share a hardware commonality, they don't share an operating system with the rest of Juniper's networking components. Juniper has long said it would move all of its networking equipment onto the same JUNOS OS, and the company has made market inroads by selling a range of infrastructure that is easy to manage because of OS commonality. The WXC series, however, runs the same operating system it did when Juniper acquired the line as part of the 2005 acquisition of Peribit Networks, which helped spark its entry into WAN optimization platforms.

Richards said he could not comment on when or if WXC would move to the JUNOS operating system, but would not veer from the company line that eventually everything will be moved onto JUNOS.

Richards said the new WXC platforms do not include any of the functionality that was once on the DX series of optimization appliances it also acquired with Peribit. Juniper took that series off the market in January, after the channel had already sold and implemented it in many shops, because it was difficult to differentiate from other lines on the market.

Richards said Juniper looked closely at the DX and decided it wasn't necessarily worth it to try to bring the same technology into another line.

"To be frank, both products were acquired on the same day," and that was the extent of their commonality, Richards said.

Juniper Networks' WXC 1800, 2600 and 3400 appliances are available immediately. The list prices for the new appliances start at $4,895 for the WXC 1800 with support for up to 10 connections, $12,395 for the WXC 2600, which supports up to 20 connections, and $24,995 for the WXC 3400 with support for up to 140 connections.

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