IBM Fires Juniper-Loaded Salvo at Cisco

juniper-logoIBM (s IBM) said today it will resell switches and routers made by Juniper (s jnpr) under the IBM brand to compliment Big Blue’s server products aimed at data centers. The move is a direct response to Cisco’s (s csco) creation of its own brand of servers it calls the Unified Computing System, as well as efforts by Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) to bring that company’s ProCurve networking gear closer to its servers. They’re all part of a larger attempt to keep pushing the boundaries of virtualization beyond hardware and into the network itself.

Virtualizing the network, or creating a network fabric, is the next big trend in data centers. Once the servers are virtualized the hardware is separated from the software running on it. However, when the time comes for that software to access the network, it is once again tied down to physical infrastructure — limited by the the cables that attach the server to a switch or the storage network. That means the network becomes a bottleneck in highly virtualized environments. But in many cases, by adding software and some gear to virtualize the network, a data center operator can reduce manual intervention and cut costs while increasing performance. For more on this see my article over at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Today’s agreement deepens the partnership that Juniper has with IBM, and mimics relationships that Juniper has with certain carrier equipment makers to resell its products without the Juniper brand name. This is the first time, however, that the company has created such a relationship to get its products inside data centers. Juniper entered the data center market in 2005 with its purchase of NetScreen, and has since fought to take market share away from Cisco and HP.  With this deal Juniper has the potential to boost sales, as IBM will get Juniper’s networking gear in front of a lot of new customers.

But the future play here is around the shift in computing and data centers as vitualization turns servers, storage and computing into one big cloud.  Once Juniper rolls out its network fabric effort it calls Project Stratus to create a truly virtualized network, it will enable Big Blue to sell a complete package of gear for the new virtualized data centers. The two have already made significant headway, even though Project Startus isn’t fully built yet. Earlier this year the two companies showed off the ability to automatically move information from one data center to another one without experiencing a hitch. That type of automatic failover is going to be a big deal in creating resilient cloud computing operations. With this agreement both IBM and Juniper are responding to the threats posed by their largest competitors as computing moves to the cloud.