Last year at the company’s Nxtwork conference, Juniper founder Pradeep Sindhu blew everyone’s mind with his comparison of networking to neurobiology. Today, at the second annual Nxtwork, in Santa Clara, California, CEO Rami Rahim laid out his vision of the future of networking. The company is referring to this as “digital cohesion.”
For example, he described a future where technology handles the end-to-end process of getting dinner. As Rahim envisions it: A dinner application understands your fitness and dietary goals; it inventories the food in your refrigerator; it orders groceries and handles the online transaction; it knows what you’ve preferred to eat in the past; it sifts through recipes for new ideas; and it presents the perfect recipe for tonight’s dinner via your mobile device.
Depending on your worldview, that’s either amazing or creepy.
“This is a light-hearted glimpse into the future,” said Rahim. “I do believe that the future is going to be about the integration of services and ideas. We will move from today where we deal with point services, to a future of holistic mega-services. We will transform from user-initiated tasks to services that are predictive and autonomous.”
The Future of Networking
One immediate problem in moving toward this amazing technological future is the end of Moore’s Law, the observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles about every two years.
“The user experience of any service depends on performance,” said Rahim. “It depends on the rate at which you can process, move, and store information. Moore’s Law, which has helped us in making a 1,000 percent improvement over the last few decades, is coming to an end.”
But he said the problem will be solved by pooling resources and scaling out. The modern data center is an example. Once the limits of the single CPU were reached, the data center moved to multicore.
However, that created a problem with connectivity. “As we pool resources to reap economies of scale, we put distance between the infrastructure and the consumers of that infrastructure,” said Rahim. “That puts tremendous pressure on that connection. Moore’s Law affects networking just as much as it affects compute.”
In addition to efficiency, SDN moves networking toward more automation. “Innovation requires resources,” said Rahim. “Ninety percent of resources are stuck in keeping the lights on. I believe the answer to that comes down to automation.”
While job loss may be the first thought that comes to mind when talking about automation, Rahim said, “I believe it frees up capacity to innovate. I think it’s the next big thing in networking.”
He said that while the unit cost of employing humans increases over time, the unit cost of machines drops over time. In the future, networks will have the ability to gather massive amounts of data, and they will use that data for machine learning to keep the network running and to self-heal.
Finally, Rahim talked about the need for the optical layer to better interoperate with other layers of the network. “Decisions in optical networks are all or nothing,” he said. “You make a decision on one element [in the optical layer], you’ve made that decision on the entire network because of the lack of interoperability.”
The company has made the news several times this year in regards to optical networking. Most recently, it announced its purchase of Aurrion, an innovator in silicon photonics.
“Performance barriers do not permit us to be wasteful of capacity or bandwidth,” said Rahim. “These layers must come together to free up the capacity that is locked together.”
Is Juniper Shopping Itself?
There’s some speculation, reported by The Street, that Juniper is looking for suitors. The rumor is fueled by the fact that the company recently changed the compensation packages for its top executives in the event of a change in management. If there’s a change in control, Rahim’s compensation gets boosted to 200 percent of his annual base salary and target bonus, from 100 percent previously, according to an SEC 8-K filing. And some other senior executives’ packages have changed to 150 percent of their annual base salary and target bonus from 100 percent.
But The Street points out that given its size, Juniper might have a hard time finding a buyer. Arch rival Cisco would probably be prevented from acquiring it based on antitrust concerns. And Chinese equipment makers such as Huawei and ZTE likely wouldn’t be looked upon favorably by government regulators. If the company really is looking for a buyer, its best option might be a private equity group.