Juniper Partners: Now Comes The Tough Part With SDN

Juniper Networks partners are encouraged by the ambitious software-defined networking (SDN) strategy Juniper laid out at the company's Global Partner Conference this week in Las Vegas, but they need to see the execution and sales plans fleshed out before they give a thumbs-up.

Juniper's SDN approach, announced Tuesday along with a host of other updates to Juniper Partner Advantage and other programs, involves both a road map for updating and expanding Juniper's product lines behind SDN and also a software licensing model for how Juniper partners will be expected to sell Juniper's platforms in the coming years.

Juniper was deliberately slow in announcing its SDN approach, executives said, because it's been working for the past nine months on how to approach the paradigm-shift top-to-bottom, not just provide new software products or, as CEO Kevin Johnson put it, "merely participate in the hype."

[Related: Juniper CEO: We're Uniquely Positioned To Be SDN Winner ]

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But while partners attending GPC said they appreciated being walked through the vision of Juniper as an SDN leader, they won't be fully convinced until Juniper puts the sales, marketing and training programs in place to help them win over customers.

"I like the way they presented this in the context of being able to link together different service aspects. As a network-based VAR, we have to be on the leading edge of this," said John O'Shea, senior vice president of sales at Vology, an Oldsmar, Fla.-based solution provider. "We're looking five years down the road and thinking about the dynamics of infrastructure, and the reality is so much of it is going to be virtualized. So, it's a question of timing. But, what we need to know is how we will monetize this and what resources will be available to help us."

"Candidly, what I expected to hear from them was that SDN is going to be great and oh, by the way, we already have it with QFabric," said Erik Freeland, solutions director at Accuvant, a Denver-based solution provider. "That's what I expected, because with some of the other manufacturers, that's what I would have gotten. But, we didn't get that with Juniper, and I think it's the right strategy around this concept of the service chain. All of a sudden, if I have things virtually where I want them -- say, intrusion prevention or DLP -- using SDN I can put them where I want them to go. That's really compelling."

NEXT: Partners Want Concrete Sales, Enablement Plan

Accuvant's Freeland said many SDN startups are only tackling pieces of the software paradigm shift in the network and data center, so Juniper is wise to look at the challenges holistically.

"It's all about execution at this point, and that's what's going to be interesting for Juniper," Freeland added. "If they can really execute on it, I think it's going to be great."

Other partners agreed they'd need more of a concrete sales and enablement plan from Juniper specific to SDN.

"It's definitely an interesting concept, but there's a lot that's going to need to come out to talk through how people will want to buy it and how the partners will be enabled," said Dominic Grillo, executive vice president of Atrion Communication Resources, a Branchburg, N.J.-based solution provider. "I think this was more to get everyone's interest piqued, which I think it did."

"The presentation they gave was too technical for some and not nearly technical enough for others, so I'm not sure what they accomplished besides planting their flag," said the top sales executive at a national solution provider, who asked that his name not be used. "If they don't put a cohesive approach behind this -- products, field teams, engagement, how it goes in line with their infrastructure platforms -- they're going to have a lot of partners who say, we're just not going to spend the time."

"We're going to have to know a lot more about how it affects the product portfolios, particularly switching and security," said Frank Kobuszewski, vice president, technology solutions group at CXtec, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based solution provider. "The SDN message was long, complicated and technical, the way it was presented here. It looked good, but we'll have to see how they evolve the portfolio."

Juniper committed to partners during GPC that the execution piece will be a gradual rollout, in the form of channel resources, training and deeper discussion of the software sales motion it's trying to impart to solution providers.

"We just made the announcement, so what we need to do now is start working on taking the mystery out of it and evangelize it to the field: What is our approach, in simple terms," Frank Vitagliano, Juniper senior vice president, Americas partners, told CRN. "That's work that's to be done. But, it's work we know how to do. At the end of the day, there's no magic to this. You're still out in the field, still supporting partners and enabling them to support customers."

NEXT: Partners See Need For Speed On Execution

Juniper partners by and large appreciated that Juniper hung back, let the SDN hype mount and then attempted to stake out a more comprehensive position. The company now needs to get its sales programs and training in place to capitalize on that momentum, they told CRN.

"I was impressed with how they laid it out, it fits very well to where we think the SDN market is going anyways. I like how they held out and waited till the other big players announced their strategies, and then they came out way more detailed-oriented," Charles Crawford, director of infrastructure for FishNet Security, an Overland Park, Kan.-based solution provider, said.

Crawford, who joined FishNet in 2012, has been focused on SDN concepts for the last decade and is architecting FishNet's SDN strategy. FishNet's bigger customers are beginning to ask about how it will affect their infrastructure, he said, so the company needed a plan on how to walk them through a potential shift.

"[Customers] hear SDN, and they want to know things like what does that mean versus what I've virtualized already," he said. "So now we can have that conversation, give them a path and say, oh, by the way, here's what we can also do for your firewalls, here's what we can do for your existing gear and here's how we can optimize the investments you've already made."

