Juniper's Call To Action Finds A Channel Ready To Work

Juniper Networks is in the midst of its busiest year ever, and as the Juniper Americas Partner Conference kicked off in Phoenix Tuesday, Juniper's message to partners was a call to arms: invest with us, and we will provide you the air cover, marketing and partner resources you need to double down with Juniper solutions and grow.

"We are at the opportunity of a lifetime," said Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson, who told partners that the challenges of future networks -- and the dominant trends of cloud computing and mobility -- will not be satisfied by status quo solutions.

"The companies who are investing in innovation will be the big winners this decade," he said.

Attendance at this year's Americas Partner Conference, which returned to the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, is up significantly from last year's event, with about 390 partners attending onsite and 800 who registered for the virtual conference, according to Juniper.

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Johnson was one in a parade of Juniper executives who took to the stage Tuesday, each offering some variation or message behind the idea that Juniper will dramatically ramp up its marketing and channel enablement resources for partners.

That ramp-up will come as it continues to push its "new network" agenda and drive market share gains behind major product launches like its QFabric data center fabric and strategic acquisitions like that of Trapeze Networks -- two big events in what's been, for Juniper, a year full of bold moves.

As networking and data center infrastructure shifts from what Johnson called a "vertical, closed" model to a "horizontal, open" one, Juniper will be focused on innovating in the service provider core, the service provider edge, the data center, the enterprise campus and branch and in security, he said. Partners will be equipped to become more focused on software safety and drive business behind Junos and Juniper's software platforms.

In addition, Johnson said, Juniper's R&D investment will be about $1 billion this year, and it will also look to continue to acquire -- perhaps not with the frequency it's displayed as of late, but where it makes sense, he said.

The biggest change in Juniper's overall strategy has been in marketing, executives said.

"We are all in," said Lauren Flaherty, Juniper's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, who said Juniper's market development fund spending increased 20 percent in the past year, and that 40 percent of all MDF spending is now allocated to marketing.

Whereas last year was about charting a course for stronger marketing, Flaherty explained, this year is about mobilization. Juniper's greater exposure -- from an increased media presence to a dramatic pick-up in targeted ad campaigns and a 24-to-26 percent increase in brand awareness across its major geographies -- is what turned the battle for networking dominance into a "three-horse race" with Cisco and HP, she said.

"Juniper moved to the shortlist in the last two years," she said. "[Customers] are looking for an alternative because the value being created by competitors is not sufficient."

Next: Juniper's Marketing And Channel Investment

Luanne Tierney, who left Cisco in January to become Juniper's new vice president, global partner marketing, told partners that Juniper will drive marketing plans that marry traditional marketing formats with social media. Juniper partners will have the ability to work with Juniper on targeted marketing campaigns and co-marketing efforts specific to their businesses, she said.

"We want to become your trusted marketing advisor," Tierney said.

Channel resources will also get a boost, said Emilio Umeoka, senior vice president, worldwide partners, who, like Tierney, was making his first onstage appearance at Juniper's main partner event.

Umeoka and Frank Vitagliano, senior vice president of partners, the Americas, will look to increase Juniper's focus on coverage, funding, enablement, marketing, partner rewards, communications and business-to-business interaction in direct response to the feedback provided by partners in each of those areas. Look for more channel partner tools later this year, they said, and also a tighter alignment between Juniper's channel managers and its marketing gurus.

Juniper solution providers of various sizes interviewed by CRN at the conference said that 2010 was the year Juniper turned the corner, and became a partner VARs wanted to gravitate to rather than a curious networking alternative with well-reviewed technology.

"It's quite apparent that Juniper is alive and well, and it's a refreshing change to see them out in people's faces," said Mike Johnson, director, network solutions at Forsythe Solutions Group, a Skokie, Ill.-based solution provider. "Before, Juniper seemed to gather around the network engineers -- the geeks in the room -- and market only to those guys. It's nice to see they're going after the CFOs, the marketing people, the pencil pushers, the people who aren't in IT. They know who the Juniper name is now."

Forsythe's Juniper business is expected to grow 23 percent year-over-year, Johnson said. While Juniper has been strong in service provider for some time, they've been, until recently, "quiet" in enterprise.

"Very few people in the C-level know Juniper has been around for as long as it has," he said. "They've been around longer than HP Networking, but ask most CFOs if they know HP has a networking product, and they'll say yes. Juniper is changing that."

NEXT: More Juniper Partners Weigh In

Helen Lesser, executive vice president at Nexum, a Chicago-based solution provider, said the moves she's seen from Juniper reflect careful attention to partner feedback. Nexum's had many more opportunities to co-market with the vendor in the past year than in previous years, she said.

"It really comes down to the communications piece: making sure that their messaging to us is the same as it is our to people, and enabling us to deliver that message," she said. "It's not an immediate turnaround, but they're listening to our feedback and they are turning that into actionable programs."

Lesser said Nexum's Juniper business is up 30 percent this year. Double digit growth in Juniper revenue has also been the story for Adaptive Communications, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based solution provider and winner of Juniper's Eastern Region Partner of the Year award this year.

Adaptive more than doubled its revenue with Juniper in the past year after doing similar numbers in 2009, said Steve Thorpe, Adaptive's president.

"The products that they've introduced seem to be resonating straight on with customers," he said. "After seeing Lauren's presentation on the marketing, I'm fired up. I think it's aggressive, on point, and going to resonate with the market very well. They looked to us for a lot of feedback last year, and they're taking it to heart."

Thorpe said Juniper provides an ideal data center solution to go into a Cisco account and take out Cisco infrastructure -- something Adaptive's been doing with increasing frequency.

"It makes all the sense in the world to the enterprise customer," he said. "We're seeing market share improvements, the investors taking notice and the stock staying strong, and it's a strong solution for us."

Jeff Zapchenk, account manager at Meridian, a Deerfield, Ill.-based solution provider, said Juniper has a more pronounced software influence than ever, but the opportunities with Junos and its various platforms add value for customers. The technology and messaging is finally in alignment for the vendor, he said.

"I've been selling Juniper since 2000," he said. "They've come a long way."

Flaherty reminded partners that challenging the incumbent players in networking and data center will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Her message?

"Don't blink."