Can Juniper Make You Switch?

Is a Hurricane ready to blow through the channel?

With Juniper Networks Inc. poised to launch its first-ever enterprise Ethernet switch line—code-named Hurricane to go along with the vendor's custom-made ASIC moniker—VARs pondering whether to get on board face some big hurdles. One will be getting customers to go with a new player in the switching game, a commoditized arena in which established players like Cisco Systems Inc., Foundry Networks Inc. and ProCurve Networking by Hewlett-Packard Co. have a stronghold. VARs must set out to convince their customers to rely on unproven technology and assure them Juniper is ready to take a strong position in the market.

Another hurdle will be convincing a large enterprise to rip out its Cisco switching gear to try something new—not only a costly endeavor, but an argument many VARs said they're not sure they can win.

For Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Juniper, not only will its offerings have to be technologically sound, but it will face the challenge of enticing companies and partners to give its gear a try.

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All this has left VARs wondering if Juniper is too little too late and if it has the mettle to compete with the incumbent powerhouses. Can Juniper pull it off?

"It's not going to be an easy sell," said Pat Grillo, president and CEO of Atrion Communications Resources, a Branchburg, N.J.-based solution provider. "We have to look and see, and decide if we're going to make the commitment. It needs a commitment."

Grillo said Juniper must have an aggressive plan to convince VARs to offer its switching line to customers that already have millions of dollars' worth of another vendor's gear installed, many of which won't pull out their existing infrastructure on a whim. For VARs, the revenue opportunity with a Juniper switch is in midsize accounts or in companies building out new data centers, Grillo added, not in established customers that have their switching infrastructures already in place. Juniper partners that have brought success to their customers with other Juniper offerings may be able to get them on board for a switch.

"Those kinds of guys, you might have a shot at getting them to change," Grillo said.

Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, a San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based solution provider, said he's excited by the prospect of a Juniper Ethernet switch, but added that whatever Juniper releases has to make a huge splash if it wants to shake up the established market and spark competition against its rivals.

"When you choose to enter a market like this, you better make maximum impact and sustain that impact," Hiebert said.

Next: The Three M's

The Three M's
The key challenges for Juniper, Hiebert said, lie with the three M's: money, marketing and mind-share. While it's unclear how the vendor plans to address them, Hiebert said he's confident that if it does, success shouldn't be too far off.

"It's going to take a lot of investment, successful marketing and education of the channel on how to position it," he said. "Juniper wants to own the core and attack Cisco and compete where no one else has been able to."

Hiebert is quick to admit that there are a host of "Cisco bigots" out there who couldn't care less what Juniper offers, but said Juniper stands a solid chance of becoming a strong No. 2 to Cisco's No. 1 if it plays the game right. But going up against a behemoth like Cisco, which reported $34.9 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2007 compared with Juniper's projections of between $2.7 billion and $2.8 billion in full-year revenue for 2007 (the most recent numbers available at press time), is no easy feat. Cisco also has a much larger channel, with more than 40,000 registered channel partners worldwide vs. Juniper's 10,000-plus.

"People are demanding a Coke and a Pepsi in this market," Hiebert said. "This is not a 'me too' play, this is the next generation of Ethernet switching."

Juniper would not confirm or deny whether an enterprise Ethernet switch is on the horizon, despite the flood of speculation that Hurricane is ready for unveiling sometime this year, possibly as early as the Juniper Networks Global Enterprise Event in New York on Jan. 29.

Several VARs and industry analysts contacted for this story also would not comment, some noting that they'd agreed not to disclose any of Juniper's plans.

"They've kept this product under pretty tight wraps, to the point where they're denying its existence," said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president at research firm Yankee Group Inc. Nonetheless, Kerravala said an enterprise Ethernet switch is something Juniper has needed for quite a long time. "Their portfolio has been lacking this for years," he said.

Can You Be More Specific?
Sources said Juniper's switching line will likely be based on its JUNOS operating system, which the vendor said is now opened to third-party developers. The switches are likely to run on Marvell chips, the same used by Foundry, and hit price points similar to Foundry and Cisco.

Through interviews with several sources, CRN has learned of a few technical specifications: The switches will be 100-Gbit ready, meaning each slot in the modular form factor will be able to support bandwidth of up to 100 Gbps. The modular switches, the six-, nine- and 13-slot modules, eventually will support line cards with 10 10-Gbps Ethernet ports. That support will not be available in the initial launch. The high-end core switch will support up to 4.5 Tbps of capacity.

As for the release schedule, one source said Juniper will have stand-alone switches coming in the first quarter; virtual chassis-based stackable switches with a backplane architecture to link them together into one logical unit in the second or third quarters; and core switches in the fourth quarter.

