If many Juniper Networks employees feel restless and uncertain as the company restructures, Juniper's channel, by and large, is optimistic the company will sort out its problems.
Even partners that question QFabric and other ambitious Juniper products say their Juniper sales have continued to grow and that they remain committed to the vendor. Despite Juniper's financial struggles and mediocre growth, its channel partners say they still see a lot of traction with its products and support Juniper's strategy.
"We're working on some really large deals with Juniper," said Pat Grillo, president and CEO of Atrion Communication Resources, a Branchburg, N.J.-based solution provider. "I'm seeing a lot of proposals going out with Juniper on them and feeling good about the program. The program has worked for a long time, and we make some good margin. They had some turnover but they seem to have steadied it out, at least as far as what we're seeing, so we're feeling positive."
"Juniper is the fastest-growing line we have," said John O'Shea, senior vice president of sales at Vology, an Oldsmar, Fla.-based solution provider and Juniper Elite Partner and Operate Specialist. "We know they've had some issues in a few areas of the business, but it's been positive for us, especially in the last 18 months."
Vology partners heavily with Juniper for infrastructure and recently added its campus wireless product lines. Vology has not, to date, pursued Juniper's QFabric converged infrastructure system but O'Shea said the company is evaluating the technology.
"It's been a good relationship," O'Shea said. "We've had good communication with the Juniper team and we're looking [forward] to the product road map. ... There are a lot of moving parts and we expect to hear a lot of updates in the next few months so we can build our plans."
JUNIPER REVAMPS PARTNER PROGRAM
At its 2012 global partner conference, Juniper rolled out Partner Advantage, a retooled version of its overall partner program that introduced more in-depth sales and technical training and a broadened set of marketing and demand-generation tools. Advantage also includes updated compensation incentives, such as back-end rebates.
Juniper in the past 18 months also implemented what for strategic partners was a long-overdue step: making the requirements for Juniper's top-tier partnering level, now known as Elite Portfolio, more stringent. Elite Portfolio refers to partners who have certification across the entire range of Juniper products and that also have completed additional training and continuing education to further build their Juniper expertise.
Steve Pataky, vice president, worldwide channel development at Juniper, said that Juniper now has more than 12,000 partners who are "fully compliant" with Partner Advantage.
"Overall, we didn't change the structure of the requirements, but for Elite partners, the modest program requirement changes included one additional presales technical authorization and three additional continuing education courses, which can be done online remotely for free, per product specialization," Pataky explained.
The program saw significant growth in 2012, he said. Across 500 courses, partners have passed 147,791 courses. In Juniper's Marketing Concierge -- a set of marketing offerings the company provided with Partner Advantage -- Juniper completed more than 800 campaigns in 2012 and saw more than 10,000 log-ins from 1,400 partner companies. It also had 8,900 opportunities registered through the same period, Pataky added.
Emilio Umeoka, senior vice president of worldwide partners and alliances, told CRN in an e-mail that partners will see additions to Partner Advantage unveiled at this week's partner conference in Las Vegas.
"[The announcements] underscore our commitment to drive execution, growth and value for our partners around the world," Umeoka said. "These programs will ensure our more than 11,000 partners stay at the forefront of the major trends and allow greater differentiation and product innovation amidst a dynamic marketplace with new opportunities for value-added sales to increase partner profitability."
Chris Becerra, vice president of sales at Terrapin Systems, a San Jose, Calif.-based Juniper partner, said Juniper sales are between 50 percent and 60 percent of the solution provider's revenue and have stayed strong.
A lot of that strength has come behind Juniper's EX switching platforms, he said, and Juniper has been important enough to Terrapin that it decided to invest in the higher-level Elite Portfolio certification.
"A lot of companies go through that -- where they acquire more partners and then want to find out who are the committed guys versus who are the ones going after one-off-type deals," Becerra said. "That's what this process accomplished. We weren't excited about having to spend more time on Juniper resources, but we did know that once we went through it, there would be fewer folks competing at our level. We are happy with the net result."
Structured Communications Systems, a Clackamas, Ore.-based solution provider and Juniper Elite Portfolio partner, grew its Juniper business 60 percent year over year, said Bill Tracy, director of solution architecture, secure infrastructure.
Structured Communications Systems' growth is coming in both the enterprise segment, where it continues to find traction for Juniper's EX Ethernet switches, and in the service provider market, particularly tier-two and tier-three service providers with smaller footprints, such as rural telecom providers.
"It continues to be a strong value proposition against the likes of Cisco," Tracy said. "It's also a better strategy and story in many cases against a smaller competitor like a Brocade."
Structured was also among the Juniper partners that invested in the Elite Portfolio category. Juniper told partners during a 2012 meeting of its advisory council, on which Structured sits, that it wanted the Elite Portfolio class of solution providers to number in the 100 to 150 range, and Tracy said the messaging from Juniper's partner managers to Elite solution providers is that it will enforce higher-tier program requirements as a way to increase the gap between Elite and the next level of partnership.
"They've always offered good protection but it was getting to a point in the scale where it was time for Juniper to do more for the top partners," Tracy said, adding that the Elite Portfolio process had gone smoothly for Structured.
Not all partners are as confident in Juniper's long-term prospects, however.
"We are starting to move away from Juniper," said Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, a San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based solution provider. "We're not doing near the volume of Juniper we once did, and some of that is that it's getting harder and harder to sell multivendor platforms."
The problem, Hiebert said, is that building data center and unified communications architectures involving Juniper means needing to partner with many more vendors to compensate for areas Juniper doesn't have. ROI Networks, for example, is a large Avaya partner for UC, and thanks to Avaya's deepening push into the data networking and infrastructure spaces, there's more incentive for ROI Networks to align its priorities with Avaya.
"We were once Elite with Juniper, now we're Select," he said. "The problem is I can't just partner with Juniper; if I sell Juniper, I also have to partner with five to eight other people."
Other partners agree that Juniper's comparatively narrow breadth of offerings will hamper its growth in the long-term.
"They will still have their loyalists, but as the industry moves to stack plays -- Cisco has a stack, HP has a stack, Oracle has a stack -- I don't see a way they ever get beyond where they currently sit unless they get acquired," said the top sales executive at a national solution provider, who asked that his name not be used. "The shift to the cloud has forced all of us to worry about margins and what manufacturers are going to survive and help us. You want to be perceived as out in front of all this with a breadth and depth that's going to make you a long-term partner. You don't want to be perceived as being in a holding pattern when there is so much transition happening."
Another Elite Partner said Juniper doesn't suffer from channel conflict but still questioned the company's future.
"It could not be a more channel-centric company," said the partner, who requested anonymity. "They have the right programs and they're getting partners to focus not just on security and not just on networking, but on what makes them special in infrastructure. We still win a lot of greenfield opportunities with Juniper. The question is do they have the right team to get them to another level? They got big enough where they got Cisco's attention. But that's not the same as taking the fight to Cisco."
PUBLISHED JAN. 15, 2013