Partners: CEO Exit Makes Juniper's Direction Even More Unclear

Solution providers said Tuesday the sudden resignation of Juniper Networks CEO Shaygan Kheradpir is one of many recent changes at the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based networking vendor that's making its future direction -- and messaging to partners -- increasingly unclear.

"They've been in a state of flux for a while now," said Dominic Grillo, executive vice president of Atrion Communications, a Branchburg, N.J.-based Elite Juniper partner. "Shaygan hadn't been there that long himself, and there have just been so many changes to their executive team over the past few years that we don’t even know who half of them are anymore."

Juniper said Monday Kheradpir, who joined the company in January from finance giant Barclays, would step down as CEO, effective immediately. Juniper said Kheradpir's departure was the result of a review of his leadership by the Juniper board, which called into question Kheradpir's conduct in a negotiation with a customer.

[Related: Juniper CEO Out In Wake Of Board's Review Of Conduct]

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The name of the customer and the details of that negotiation were not disclosed.

Kheradpir was replaced by Rami Rahim, former head of Juniper Development and Innovation. The latest executive shake-up is one of several recent changes to the Juniper executive team.

Kheradpir himself officially replaced former Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson in January. Meanwhile, Juniper's channel organization has seen a revolving door of leadership over the past 18 months, the most recent of which was the exit of worldwide channel chief David Helfer.

Partners told CRN they've also seen significant turnover among Juniper channel account managers and channel SEs.

Kheradpir's exit comes as Juniper pushes on with a major restructuring effort, called its Integrated Operating Plan, which Kheradpir himself initiated in February.

Juniper partners said they're hungry for clarity amid all of the change.

"We aren't hearing anything about the vision," Grillo said. "The local channel team is doing a good job keeping us up-to-date with product updates, but we aren’t hearing any messaging from the top in terms of vision."

An executive from another Elite level Juniper partner, who requested anonymity, said Kheradpir's vision of targeting service providers and cloud builders with "high IQ networks" never seemed entirely clear.

"No matter how many times I heard it, it just didn’t make sense to me," the partner said. "Juniper's success has been based on coming to market with technology features and benefits. And, for some time, -- not just under [Kheradpir's] regime, but a lot of previous regimes -- they've lacked a lot of clarity in terms of top-level messaging."

The partner also said Juniper's strategy around software-defined networking and how it plans to compete in the software-defined data center era isn't as clear as it could be.

"I think what Juniper had in switching is starting to be encroached upon by start-ups," the partner said, noting companies like Big Switch Networks, Cumulus Networks and Arista Networks. "And Cisco has finally got its act together and is coming out with better messaging around [its Application Centric Infrastructure] and the Nexus 9000."

Lastly, the partner said, it's unclear whether Juniper will start to sell off select parts of its business -- such as its SRX security line -- given Juniper's recent sale of the Junos Pulse business and ongoing pressure from investor Elliott management to reevaluate its portfolio.

"Could they potentially do that with other product sets?" the partner said. "I don’t think it's entirely unfeasible that something like that would happen."

Chris Becerra, vice president of sales at Terrapin Systems, a San Jose, Calif.-based Juniper Elite partner, said his biggest concern is that Juniper is going to double-down on its service provider business, possibly at the expense of its enterprise business.

Other partners expressed this same concern when Kheradpir, a former Verizon executive, first joined Juniper.

"My main concern is the direction of the company," Becerra said. "Are they going to go back to their roots of just going after service providers? We are heavy enterprise, so I need to see something from them that shows a commitment to the enterprise."

NEXT: Juniper Sales Steady Despite Uncertainty, Partners Say

Though some Juniper partners feel uncertain about the company's future direction, many are still seeing steady growth in their Juniper businesses.

Atrion's Grillo said he expects his Juniper sales to roughly double this year compared to 2013.

"We've got a sales team that really understands Juniper and we have been with them so long," Grillo said. "I think what's kind of happening is that we are being leaned on more heavily as a strong Juniper partner in the region, which is helping us."

The partner executive who asked not to be named also said he expects growth in his Juniper business this year.

"We have some really good opportunities in the hopper," he said, adding that many are with mid-market companies or tier 2 and tier 3 service providers.

Partners also said they were glad to see Juniper appoint Rahim, a 17-year Juniper vet and core architect of the company's flagship MX routing platform, as Kheradpir's replacement.

"I don’t know his capabilities as a CEO, but he is going to be a guy with a lot more invested and a person who has a lot more skin in the game, really wanting to do whatever he can to be as successful as possible," Becerra said.

"Rahim’s strengths as a technologist and a key, early Juniper employee are huge assets," said Jason Gress, co-founder and president of Santa Clara-based Juniper Elite partner InterVision Systems. "I've seen him take on more strategic roles at the company over the years. His understanding of the internal workings of Juniper and its product portfolio, along with his knowledge of the networking industry, make him an excellent choice to lead the company."

Juniper provided the following statement to CRN:

"Juniper remains 100 percent committed to executing on our current direction. We’re focusing on and investing in the highest growth segments of the market and are doing so with our new, more optimized organizational structure. We’ve got the right plan and now we have the right leader."