Specific to Juniper, Crawford also was hoping for more details on Juniper's execution.

"Once we get to a point where [Juniper] can give their bullets and how to accomplish this, we figure out how we connect our services to theirs," he said. "I like the way they're approaching it where they're helping customers get to the vision one step at a time. They need to do some follow up on the details now and quickly get out the model and talk about the products and functionalities. Customer adoption is still pretty slow, but the more we can educate them, the more it'll make for a better transition."

Doug Marschke, chief technology officer for TorreyPoint, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based solution provider, said his company has already invested in an SDN strategy, including training and intellectual property that will help its customers make the transition. Much of Juniper's strategy will line up well with that, he said, but not all.

"It's a little bit different from what they presented, which was a lot about chaining services. A lot of our customers want to use their network to increase value and revenue, so they're looking at ways to do network segmentation," he said. "But [Juniper] does play into some of that, especially the controller aspects and the interface. I'm happy with what I heard."

Marschke agreed Juniper needs to execute behind the strategy quickly, and that TorreyPoint has already begun discussions with Juniper's engineering team. Many of TorreyPoint's customers are already wanting to have those conversations, he said.

"A lot of them are asking about it because they've already heard a Cisco story," he said. "They're saying, 'Is this real? Should I do this?' So we have to play the trusted adviser and educate them."

Juniper can't afford a long lag time between its strategy announcement and its education and enablement of the channel, partners agreed.

"I think it's a work-in-progress, which is fine, but Juniper has typically been pretty slow when it comes to actually implementing what they announce at shows like this," said the chief executive of a well-known Juniper partner, who asked that his name not be used. "Partner Advantage, for example, was announced in January [2012], and it wasn't until summer that a lot of it was nailed down. And the [Partner Advantage Services] program they announced here is something the advisory council has been discussing with them for a long time, so that's been behind too. SDN is so hyped right now, and they don't want to be left behind."

NEXT: Juniper's SDN Partnering And Marketing Approaches

Juniper's Vitagliano and other Juniper executives are certain that the work the company has put into Partner Advantage and the new enablement and rewards programs announced at the show will help partners ease their transition toward SDN-type sales.

Vitagliano, for example, cited the new Juniper Teaming Standard, an approach through which Juniper solution providers will have a more formal process for escalating issues to Juniper and also be more tightly aligned with Juniper's sales force to do account mapping and demand generation activities. In essence, Juniper is training its sales representatives to be more attuned to partner needs.

"The reason that's a big deal is because any hybrid model has direct-touch sales guys, and whether it's all filtered through the channel or not, you're always going to get sale alignment issues. In my experience, if you don't address that quickly, those issues get worse really quick," Vitagliano said. "A lot of guys just don't understand how to work with the channel, so this is an opportunity to re-educate our people. We have a major focus on that."

Vitagliano said one of Juniper's strengths is pushing more high-touch resources to partners that they don't get at other vendors of Juniper's size. Juniper now has more than 40 systems engineers dedicated solely to channel partners -- up from the two it had as recently as three years ago.

"What a lot of companies do is they have SEs in the field, and those SEs support both the direct selling approach and the channel piece," Vitagliano explained. "The problem, when you do that, is that the direct selling approach always takes priority -- there's always a deal right in front of you. So [it's] really important to have this dedicated to the partners."

Juniper partners don't doubt the vendor's strength in programs.

"Partner Advantage was fantastic this year," said ACR's Dominic Grillo. "It's a good program that rewards you for things you should be doing, and I think that's been well-received."

"A lot of manufacturers do a really lousy job of helping their people understand what we do and where we can be brought in," added Pat Grillo, ACR's president and CEO. "So to have them help their guys be more aware that we have these capabilities, that's going to be beneficial to us."

Lauren Flaherty, Juniper's chief marketing officer, said Juniper will also help partners with these transitions using the vendor's growing marketing engine. This year, for example, Juniper will allocate more money for partner MDF than in any previous year.

Partners should also expect an ongoing expansion of Marketing Concierge, the set marketing resources Juniper launched in 2012. Juniper presented a statistic to partners at GPC that showed how partners that used Marketing Concierge in the past year grew their Juniper business by 26 percent versus partners who didn't grow by an average of 2 percent.

On the SDN front, Flaherty said, Juniper has a great opportunity to bring a nuanced approach to the discussion.

"There's a lot of hype and a lot more work to be done," she said. "So, for us, it's can we establish a message that says, they've been comprehensive in their thinking, they get what's important and they're credible in that they have deep software expertise and deep networking expertise. We're hoping the take-away will be, who do you think is thinking about SDN the right way among influencers? We want that answer to be Juniper. This is not mass advertising around SDN; this is a classic cadence to systematically execute and influence the influencers."

"Everyone is going to try to figure out where they play in this space," said Jay Miley, vice president and general manager, Advanced Technology Division at Ingram Micro. "Kind of like cloud was several years ago, SDN is going to be different than the traditional motion so the partners are still trying to understand what it means to them. There will be a lot of risk and opportunity in the strategy."