Juniper Partners: Time For A Switch

Juniper Networks this week unveiled enhancements to its channel program as part of its quest to boost partner profitability and make itself easier for solution providers to work with.

Solution providers said they like what they're seeing out of Juniper from a channel side but still have one unfulfilled wish: that the vendor add enterprise switching to its product portfolio.

The company at its annual J-Partner Summit in Las Vegas introduced a new deal registration program, new specializations for access control technologies and partner services, a fast-track certification program for its JUNOS operating system and reintroduced its J-Rewards financial incentive program.

"Our go-to-market strategy is fundamentally based on going through partners," said Frank Vitagliano, senior vice president of worldwide channels and U.S. enterprise operations at Juniper, Sunnyvale, Calif.

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Vitagliano also highlighted progress Juniper has made since he joined the company just over a year ago, including a reorganization of its enterprise field teams to help fix the company's teaming with solution providers, which partners had reported was spotty in some regions.

Several Juniper solution providers said they have seen improvements in their partnerships.

"Juniper is our top line again," said Pat Grillo, president of Atrion Communications Resources (ACR), a solution provider in Branchburg, N.J. "Our Juniper sales had dropped down under $1.5 million, but we were back up to $3 million last year," Grillo said, crediting his Juniper channel manager for the improvement in the relationship.

Grillo had been focusing on his partnership with Cisco Systems as he became increasingly dissatisfied with Juniper but has found it difficult to make the required investments. In the meantime, Juniper began its efforts to get back into ACR's good graces.

"I was ready to go the Cisco route and was trying very hard, but I don't have the money I need to make the commitment," Grillo said, noting that he is still a Cisco Premier partner. "I love what Cisco is doing and want to work with them. It's just very hard for us."

Stuart Brainerd, president of Chicago-based Synapse Networking, said he is also happier with his Juniper partnership these days.

"Two years ago I would have given a list of complaints. That was a bad patch. I think now they are pretty solid," Brainerd said.

Still, the company can't kick partners' calls for it to expand its portfolio with the addition of enterprise switches, which they say is necessary to compete with Cisco.

The addition of a switch line to Juniper's portfolio becomes increasingly important as Juniper talks up solutions-selling around its products, as executives did at this week's conference. Currently Juniper pushes solution providers toward its ecosystem of technology partners, including Avaya, Extreme Networks and Meru Networks, to fill in VoIP, switching and WLAN pieces.

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"I'm hearing that switching may be on the horizon, that they may be building their own switch," Brainerd said. "It's hard for them to compete in the enterprise without one."

While some partners expect Juniper to build a switch line in-house, especially in light of its rollout of its carrier switch portfolio last year, others are following the long-standing rumor that Juniper aims to buy the technology via the acquisition of Extreme.

Switching can be an entry point to a lot of larger enterprise deals, making it harder for Juniper to compete on an even playing field without one, said Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, a solution provider in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

"It's going to get to the point where if Juniper really wants to slug it out in the enterprise, they're going to have to move away from the point products they have now and more toward an end-to-end play," Hiebert said.

Scott Kriens, chairman and CEO of Juniper, said the vendor prefers to solve strategic problems without having to get into a commodity market.

"The strategy we see is the opportunity to secure and manage the ports regardless of who manufactures them. 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," Kriens said "Therefore we can solve a strategic problem with less of an issue of having to become one of the commodity suppliers."

Still, Vitagliano said the company is aware of its partners' call to expand its portfolio.

"The answer is we're listening. Obviously we can't talk about where we intend to go from a strategic standpoint or a product standpoint, but we're certainly listening to them and hearing them," Vitagliano said. "We will develop our plan to ensure that we end up providing what they will need from a solutions standpoint."

Similar questions surround Juniper's lack of a WLAN product line. Now that former Juniper executives Tushar Kothari and Bob Bruce have both joined Meru, speculation has been raised that the wireless vendor is grooming itself as an acquisition target.

Kothari, Meru's senior vice president of worldwide field operations, said that's not the company's focus right now.

"Our focus now is to grow the company, and hopefully, if we're successful, to file our S-1 [to go public]," Kothari said.

With or without a switch, Juniper is working to build more integration into its portfolio. The company plans to roll out products that combine routing and security capabilities on integrated systems that run on its JUNOS networking operating system but incorporate some of the best features of its NetScreen ScreenOS security operating system, said Hitesh Sheth, vice president of service layer technologies, noting that the company will continue to develop standalone products that run on each operating platform.

"What's critical is that we work together in taking the power of JUNOS into the enterprise," Sheth told partners attending the conference. "We need you to help in embracing it and selling it so we can go to market effectively," he said.

The new fast-track certification program was designed with that end it mind, giving free JUNOS training and testing to Cisco-certified professionals.

"What it translates to is simplicity in the technology and the ability to deploy it and to use it and to design it and to troubleshoot it, and that allows more of that technology to be used more easily and more broadly in the network," Kriens said of the integrated operating systems. "We have a continued commitment to building more and more integrated solutions, which will end up being available across the entire portfolio," he said.