Wait before you say it I know what you are thinking. “I thought this was a tech blog why is he talking about airplanes?” Or you could be thinking “What does this have to do with airplanes?” if you were looking for aviation related content. Well full disclosure here I’m also a student pilot with a passion for aviation that’s beyond measure, and this is my way of tying in the following I’ve built in that industry as well using the power of the analogy so bear with me. On a side note it’s not totally out of the question that you could find me in the pointy end of a shiny new jet one of these days flying you across the globe but let’s get into what we are really here for shall we?
Do me a favor and open up a different tab in your browser and perform a search with your preferred search engine using the title of this thread (or click the hyperlink) and read some of the discussions in the various forums. It’s aviation’s version of Chevy vs Ford, BMW vs Mercedes and in some cases Cowboys Vs Redskins. Now open one more tab searching this time for “Cisco vs Juniper” and you will see it’s well documented topic. This is my personal opinion on the debate if you will.
A few years ago Cisco dominated the market with hardly any competition and in some ways today that is still true. Much like Boeing in the earlier days of commercial aviation. Juniper has been around for some time but didn’t seem to catch on initially like Cisco. At least not on the tactical side of the house in the Army it didn’t, which is where I was working at the time. We had Netscreen ISG firewalls who are now owned by Juniper, but they were replaced pretty quickly with the Cisco ASA series of firewalls.
Today the race is a tad bit closer (a lot closer in the service provider segment) because Juniper has managed to eat itself into the market much like Airbus has done to Boeing. I personally know other engineers that are die hard supporters of one company, some that have no preference and occasionally I’ll run across a neither who’s usually a unix/linux person. As for what I prefer? Since I’ve worked pretty extensively with both I will cover this topic as a mini series of sorts beginning with Cisco, and I’ll give my verdict on my preferences at the end.
As I mentioned in the intro Cisco has a very large share of the overall market and a product that for any IT requirement one could dream of. Their Nexus series switches are very popular today, especially in Data Center environments, so popular I believe you’d be hard pressed to find an engineer who hasn’t worked with the devices. If you do find one ask them what rock have they been under? One the other end of that is the Carrier Routing System (CRS) routers that make most colleagues I mention it to look at me as if I suddenly started speaking Greek. Outside of major ISPs I guess they are pretty rare because the amount of data it can process would be overkill for most networks. (CRS datasheet: http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/products/routers/carrier-routing-system/datasheet-listing.html) Smaller routers and switches like the 3700 and 3800 series are as common place as Goodyear tires on cars or the Boeing 737 of the skies (think Southwest Airlines that’s the only plane they fly). Remarkably the 6500 series is still around but they are gradually being pahsed out in most refresh projects by the aforementioned Nexus line of switches which are much more capable. Cisco headlines their security devices with its ASA series of firewalls and VPN (Virtual Private Network) Concentrators. Personally I love the ASA, always will, but I haven’t worked with one since leaving the military. Juniper possibly has something to do with that I’d imagine but that’s just an “educated guess”.
Cisco Networking Certifications like the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and (Cisco Certified Network Professional) are oft referred to as the industry standard. That statement is especially true for the former. When it comes to finding employment as a network admin or engineer there will be very few requisitions that don’t list the CCNA as a requirement and for good reason. Personally I’d recommend the Network + certification from CompTIA as your baseline cert and then add the CCNA because it focuses on pure networking fundamentals whereas all Cisco exams are going to be more vendor specific. Meaning yes you can learn networking basics with a CCNA but it’s more proprietary which is a constant as you progress the exam tree. Also even though they update the exams every couple of years there is still some antiquated technology that needs to be phased out that is no longer of use. Keep in mind I’m not taking sides here just stating facts and attempting to cater to those who may be just starting this journey. Ultimately if you want to work in this field there will come a time where you will find yourself in a testing center taking a Cisco exam but you CAN be employed without it. In years past having a CCIE (Cisco Certified Interconnecting Expert) certificate was the end all be all making one almost God like in the field but that could be changing. I’m currently still undecided on it myself. If you like you can read more about that here:
Operationally speaking Cisco offers a couple of different operating systems (OS) throughout their platforms. Nexus switches run NX-OS, 6500 series and below run regular Cisco IOS, while the CRS routers run IOS-XR, and there’s an IOS-XE out there as well that I’ve used on some Aggregation Service Routers (ASR). The firewalls and load balancers each have their own variations of the OS as well. All of the OS share certain syntax (the commands you type to get a certain output) in common but they all share subtle differences as well. Typically, you’d be learning IOS in the beginning and may find NX-OS and IOS-XR as foreign territory much the way I did when I began working for the wireless carrier. I’d tell my senior tech when I got stuck due to syntax what I would type if it was regular Cisco IOS and he would translate it into which ever OS I was using at the time. This can be quite frustrating, not frustrating at all or a non-issue depending upon how fast you learn and/or if you have to deal with this at all. If you’re in a Data Center though I’d expect at least a transition from IOS to NXOS which is at least the easier of the two for me. Nothing like performing a trace route and device hopping from OS to OS while constantly having to retype things over, but eventually it does get better.
Different clients will always have different equipment and requirements so all you can really do is provide yourself with a strong foundation and be willing to learn because Cisco is the big dog on campus and it isn’t going anywhere soon. I am among the first to admit I wish there was some standardization between the syntax on the platforms but maybe I’m being picky, or maybe Juniper has started to grow on me? I’ll get to that in part two of this miniseries.