What's a software guy doing at a hardware networking company?
Bob Muglia, executive vice president of software solutions at Juniper Networks, is no stranger to the world of software. Muglia spent over two decades at Microsoft, where he helped define its software vision. Before joining Juniper in 2012, Muglia had been the president of Microsoft's server and tools business.
At Juniper, Muglia is helping to redefine the networking vendor in the age of the Software Defined Network (SDN). In an exclusive video interview with Enterprise Networking Planet, Muglia details why Juniper is embracing software, the role of hardware, and where open source and Linux fit into the whole equation.
In Muglia's view, anything that is x86-based is effectively a commoditized piece of hardware. That's not what Juniper is building.
"Almost all of our revenue comes from routers and other devices that have special-purpose ASICs in them, that largely we have designed and built," Muglia said.
He noted that any network function can be done in software, but the question is whether it can be done at the level of performance required. That's the difference that custom ASICs deliver, namely performance for high-end throughput and functionality.
Software in the networking industry
The move toward software in the networking industry is being driven by customer needs.
"When I joined Juniper, it was relatively coincidental to the growing trend toward SDN across the overall industry," Muglia said. "There is a recognition that the way that networking has traditionally been performed is not satisfying the full set of needs for both enterprise and service providers."
On the enterprise side, there is a need for the dynamic capability in networking infrastructure to support cloud initiatives. In the service provider space, meanwhile, there is a need to provide new network services in a more timely manner. Muglia noted that service providers in particular have been limited in their ability to roll out services, since much of the software is encapsulated in network boxes.
From hardware to software
Muglia commented that his first eight months at Juniper were about evaluating what software initiatives the company already had. He quickly realized that what Juniper already had wasn't enough to build a coherent software business.
"This is part of my twenty-plus years at Microsoft," Muglia said. "You build a common platform, and then you create the applications on top, and I was seeking a similar structure."
Prior to Muglia's arrival at Juniper, the company had been pursuing multiple software avenues. The core operating system that runs across most of Juniper's hardware is called JUNOS and provides a common system for hardware. Juniper has recently evolved the Junos brand to include all of Juniper's software assets. Juniper also has the Junos Space and Junos Pulse software, which also enable a certain degree of network programmability.
Muglia noted that when he looked at the various software offerings that Juniper had been building, not all of them were in fact Junos Operating System-based.
"One of the architectural changes and realizations that we've come too at Juniper is that Junos is a great operating system for our systems," Muglia said. "As we think more broadly and want to provide service and SDN capabilities outside the box, Junos is not appropriate for that."
Muglia stressed that Junos is an embedded operating system for Juniper's own networking hardware. In the move toward an SDN architecture, the software capabilities, which are all now branded as the Junos software brand, are all in fact Linux-based.
"Almost all the work that my team is doing on delivering software outside of our systems is done with Linux underneath," Muglia said.
One of the biggest hardware innovations from Juniper in recent years was its 2011 launch of QFabric. Juniper invested over $100 million in research and development to bring QFabric to market. The overall goal of QFabric is to flatten networks in order to make them easier to manage and scale.
QFabric can be seen and deployed as a complementary enabling technology for SDN.
"What QFabric does very well is it manages a large number of ports as a single switch," Muglia explained. "The way to think about it from the SDN perspective is it provides a great Layer 2/3 underlay for a physical network, as one of the many choices that you have for building an SDN architecture."
One of the biggest things to happen in the SDN space in 2013 has been the creation of the OpenDaylight project, of which Juniper is a member.
"Our goal with OpenDaylight is to stay part of the open source process as something emerges that could be of interest," Muglia said.
Juniper's core strategy is, however, still focussed on its own Junos Contrail controller, though Juniper is also contributing technology to OpenDaylight.
"We're watching [OpenDaylight] more than anything else right now. We don't have plans to actually productize that at the moment," Muglia said. "It's really, really early with OpenDaylight, and there is still a large amount of conversations that are happening within the OpenDaylight community on how the architecture should evolve."
Watch the full video interview with Bob Muglia below.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.