That timeline could turn off Juniper's target market, which would expect the chassis-based switches to hit first. "The core switches are taking the most development because of the nature of the performance and some of the things they have to do, so that's why those are coming last," the source said.

Next: I've Got A Niche

I've Got A Niche
A Juniper Ethernet switch would throw the vendor into an arena comprising several well-established players where each fills a certain niche, joining the competition between Cisco, Foundry and ProCurve; and smaller players Extreme Networks Inc., 3Com Corp. and Enterasys Networks Inc. Cisco, San Jose, Calif., is the dominant switch choice for performance and reliability. Foundry, Santa Clara, Calif., has cornered the high-end, high-performance switching market. And ProCurve, Palo Alto, Calif., has established itself as a strong option among value-conscious customers, with its affordable price-per-port offerings and lifetime warranties.

"I don't really know why the world needs a switch from Juniper," Kerravala said. "What problem is Juniper solving that someone else isn't? I don't understand. Two, three or four years ago there was a question of who would be a strong No. 2 to Cisco, but that's all been established. Switching has become a commodity."

Said Atrion's Grillo: "Unfortunately for Juniper and others, Cisco hasn't done anything wrong that opens the door. Cisco has been pretty solid the last several years. If the market demanded something new with all of the convergence and VoIP coming on and Cisco didn't have it, Juniper may have a chance."

But, Grillo said, unless such a hole appears in Cisco's product line that Juniper can exploit, there will have to be some compelling reason for VARs to present a Juniper switch to their customers and, in turn, make those customers comfortable with that decision. "People don't get fired for making a Cisco decision," he said. "But people can get fired if you bring in a 'Brand X' switch and it doesn't perform."

Grillo said he talked to Juniper four or five years ago about adding an Ethernet switch to its enterprise networking lineup, but little came from those discussions. At the time, Cisco's widely popular Catalyst switching line was still fresh. Had Juniper struck then, Cisco may not have the dominant position it holds today.

Even Juniper CEO and Chairman Scott Kriens, in interviews with CRN last year, downplayed the possibility of Juniper adding enterprise switching.

"The strategy we see is the opportunity to secure and manage the ports regardless of who manufactures them," Kriens said last year. "As long as we see the opportunity to do that, then the company who provides, essentially, the commodity called the Ethernet port itself becomes less important to the user, and their control over it becomes what's strategic. Therefore, we can solve a strategic problem with less of an issue of having to become one of the commodity suppliers."

Uphill Battle
Bad timing and stiff competition aside, Yankee Group's Kerravala said Juniper's record also won't play in its favor. It's been marginally successful on the security side with the NetScreen acquisition of four years ago, and the J-Series routers it has developed organically have been slow to gain acceptance. On top of that, Juniper has no true wireless or VoIP offerings.

"There are a lot of holes in Juniper's portfolio," Kerravala said.

Grillo disagreed, saying that Juniper's high-performance routers and its SSL VPN are the best on the market and Juniper's success with those products may help it get into new accounts with its switching lineup.

"The one thing they have going for them is a solid track record," Grillo said. For current switching options, and other pieces the vendor lacks, such as WLAN and VoIP components, Juniper typically pushes VARs toward its technology partners, including Avaya Inc., Extreme and Meru Networks.

Stuart Brainerd, president of Chicago-based Synapse Networking, said an enterprise switching portfolio would indeed be an uphill battle for Juniper, but it has become a necessary component. Still, he said he's "cautiously optimistic" about the tough road ahead.

"If they do want to be a competitor to Cisco, they don't have a choice," Brainerd said. "They'll never get anywhere close to Cisco without that segment. Juniper has done a very good, professional job building their name and building their channel. If they really do come out with a switch, we'll get some business with it."

Where Juniper will struggle is battling Cisco and its Catalyst switches.

"If Juniper ever really wants to take on Cisco, they have to address that core switching piece," Brainerd said.

Another hurdle for Juniper is its lackluster channel into the enterprise, Kerravala said. Juniper's future success and the success of an Ethernet switch play will hinge on the channel and how Juniper makes inroads to enterprise customers.

Grillo said his Juniper business is thriving, but about 98 percent of that comes from the security side. "Juniper's a great company," he said. "They have great products and a good program. Can they do it? Maybe. I don't have a crystal ball. But I've seen stranger things happen."

Kerravala, however, said Juniper may miss the target on timing alone. "There will be an initial interest around it," he said. "The impact will be hype-driven, not customer-driven. I think in the end it will be another one of the carcasses that Cisco sucked the blood out of and left behind."