Juniper Partner Conference: 10 Key Takeaways12:00 PM EST Wed. Jan. 23, 2013
Juniper's been through some big changes in the past year, and many of those came up during its Global Partner Conference (GPC), which took place in Las Vegas last week. CRN was in town, and as we talked with Juniper executives, partners and analysts in both formal interviews and over cocktails, the following 10 trends emerged from the show.
Juniper's aggressive SDN strategy, spearheaded by EVP Software Systems Bob Muglia, gives Juniper customers an upgrade path toward using SDN techniques and will also govern how partners sell Juniper software going forward.
But while solution providers interviewed by CRN applauded Juniper for waiting out the initial wave of SDN hype, they say it will mean little if Juniper can't ably execute with programs and sales enablement -- areas where Juniper was short on details at GPC.
Juniper observers also want to be sure of the company's purview. Yankee Group analyst Pim Bilderbeek, for example, wondered if Muglia's assertion that rival Cisco will struggle with the SDN shift says more about Juniper's narrow scope than Cisco's strategy.
"Juniper should take care it is not exclusively fighting an SDN battle, while the converged infrastructure war is being won by Cisco," Bilderbeek wrote in a blog post following GPC.
After a year of mediocre earnings and bad press, Juniper executives acknowledged many of the company's slip-ups and assured partners and analysts that its 2012 restructuring restored a lot of its energy. Juniper made gains in key areas like enterprise switching and its traditional service provider routing stronghold, and it plans to battle back in areas like enterprise security, where it has struggled in recent years.
"There were several objectives in our restructuring, and they had to do with improving focus, enabling more agility, where in some cases we had too many layers of management and business units doing similar kinds of work, and [being] more efficient," Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson told CRN.
One thing Juniper won't do, Johnson and other executives said, is approach the converged infrastructure market as a stack player attempting to own each layer, from the compute to the networking to the storage.
"We don't really get into the compute layer; we're not getting into storage," Johnson (pictured) told CRN. "But, we're going to continue to be a pure-play, high-performance networking company. We're going to do that and participate with innovators in other layers of the stack."
Juniper has plenty of strategic allies. Distributor Arrow, for example, used GPC to announce a bundled solution that combines Juniper's QFabric data center products with IBM's Flex System storage and servers.
Juniper's historically been a strong channel company, and even its tough-love partners had good feedback to share for Partner Advantage, the retooled channel program Juniper announced a year ago.
"Partner Advantage was fantastic this year," said Dominic Grillo, executive vice president of Atrion Communication Resources, a Branchburg, N.J.-based solution provider. "It's a good program that rewards you for things you should be doing, and I think that's been well-received."
More partner goodies are coming. Frank Vitagliano (pictured), Juniper's senior vice president of Americas partners, said that the new Juniper Teaming Standard, for example, will offer Juniper partners tighter alignment with its sales force to do account mapping and demand gen.
"A lot of guys just don't understand how to work with the channel, so this is an opportunity to re-educate our people. We have a major focus on that," Vitagliano told CRN.
While SDN discussion topped Juniper's GPC agenda, partners were just as interested in the new services and cloud programs being built into Partner Advantage, and how they'll drive partner profitability.
Juniper Partner Advantage Services includes specializations in support services and professional services -- part of what Emilio Umeoka, SVP, worldwide partners and alliances, said is a plan to help partners tap a $40 billion TAM. Advantage Cloud, meanwhile, will offer partners training, marketing, financing and various incentives to sell cloud capabilities specifically with Juniper and its strategic partners. A Juniper Cloud Innovation Fund will be available to partners interested in building out cloud services.
Juniper executives, from Johnson on down, acknowledged that QFabric, Juniper's data center system, has been slow to catch on with customers.
But, Johnson said that the company has made necessary software updates addressing customer care-abouts Juniper didn't know before QFabric launched, and it is also seeing good traction with the M-Series QFabric, which is targeted at midmarket customers and was announced last summer.
A lot of the talk from Juniper's 2012 Global Partner Conference a year earlier was on the fallout surrounding SRX: both the customer complaints about technical flaws in the security gateways and Juniper's slow response to addressing and fixing them. A year later, most partners told CRN that the SRX's issues had been ironed out and that customer complaints had subsided.
But, the SRX fiasco and recovery isn't something Juniper partners will forget.
"This was the first big, public, everybody-knows-about-it kind of factory or technical problem I can remember from Juniper," said the CEO of a longtime Juniper and former NetScreen partner. "For a company like them that's still so much about engineering, it had to hurt. No question it is a black eye and that customers will remember it."
Partners are generally confident that Juniper will restore its enterprise security mojo after several years as a laggard.
They're also excited that some of that security oomph will come from Mykonos, the content security specialist Juniper acquired in February 2012, which was a strong buy for the infrastructure vendor and received good feedback from security-focused Juniper partners familiar with the company.
Juniper's Johnson acknowledged that Juniper's seen some significant exits in its management ranks. Part of that comes with a company in transition, part of that comes with restructuring, and part of that comes when the lure of Silicon Valley's startup culture -- especially with SDN making networking sexy again -- prompts shifts, he said.
"There are many benefits to being in Silicon Valley, including access to engineering talent. That's great. In other cases, there are places where you get a push in startups and people wanting to do that, and yeah, we've had some of that," Johnson said.
"It's always a little concerning when you see good people decide it's time to leave," said a top Juniper partner. "But show me a Valley company in Juniper's low-billions stage that hasn't gone through this at least once. Executives leave companies, you know?"