Juniper snares Apstra to automate data center operations with IBN

On Monday, Juniper Networks announced a definitive agreement to buy Apstra in order to simplify data center operations by using intent-based networking (IBN) and closed-loop assurance.

Juniper said it plans to combine Apstra's solution network automation—which is based on an open, multi-vendor architecture—with its data-center networking portfolio, which centers on Juniper's JUNOS operating system. Juniper said the combined platform would help public and private cloud partners optimize their operations as they work their way toward AI-driven autonomous networks.

"Juniper has been pursuing the self-driving network concept for some time, most notably around the Juniper Contrail assets," said AvidThink's Roy Chua, principal and founder of AvidThink. "The Apstra acquisition, much like the Mist acquisition, is for a set of capabilities that they will apply across their product lines. In this case, the intent-based networking and closed-loop automation technologies from Apstra will be quite synergistic with Mist’s AI and Netrounds’ assurance capabilities."

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Juniper bought wireless LAN vendor Mist for $405 million last year and has integrated it across its SD-WAN, security, analytics, and cloud portfolios. In September, Juniper acquired assurance testing vendor Netrounds for an undisclosed sum.

Apstra’s vendor-agnostic representation of the network extends support across various environments, including those running Layer-3 IP fabrics, EVPN-VXLAN and SONiC (software for open networking in the cloud). Apstra had previously announced SONiC-related announcements with both Juniper and Cisco, the latter of which also touts its own intent-based networking capabilities.

“This deal makes total sense," said Scott Raynovich, the founder and chief analyst of Futuriom. "Apstra and Juniper recently tightened their relationship and integrated Apstra Operating System (AOS) with Juniper's switching portfolio. Apstra’s focus on driving networks with intent-based networking and artificial intelligence (AI) fits with Juniper’s focus on developing more intelligent networking using AI technology, including its recent acquisition of Mist.”

With hyperscale cloud providers, along with data center and colocation facilities, data center operations have become increasingly complex. While there's some level of automation today in data centers, it has largely been focused on repetitive tasks.

"With such practices, it is difficult to move at the speed of business and, from an IT perspective, to move at the speed of cloud, according to a blog post by Juniper's Manoj Leelanivas, executive vice president and chief product officer. "It is clear automation in the data center must change in profound ways. To truly simplify data center operations and provide optimum application and IT experiences, a different approach to continuous automation needs to occur.

"Apstra uniquely developed a distributed systems-level approach to data center networking and fabric automation that continues from initial design to deployment and through everyday management operations. The richness of this intent-based operation relies on the performance and programmability of the underlying infrastructure."

Gartner has forecast that by 2023, 60% of the data center networking configuration activities would be automated, up from 30% in earlier this year.

Apstra first used the term "intent-based networking" when it came out of stealth mode in 2016. IBN is a software driven automation model that allows an administrator to set the desired outcomes for network orchestration. Based on those policies, IBN can automate the provisioning and configuration of services while also managing application services.

Apstra, which was named to FierceTelecom's list of the top-eight telecom disrupters two years ago, also enables self-service delivery and its automation capabilities can accelerate the time to market while also lowering data center outages and opex.

Apstra was founded by David Cheriton, Mansour Karam and Sasha Ratkovic. Cheriton, who is Apstra's CEO, is slated to join Juniper as its chief data center scientist once the deal closes.

"Their (Juniper's) big win here might be getting the Apstra team and David Cheriton, assuming the key members of the team are retained and actively participate in Juniper’s product development," Chua said.

Juniper didn't disclose the financial terms of its deal to buy Apstra, or when it's expected to close. Juniper said it doesn't expect the acquisition of Apstra to materially impact revenue in 2021.

"While the acquisition is expected to be approximately breakeven to non-GAAP earnings for the full-year 2021, it will likely be dilutive during the first half of the year," Juniper said in its press release. "The acquisition is expected to be accretive to revenue growth and non-GAAP earnings in 2022."