Can Juniper Make You Switch?

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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.

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

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