Juniper Builds SDN Controller with XMPP

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In the beginning of the Software Defined Networking (SDN) revolution, the OpenFlow protocol was front and center on both switches and controllers. While Juniper Networks has been among the many vendors to provide some switch support for OpenFlow, the company is now moving forward with its first-generation SDN controller, which does not leverage OpenFlow.

The new JunosV Contrail controller builds on technology that Juniper gained when it acquired Contrail at the end of 2012 for $176 million.

“This is the lynchpin technology. This is what takes SDN from being an isolated item and really brings the network into the cloud age,” Brad Brooks, VP of marketing and business strategy in the software solutions division of Juniper Networks, told Enterprise Networking Planet.

Juniper is taking an overlay approach to enable its SDN controller. By using an overlay, the controller can enable SDN on existing networks that don’t necessarily already have OpenFlow support.

“The overlay approach means that customers can start implementing the technology much more quickly, and they won’t have to wait for OpenFlow standards to permeate the underlying physical networking,” Brooks said. “This uses existing communications protocols and overlays them in a virtual architecture that sits above the network.”

Juniper recently announced another SDN-type technology with the vApp Engine, which enables network-aware applications for security and mobility services. The vApp Engine currently plugs directly into Juniper hardware. Moving forward, Junos plans to have it plug into the JunosV Contrail controller, too.

“That will provide applications the benefit of working on a virtual overlay, not just with Juniper equipment,” Brooks said. “It will be a more robust and flexible platform as a result.”

Linux Inside

As is the case with the vApp Engine, the JunosV Contrail is a virtual machine that runs on top of Linux.

While the vApp Engine runs on CentOS Linux, the initial JunosV Contrail Controller has been tested on Fedora Linux. CentOS is a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, while Fedora is Red Hat’s community distribution.

Jennifer noted that as Juniper works with its integration partners, other Linux distributions are likely to be certified to run JunosV Contrail as well.


The key protocol that Juniper will leverage for the overlay approach on the JunosV Contrail controller is XMPP.

Brooks noted that the initial Contrail Controller is not using OpenFlow for its communication protocol. He added that JunosV Contrail is a flexible platform; OpenFlow support can and likely will be a supported protocol in the future.

The Juniper XMPP approach for messaging in an SDN environment has also been submitted to the OpenDaylight Project as a potential broader standard. OpenDaylight is a multi-stakeholder effort, led by the Linux Foundation, to build SDN standards.

“We think that an organization like OpenDaylight is absolutely critical for advancing the overall industry in the right direction,” Brooks said.

XMPP as a protocol is known also as Jabber, which is also the name of the lead commercial company behind XMPP. The company was acquired by Cisco in 2008. The open source XMPP protocol today is widely used in popular messaging systems, including Facebook Messenger and Google’s gChat.

“It’s a messaging protocol that is real-time, with a publish and subscribe model,” Jennifer Lin, senior director of product management, said. “It is also host-friendly and very friendly to the application layer.”

The Juniper JunosV Contrail Controller is currently in beta proof-of-concept trials with customers. Juniper will announce pricing and the timing of general availability in the second quarter of 2013.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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