It’s no secret that learning a vendor’s equipment takes lots and lots of time at the command line interface (CLI). You can spend all the time you want pouring over training manuals and reference documentation, but until you get some “stick time” with the phosphors of a console screen, it’s probably not going to stick. When I was studying for my CCIE R&S, I spent a lot of time using GNS3, a popular GUI for configuring Dynamips, the Cisco IOS simulator developed by the community. There was no way I would be about to afford the equipment to replicate the lab topologies, as my training budget wasn’t very forgiving outside the test costs and any equipment I did manage to scrounge up usually went into production soon after that. GNS3 afforded me the opportunity to create my own lab environments to play with protocols and configurations. I’d say 75-80% of my lab work for the CCIE was done on GNS3. The only things I couldn’t test were hardware-specific configurations, like the QoS found on Catalyst switches, or things that caused massive processor usage, like configuring NTP on more than two routers. I would have killed to have had access to something a little more stable.
Cisco recently released a virtual router offering based around IOS-on-Unix (IOU), a formerly-internal testing tool that was leaked and cracked for use by non-Cisco people. The official IOU simulation from Cisco revolves around their training material, so using it to setup your own configurations is very difficult. Juniper Networks, on the other hand, has decided to release their own emulated OS environment built around their own hardware operating system, Junos. This product is called Junosphere. I was recently lucky enough to take part in a Packet Pushers episode where we talked with some of the minds behind Junosphere. What follows here are my thoughts about the product based on this podcast and some people in the industry that I’ve talked to.
Junosphere is a cloud-based emulation platform being offered by Juniper for the purpose of building a lab environment for testing or education purposes. The actual hardware being emulated inside Junosphere is courtesy of VJX, a virtual Junos instance that allows you to see the routing and security features of the product. According to this very thorough Q&A from Chris Jones, VJX is not simply a hacked version of Junos running in a VM. Instead, it is a fully supported release track code that simply runs on virtual hardware instead of something with blinking lights. This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities down the road, very similarly to Arista Networks vEOS virtualized router. VJX evolved out of code that Juniper developers originally used to test the OS itself, so it has strong roots in the ability to emulate the Junos environment. Riding on top of VJX is a web interface that allows you to drag-and-drop network topologies to create testing environments, as well as the ability to load preset configurations, such as those that you might get from Juniper to coincide with their training materials. To reference this to something people might be more familiar with, VJX is like Dyanmips, and the Junosphere lab configuration program is more like GNS3.
Junosphere can be purchased from a Juniper partner or directly from Juniper just like you would with any other Juniper product. The reservation system is currently set up in such a way as to allot 24-hour blocks of time for Junosphere use. Note that those aren’t rack tokens or split into 8-hour sessions. You get 24 continuous hours of access per SKU purchase. Right now, the target audience for Junosphere seems to be the university/academic environment. However, I expect that Juniper will start looking at other markets once they’ve moved out of the early launch phase of their product. I’m very much aware that this is all very early in the life cycle of Junosphere and emulated enviroments, so I’m making sure to temper my feelings with a bit of reservation.
As it exists right now, Junosphere would be a great option for the student wanting to learn Junos for the first time in a university or trade school type of setting. By having continuous access to the router environments, these schools can add the cost of Junosphere rentals onto the student’s tuition costs and allow them 24-hour access to the router pods for flexible study times. For self-study oriented people like me, this first iteration is less compelling. I tend to study at odd hours of the night and whenever I have a free moment, so 24-hour access isn’t nearly as important to me as having blocks of 4 or 8 hours might be. I understand the reasons behind Juniper’s decision to offer the time the way they have. By offering 24-hour blocks, they can work out the kinks of VJX being offered to end users that might not be familiar with the quirks of emulated environments, unlike the developers that were the previous user base for the product.
I know that I probably need to learn Junos at some point in the near future. It makes all the sense in the world to try and pick it up in case I find myself staring at an SRX in the future. With emulated OS environments quickly becoming the norm, I think that Junosphere has a great start on providing a very important service. As I said on Packet Pushers, to make it more valuable to me, it’s going to need to be something I can use on my local machine, ala GNS3 or IOU. That way, I can fire it up as needed to test things or to make sure I remember the commands to configure IS-IS. Giving me the power to use it without the necessity of being connected to the Internet or needing to reserve timeslots on a virtual rack is the entire reason behind emulating the software in the first place. I know that Junosphere is still in its infancy when it comes to features and target audiences. I’m holding my final judgement of the product until we get to the “run” phase of the traditional “crawl, run, walk” mentality of service introduction. It helps to think about Junosphere as a 1.0 product. Once we get the version numbers up a little higher, I hope that Juniper will have delivered a product that will enable me to learn more about their offerings.
For more information on Junosphere, check out the Junosphere information page at http://www.juniper.net/us/en/products-services/software/junos-platform/junosphere/.