For a network administrator planning out his first enterprise-level network, hardware is crucial: you need hardware that will run for years without downtime, almost never fail, and have an OS and features that will allow you to perform the most complex and elaborate networking hoops that unforeseen problems and/or management will inevitably make you jump through. For many years, and for many experts, there had been one company that meets or exceeds all of the above without fail: Cisco Systems.
Although Cisco has been the king of networking for many years, another name has appeared in the running for the network king in enterprise-level environments: Juniper Networks. Juniper’s networking equipment has been taking off as of late, due to administrators noticing their high reliability and speed. The price is also an attractive feature; new Juniper switches, routers, and firewalls can be up to half the price of their Cisco equivalents.
This of course puts the new network administrator in a difficult position, after all he is putting together a network that be used for a decade or more. What to choose?
The choice between Cisco and Juniper comes down to a few key decisions and requirements, and an example of Cisco and Juniper’s differing mentalities are relevant here. Cisco for many years has been manufacturing “jack of all trades” machines, for the most part, its routers and firewalls are meant to do a great deal more than routing and firewalling, respectively. Cisco’s ASAs can function as routers for small businesses, and Cisco routers often contain VPN, remote entry, and even Ethernet switch add-ons.
The intent here is clear: Cisco is creating versatile and multi-purpose machines, so that an enterprise may not need eight different machines for their firewall, VPN, router, etc. They just need one box that saves space and unifies everything in a clear, clean way.
Juniper takes the exact opposite approach, which focuses on specializing their machines for as much speed as possible. To put it simply, if you buy a Juniper router, you are getting a Juniper router, nothing more nothing less. The company has recently been experimenting with Cisco’s model of offering more versatile boxes, but for the most part if you are buying Juniper you are buying it for specialization and speed.
This type of functionality has made them especially popular with organizations that need hyper-fast core routers for their networks, like Internet Service Providers or content-distribution firms. These are organizations that handle terabytes upon terabytes a day, and the stability and specialization offered by Juniper’s core routers are very useful indeed.
Cisco is, for many, still the first name in networking: they were the first into the enterprise networking world and are still leading the way when it comes to units sold for enterprise and small business networking due to versatility and feature set.
Juniper has, however, in recent years made significant strides in coming at the problem from a different angle: they specialize their hardware toward larger enterprises, like cloud centers and internet service providers, who need speed to process the large amounts of data running through them.
In the end, the decision to populate your networking racks must depend on your own experience, needs, and planning. Whether it’s Cisco or Juniper, make sure to plan ahead and buy the routing equipment that you need to ensure the best performance and usability for your future networking environment.