September 16, 1998 2:20 PM PDT

Juniper ships speedy router

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Start-ups naturally have to deal with a lot of big "ifs," and Juniper Networks is no exception.

The young networking firm today unveiled the final piece of its networking puzzle--the hardware component for a high-end routing system targeted to handle the rapidly expanding bandwidth needs of the Net backbone.

If things continue to go well in the labs and upcoming trials at MCI Communications, for example, Juniper could reap a windfall from use of its technology in the highest traffic points within the very high performance backbone network service, or VBNS, that MCI has rolled out to interconnect government super computers to universities for the National Science Foundation.

Juniper devices could also find their way into the MCI public Net backbone, according to Rick Wilder, director of advanced engineering at the telecommunications service provider. If, that is, the four current systems the carrier has purchased continue to perform as they have so far.

Juniper's product, which costs $55,000 for a basic configuration, was cloaked in secrecy until earlier this year, when the firm disclosed its software plans in advance of final delivery of its entire package--a routing device that is expected to compete with the likes of Cisco Systems and Lucent Technologies, among the reigning multibillion dollar networking giants in the industry.

Though it remains unclear how popular Juniper's technology will be with customers that have long-standing relationships with entrenched competitors, the start-up does have a lead on a slew of other embryonic firms seeking to gain a foothold within Internet service providers through sales of high-end equipment.

But, as an example, MCI also continues to test high-end 12000 series routers from Cisco and alternatives from Lucent, and has maintained discussions with other start-ups such as Avici Systems and Argon Networks, according to Wilder, leaving the competition wide open for sacred positioning within MCI's network.

But Juniper executives confirmed that the combination of hardware and software, called the M40, is shipping in full production and available for customers to buy, a distinction that is not always the case in the slippery slope of disclosure within the high-tech industry. ""People can buy the product for production use," said Joe Fergerson, director of marketing for Juniper.

And that has caught the eye of Wilder, who termed release of the system "well-timed" for MCI's immediate needs.

Juniper believes the keys to its offering are three specialized chips--referred to as application specific integrated circuits, or ASIC's--that interact with its Junos network operating system to perform specific tasks, such as speedy packet forwarding and routing look-ups. Computing giant IBM aided Juniper's chip development and was one of several companies that have hopped on the company's bandwagon.

One ASIC, known as the Internet Processor, can perform routing look-ups so that it can send data to the right location at 100 times the speed of current routing devices, according to company claims. Juniper further boasts that its technology can zip packets at 10 times the speeds of current Internet routers.

3Com, Ericsson, and Northern Telecom, are among the other high-profile players that have taken equity stakes in the firm in return for distribution rights to Juniper's products.

Juniper has floated MCI, UUNet Technologies, and Verio as potential customers who have been testing Juniper's equipment since the beginning of the year.

Juniper executives believe the rapid growth of the Net and the changing nature of bandwidth requirements within the service provider and corporate community will offer plenty of room for new players, not necessarily at the expense of Net veterans such as Cisco. "It will create a new company," said Scott Kriens, chairman, president, and chief executive officer at the company.

The frenzy surrounding Juniper's technology in Silicon Valley was due, in part, to the wide array of veteran networking talent the company was able to attract to build its equipment. Kriens, for example, was one of the founders of StrataCom, a high-end switching company that was purchased by Cisco in April of 1996 for almost $4 billion.

 

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