Juniper Partners Welcome Calm Away From HP-Cisco Storm

As Juniper channel partners gear up for next week's J-Partner Summit in Phoenix, they're applauding Juniper for staying out of the HP-versus-Cisco clash and not focusing on the type of competitive saber-rattling seen from both those titans.

Still, they said, now is the time for Juniper to make sure it has the type of channel resources available to partners that befit its beloved products. They're getting there, say some VARs. They're just not quite there yet.

"We're seeing some partners adopt the whole Juniper strategy," said Dan Wilson, co-founder and vice president of vendor relations at Accuvant, a Denver-based solution provider. "We're a security shop, but we have made the shift to networking, too, and the networking deals for us are like security deals with an extra zero at the end. I would love to see a playbook on how to adopt the whole strategy: more from Juniper to guide us down the path. We're ready to double down on Juniper."

"They've always said, we're focused on networking and network security, and elsewhere we'll partner with best of breed," said Chris Becerra, vice president of sales at Terrapin Systems, a San Jose, Calif.-based solution provider. "I think that's worked so far but I don't know if it's going to continue to work, so I think they'll continue to need to make strides in the enterprise."

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Wilson and Becerra echoed comments much heard in the Juniper channel these days: for all Juniper's channel gains and success in positioning itself as a killer Cisco alternative, their channel programs still aren't the type of world class operations that would help them make serious market share strides.

What partners can agree, on, however, is that Juniper's choice to avoid the type of teeth-gnashing, fire-stoking, product-bashing rhetoric seen from both HP and Cisco in varying doses over the past year has been wise.

"I think their new slogan is pretty clearly saying it: Cisco and HP are offering the old network, they're offering the new," Wilson said. "As long as CIsco and HP are opening the doors on each other, that's good for Juniper. If HP can loosen Cisco's stranglehold, it doesn't necessarily lead directly to HP, it leads to other alternatives. We could see a Juniper, or a Brocade, start to knock Cisco from that perch they've been on for so long."

"They're not going to go out there and beat their chest," said Jeff Hiebert, president of ROI Networks, a San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based solution provider. "You won't see the braggadocio that you would from [John] Chambers and Cisco. That's just never been their style, and that's good. Still, Cisco's starting to lean really hard with their new server approach so I'd still like to hear more about how Juniper will counter that."

The choice by Juniper to move its J-Partner Summit out of the "line of fire" -- it was originally scheduled for the last week of April, same as the Cisco Partner Summit, HP's Americas Partner Conference and Interop -- may turn out to be one of its best.

"We had to find the most appropriate time for our partners to join us in a summit," said Frank Vitagliano, Juniper's senior vice president of partners-Americas. "Honestly, that time frame, based on everything and all of the factors in the marketplace...really, our view is that we want to make it easy for our partners to do business with us."

Next: A Year In The Juniper Channel

The choice to reschedule the J-Partner Summit is the type of pragmatic, quietly confident move that's tonally the same as others that Juniper has made in the past year. Put another, way, there hasn't been much in the way of competitive baiting, and, the pick-up of business partner Ankeena Networks notwithstanding, no earth shattering, industry-reshaping acquisitions either.

Instead, Juniper has gone largely about its business, and in the process, rebranded itself as the "new network," grown its partner base, especially in the Americas, returned to growth following the recession faster than some of its competitors, advanced the data center strategy it's been working on steadily for nearly three years now, and done much to shore up confidence in its channel partners that it had emerged stronger than ever coming out of the economic downturn.

"Looking back at 2009, it was a tough year," Vitagliano offered. "We learned some things, and what we learned what it's really important to stay focused and consistent throughout a tough year. What we fell back on was the three most important parts of our value proposition: best in class technology, the ability and willingness to party, and the maniacal focus we've had on partner profitability that's served us really well in the U.S."

Juniper's Americas partner base now accounts for 50 percent of Juniper's overall business, and Juniper recently changed its executive structure to align for that growth. Vitagliano, for one, is now Juniper's senior vice president of partners-Americas, a move that will see his former global channel chief duties go to a yet-to-be-named successor and frees him up to spend a lot more time growing the Americas channel business, including with VARs and service providers.

