Juniper Networks expects to begin shipping what it says is the “first carrier-grade virtual router” in the first quarter of 2015. The offering, announced today and known as the vMX Universal Edge Router, is essentially a virtualized version of Juniper’s popular MX2020 router targeted for use near the edge of the network, said Juniper Director of Service Provider Marketing Steve Shaw in an interview.

When Juniper’s service provider customers started taking an interest in software defined networking  a couple of years ago, Juniper began asking those customers about their plans for the technology, which centralizes control of network elements. According to Shaw, what the service providers said was “we want to be able to shrink [the MX2020] and push [MX2020] power closer to customers.”

The vMX Router
The functionality that previously would have been built into a dedicated hardware platform can now be delivered from a generic x86 server running the vMX software and controlled remotely, Shaw explained. This approach, he said “starts to address the agility of turning up and delivering service,” while also enabling service providers to maintain a common operations environment for physical and virtual routers.

Shaw believes service providers also will welcome the opportunity to turn up new software code on a limited basis. Traditionally Juniper releases new code for its routers three times a year, but not every service provider deploys new code when it first becomes available because they are reluctant to undertake the process of installing that software and making whatever adjustments necessary for their networks.

“In a virtualized environment you could send the same code and try out virtualized service for just one customer,” commented Shaw. “You can try it out without taking down the big router.”

A key goal of SDN is to minimize network costs, and using generic hardware should help attain that goal. Shaw declined to reveal pricing on the xMX virtual router however.

Instead, he said, “the philosophy behind it is to really expand the market for routers” by offering a solution that can meet “entry-level” requirements. He expects to see some customers using only 100 Mbps or 200 Mbps of capacity in their vMX implementations.

Juniper’s ability to create the vMX was enhanced through its acquisition of Contrail, developer of an SDN controller for data centers, Shaw said – and another new offering that Juniper announced today also builds on that foundation.

The new offering, dubbed Contrail Cloud, is an OpenStack-based software platform which, according to a press release issued today, is designed for “cloud resource orchestration and lifecycle management,” bringing together compute, network, storage and virtualization. When used with the Contrail SDN controller, now known as Contrail Networking, Contrail Cloud provides a “turnkey NFV solution to help accelerate service creation,” Juniper said.

The cloud terminology was used because “we’re trying to get service provider customers to think . . . of their network as a cloud,” rather than “a bunch of boxes,” Shaw said.

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