Exclusive: Juniper's CEO Clarifies A Vision For 'The New Network'

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Kevin Johnson has been CEO of Juniper Networks for just over a year and half, but what a year and half. The period has seen global meltdown and economic recession, blockbuster acquisition after blockbuster acquisition in the ongoing consolidation of the networking market, and the continuing story of networks converging with data centers, which has created a need for new products, services and solution provider sales skills.

Into all that, Johnson has seen Juniper through steady, impressive growth, and, last fall, the launch of "The New Network" campaign. According to Johnson, that was the moment when Juniper put its stake in the ground and started to put real marketing muscle -- not traditionally a Juniper strength -- behind its partner-beloved technology.

Johnson sat down with CRN Networking Editor Chad Berndtson for an exclusive interview at this week's Juniper J-Partner Summit in Phoenix, where he weighed in on the Juniper advantage, Juniper's competition with both Cisco and HP, the coming of Juniper's Stratus project and why having the right partners with whom to go to market is more important now than ever.

We heard a lot of strong messaging from Juniper this morning: things you're doing well and things you haven't been doing so well that you're going to get a lot better at. With that taken into account, what is your biggest challenge right now?

We really have been super clear on putting a stake in the ground around this thought leadership agenda, "The New Network." Having that has given us the opportunity to tell our story in a much broader way, so the marketing work we've done there, whether it was around branding or the marketing of Junos, Junos Space or Junos Pulse, we have supporting facts around why the new network approach is needed and the benefits of the new network approach and how it transforms the economics of the network. We're telling that story now and we're getting traction behind it.

That said, if you think of the broad unaided awareness in the enterprise sector that we still have to reach with customers, that's still a big opportunity for us and there's still a lot more we have to do there. That's clearly No. 1: how do we get the message out in a world where there's a lot of messages and a very dynamic competitive landscape. I think Lauren [Flaherty, Juniper executive vice president and chief marketing officer] has done a phenomenal job advancing that.

The second thing is that we've got to be very surgically focused on the wins we get, and have to make sure, especially when it's something big like the New York Stock Exchange, Priceline or the Tokyo Stock Exchange, that our resources and our partner resources line up. Every one of these wins, we feed back as a reference to help us tell the story. The more customers see it, in other words, the more customers talk to other customers who are doing it. It opens up their mind and they start asking the question: maybe I should spend more time paying attention to this. So at a macro level, we're continuing to tell the story from a marketing standpoint, and looking at how we line up our resources and the resources of our partners in a way that has impact.

What fundamentally needed to change about Juniper's marketing? You've had significant market gains in the last few years, but a lot of partners still talk about Juniper as a best kept secret -- a niche challenger. What's changed most, going back to last year?

After I started in this role 18 months ago, I spent a lot of time studying the industry and studying the competition and really digging into the company to understand how we need to align for the future. I would say one of the most impactful things has been clarifying this thought leadership agenda we call "The New Network" -- that is the anchor point, that is the north star for our company. All 7,500 employees are marching to fulfill that vision and now we're engaging the partners -- the ecosystem. So having that vision and clarity of where we were going was the No. 1.

Second was the caliber of marketing talent we've brought to the company. Lauren lead that effort with the team she's brought in. We've utilized every forum, whether it's online, outdoor or events, and we're pulling together all the resources for a world-class marketing organization. I believe we've always had a world-class engineering organization, so it was time to put a stake in the ground about what's going to happen in the industry for the next 10 years, and complement that world-class engineering with world-class marketing.

Now, magical things are beginning to happen. More and more partners are joining us, more and more customers are joining us, and people who perhaps had not heard of us before are asking about us. Customers want us at the strategic table as they're planning their IT agendas. We're embracing that.

All the while, as you mentioned, you've had this dynamic competitive landscape, headed by two 800-pound gorillas in HP and Cisco. Juniper doesn't have a reputation as a saber-rattler. You're not a chest-beating company and you don't strike me as a chest-beating executive, at least compared to some of your counterparts. This morning, though, we also heard some pretty aggressive competitive rhetoric from Juniper. That tone is usually set from the top, so what tone are you looking to set from Juniper as it relates to Cisco and HP?

Well, look, our focus is on the customer, and that customer has needs that the legacy network is not able to address. We're 100 percent focused on that thought leadership agenda. That said, we're aware of the competition of course and what everyone else is doing. We believe we've got this strong conviction that what we are doing is different and that no one else is in a position to offer that. We'll let everyone else rattle sabers at one another, and we'll just stay focused on the future and where we're investing in R&D.


Next: Johnson On HP, Cisco And Acquisitions

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