In the past year, in fact, Juniper has shown willingness to reshuffle its executive deck to put more resources on growth areas. Earlier this year, for example, came the creation of a Junos Ready Software Group to house all of Juniper's Junos-related software products and related pieces of its portfolio, and the movement of several executives, including Junos' new leader, former Edge and Aggregation unit chief Manoj Leelanivas.

Those types of moves have been the principal focuses of Juniper's executive team, not skewering Cisco. Vitagliano admitted that the Cisco versus HP skirmish had created additional opportunities for Juniper partners, but at the same time, that's not Juniper's top concern.

"I think any time you have a scenario in the marketplace providing change, it provides opportunities for anyone in the space," Vitagliano said. "It doesn't get me to change what we're doing or our strategy, but there are things we clearly see happening. Solution providers will figure out what's in their best interests. They always do, because that's what they've been doing for as long as I can remember."

NEXT: What's To Come At J-Partner

According to Vitagliano, Juniper partners attending J-Partner Sumit will hear more about expanding marketing resources, a partner learning academy, and sales incentives like Juniper's recently launched Switch to Juniper promotion. Partner opportunities related to the Ankeena Networks acquisition will also be covered, he said.

"We encourage our partners to sell the complete solution," Vitagliano said, "which means encouraging them to sell hardware, software and services."

The new product releases from the past year, including Monday's debut of new data center hardware, software and services, have been strong, say most partners. Many also told CRN, however, that they hope Juniper will invest as much time growing and fine-tuning its channel programs as it has the "new network" vision.

"I think the Juniper programs are good, not excellent," Accuvant's Wilson said. "We'd like to see some expansion of their deal registration, which thus far has been based solely on deal origination, and them to offer a bit higher margin opportunity for their best partners. We need to make sure we're seeing strong margins on all the types of deals we're doing, and I have a good feeling Juniper is going to start getting a lot better on that front."

There isn't enormous incentive for close Juniper partners to commit to Juniper at even closer levels, other VARs argued.

"We've made a big bet with Juniper, and we'd like to win or die with Juniper, so I'd like to see them go in and make a bigger bet with partners who have made a big bet with them," Becerra said. "For those partners that make the commitment -- really, make the commitment to selling Juniper -- you need to reward them with extra MDF dollars or access to certain programs. Something that says, hey, we know that you guys are in this to win with us."

Other program elements could use a boost, too, VARs said. Several Juniper solution providers suggested that Juniper's services strategy for partners is still a work in progress.

"We're a services-heavy shop and Juniper does have other partners that are services-only," said one solution provider, who asked that his name not be used. "There's not a great story for us to tell with Juniper because in our experience, they want you to sell hardware and services. That's not really us, but it's a hugely lucrative model for us to focus on services. I've asked Juniper about this repeatedly and they just don't seem to see the point."

According to Vitagliano, Juniper offers plenty of incentives for services-centric and services-only partners, but Juniper does encourage sales of hardware and services because completeness is a goal.

"It's really important that we have our partners selling a complete solution into the market," Vitagliano said. "We clearly have a place for those [services-only] partners, but we spend a little bit more time trying to sort through exactly what their strategy is and how they manage that. Not all customers are looking to separate products and services when they're asking for complete solutions."

Not one partner interviewed by CRN suggested that Juniper hasn't positioned itself well. The question will be how fast and how effectively they improve their standing as the economic climate improves and the data center battle further heats up -- "how well they resonate a year from now," as the unnamed solution provider put it.

"We're pretty bullish on Juniper and we've remained that way: they've got the most comprehensive product portfolio they've ever had," Hiebert said. "I think in today's economic climate to you'll see Cisco bigots more open to viable alternatives so long as the platforms are competitively priced. There's good opportunity for Juniper to take share."

"Cisco's had a long reign and they haven't had much real competition and there is a level of frustration with Cisco," added Terrapin's Becerra. "It can be done."