As Brocade gains SDN expert, Juniper SDN strategy appears wobbly

After leaving Juniper Networks in December, SDN expert Tom Nadeau recently made the move to Brocade to lead their SDN and NFV initiatives.

It's no secret a number of Juniper Networks engineers have been jumping ship within the past year, and many have attributed their moves to the acquisition of Contrail, which brought a proprietary SDN controller and strategy to the company. Now, Juniper has lost SDN innovator Thomas Nadeau, who has joined Brocade as a distinguished engineer.

Nadeau has extensive experience with SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV), and is the author of the book SDN: Software-Defined Networks.  At Brocade, Nadeau will serve as an essential resource in its efforts to advance the company's NFV and SDN strategy, particularly within its OpenStack and OpenDaylight initiatives.

"[Brocade] is well-positioned to take advantage of not only SDN concepts, but also OpenStack to improve their portfolio," Nadeau said. "It's a means of evolving the company internally and [using] systems for engineering development." Nadeau confirmed he is leading teams on OpenStack and OpenDaylight projects, which played into his decision to go to Brocade. "They're putting their money where their mouth is in terms of this change," he said. "That, to me, is a big deal."

In a press release, Nadeau said the pace at which SDN is transforming the industry is impressive, but it is community-type open source projects that will truly further customer adoption by producing multivendor-supported platforms. "Brocade's involvement in projects such as OpenDaylight demonstrates its understanding of the evolving data center and the solutions customers need to be successful," he said.

Brocade Chief Technology Officer Ken Cheng said Nadeau's dedication to advancing network designs through industry standards will benefit the company as well.  "His extensive background in networking standards development will be instrumental in ensuring Brocade's open source initiatives are properly executed to meet the demands of our customers," he said.

As for the future of Brocade's SDN strategy, Brad Casemore, research director of data center networks at IDC, said he expects Brocade to "strike a pragmatic position as a provider of an Ethernet fabric that works well with SDN controllers," including OpenFlow, other protocols and overlay-based network virtualization from vendors like VMware. "I also expect the company to continue its software-development efforts related to NFV and virtualized network services, with Vyatta being an obvious example," he said.

Engineer departures and a shaky Juniper SDN strategy

Meanwhile, Nadeau's move adds to industry chatter regarding Juniper's SDN initiatives, including Contrail.  Nadeau is one of many SDN heavyweights to leave the company in recent months. Nadeau's co-author and Distinguished Engineer Ken Gray left Juniper and returned to his previous employer, Cisco. Olivier Vautrin and Benson Schliesser also left Juniper, and all four engineers are now involved in OpenDaylight -- a project Juniper backed away from in order to build its Contrail strategy.  

Casemore said  the Juniper departures are manifold. "There isn't one reason that accounts for all that [has] happened at Juniper in the executive ranks," he said. "Like a number of other traditional networking vendors, Juniper is working through the implications of SDN, network virtualization, NFV and network disaggregation [or white-box switching]."

But it has become clear that Juniper has waffled on its SDN strategy -- and a number of engineers have complained about this to the press. Early on, Juniper claimed its QFabric data center network technology was, in fact, SDN technology, and therefore the company was ahead of the curve. Not long after, then-CEO Kevin Johnson said the company would soon release OpenFlow switches. But with the Contrail acquisition, Juniper moved away from OpenFlow support and launched a controller with a proprietary southbound protocol that essentially required an all-Juniper environment.

Casemore believes Juniper's current efforts with Contrail are primarily focused on their service provider-installed base, allowing them to leverage a degree of incumbency to extend their reach and value, he said. "In the traditional service provider community, Contrail's emphasis on BGP [Border Gateway Protocol] and XMPP [Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol] should play relatively well -- their current omission of OpenFlow likely doesn't represent a meaningful handicap."

Contrail fits better in certain markets and application environments than others, he continued. Casemore predicted Contrail and Nuage Networks could contest a number of carrier accounts that are interested in network virtualization, "which explains why both have attempted to position themselves in the cloud-provider space," he said.

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