Juniper VARs' Checklist: Consistency, Commitment, Coverage

As channel-centric vendors grow and become more influential, partners’ biggest fear is that those vendors become distracted and neglectful and that the delicate VAR relationships that helped build their reputations fall by the wayside.

But to hear Juniper partners tell it at this week's Juniper Global Partner Conference, Juniper, despite growing pains, executive turnover and the rapid expansion of its product portfolio, has stayed the channel course as well as any vendor in its weight class.

Some of Juniper's top partners told CRN in Las Vegas this week that they rely on the consistency of Juniper's channel execution and that, a few hiccups aside, Juniper's partner program remains one of the industry's strongest. Most agreed that Juniper’s reputation will buoy the company as it gains more notice and competes more effectively with Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and other major networking, data center and security rivals.

"It's hard for a business owner to have a strategy when there are a lot of things I can't control," said David Nahabedian, principal and co-founder of Integration Partners, a Lexington, Mass.-based solution provider and Elite Juniper partner. "With Juniper it's been a very consistent go-to-market strategy and very predictable compared to most others we deal with. That's the way we continue our growth around it."

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"They are committed and you see that in the programs, which have all been well-thought-out and well-planned," said Helen Lesser, executive vice president at Nexum, a Chicago-based solution provider. "I think for us it's always refreshing when you have no major changes and you're just seeing enhancements. They have a solid foundation."

Juniper executives spent much of this week's conference rallying partners behind its visions for cloud and mobility and urging them to invest in marketing, training and social media programs. According to Juniper, it will invest more in channel programs this year than ever before as it looks to exploit competitive openings from Cisco, HP and Avaya.

It hasn't been the rosiest of years for Juniper, which had a few recent and still-smarting black eyes: warnings of a revenue shortfall for its fourth quarter, a round of layoffs last fall, and customer and partner anger over technical issues with its SRX security gateway product lines. But partners are encouraged by Juniper's technology visions, which include a data center architecture upgradable through a single, flexible OS; a product suite that addresses how customers will grapple with cloud computing and the explosion of mobile devices; and a deliberate acquisition strategy that's been primarily about smaller, tuck-in-type companies instead of questionable, land-grab type acquisitions.

Gary Fish, president and CEO of Fishnet Security, a $450 million Kansas City, Mo.-based security integrator and Juniper's top U.S. partner, touted Juniper's software focus as an advantage.

"It's one thing to have a hardware platform and another to continue to upgrade the software running on that platform. We got into this mode in security years ago that everything had to be on an appliance, so the issue had been when you had to upgrade you had to physically pull a box out and then put a box back in. Customers talk a lot now about platforms expanding through software, and they're tired of pulling boxes out and putting boxes back in. Juniper's done well with that," Fish said.

"They have a consistent operating system across the various platforms, which makes solutions-selling easier," said Gerold Arheilger, director of pre-sales and business development at Xantaro, a Hamburg, Germany-based service provider integrator. "It is easier for our engineers to cope with all the different flavors of technology, and it's something we can rely on. That is very important."

NEXT: Juniper Shouldn't Try To Be Too Many Things

CXtec, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based solution provider and provider of refurbished networking equipment and IT asset disposal services, saw double-digit growth in its Juniper business in the past year. It would behoove Juniper to focus on other profitable areas such as a refurbished product resale program, said Frank Kobuszewski, vice president, technology solutions group, but Juniper has above all been manageable.

"It's a simple message," he said. "There's not a lot of overlap in their products so it's not too tough to deal with."

Peter Mesker, security consultant with SecureLink, a Wommelgum, Beligum-based security integrator, said that as Juniper grows it will need to broaden its security and infrastructure focuses to include better malware detection and mobile device management.

"There's a rapid shift in how companies are being attacked, and what's very important now is a security tooling environment," he said. "You have to have deeper visibility as to what's happening in your infrastructure, and Juniper will need to come up with a solution there."

Most solution providers, however, cautioned Juniper against expanding into too many different product areas, especially with its product portfolio having broadened so much already in the past five years. Fishnet's Fish referenced Cisco as an example of a vendor that had spread itself too thin and gotten distracted from its core, partner-centric businesses.

"Why a networking vendor was doing Flip cameras, I don't know," Fish said. "You can't be all things to all people. I think Juniper has a good focus and its security is ultimately tying in to where it wants to go. Security has been really blended into that message. They need to stay focused and not try to do everything."

Juniper's growth also means it has to manage executive turnover, solution providers said, and continue to preserve deals for smaller solution providers against the larger strategic partners, such as Verizon or Dell.

"We do a lot with bigger Fortune customer accounts and we've lost deals to those partners," said Pat Grillo, CEO of Atrion Communications Resources, a Branchburg, N.J.-based solution provider and longtime Juniper solution provider whose Juniper sales have declined in the past year. "I want to make sure we look each other in the eye and hear from Juniper how committed they are and how we're going to work together."

Many partners say the changes to Juniper's channel program over the past several years are starting to provide those safeguards. Professional services, especially, is one area where Juniper has demonstrated it will protect partner revenue, solution providers said.

"It's a tricky slope when you're talking about handing revenue to partners because that could be revenue for them," said Integration Partners' Nahabedian. "It's a constant tug-of-war between us and [a vendor] and it doesn't lead to good partnering when you're having arguments over service dollars. We have never had that situation with Juniper."