8 Questions for Juniper CEO Scott Kriens

CRN Assistant News Editor Jennifer Hagendorf Follett and Senior Editor Kevin McLaughlin recently sat down with Juniper Networks Chairman and CEO Scott Kriens to discuss the vendor's channel strategy, the future of the security market and the biggest challenge facing Cisco Systems, its main competitor. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow:

CRN: What's driving Juniper's push toward solutions and why was that such a big focus of this year's channel partner conference?

Kriens: It's a function of the capabilities that we have within the portfolio. In the area of, for example, unified threat management, because we can deliver SSL solutions and couple those with our intrusion detection and our firewalls and what we more generically call deep inspection capabilities, and marry that to networking, because network security is not separable. Networks without security are of no use, and security without it being tied to the network is equally abstract. Being able to put those pieces together first of all in the portfolio and then to see our partners put those together in their value propositions is a lot of what we're increasingly investing in both in our development and product portfolios and then in our programs and partner commitments as well.

CRN: When you start talking about solutions, you invite questions about the portfolio, the breadth of the portfolio. You have partnerships with Avaya on the VoIP side and Extreme Networks on the switch side, but it seems like the question keeps coming up, particularly from the partner base: Does Juniper need a switch? How much longer can you go down the path that you're on?

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Kriens: Our vision of access control is that it's possible to deploy, and we are seeing success in deploying, a layer of intelligence that allows any port access to the network based on an intelligent understanding of what's on that port, meaning what's in that traffic stream. As a result, it matters less which switch you buy...The strategy that we see is the opportunity to secure and manage the ports, regardless of the manufacturer of them, and that is under this banner of Unified Access Control. As long as we see the opportunity to do that, then the company who provides, essentially, the commodity called the Ethernet port itself becomes less important to the user, and their control over it becomes what's strategic. Therefore we can solve a strategic problem with less of an issue of having to become one of the commodity suppliers.

CRN: So when a partner says, "Juniper really needs a switch," you say, "No, we don't?"

Kriens: Well, we point to the success we're having with Unified Access Control and the ability to provide threat management and the ability to provide a logical layer. The message to the customers is, "We know that all of you, of any size, have got a significant installed base of ports and Ethernet switches as it is. Our goal is to take what you've already bought and enable it to be intelligent enough to meet your needs going forward, as opposed to coming in and convincing you to replace it all." So it's more a value proposition to the customers than it is a debate we want to have with the partners, and we think the partners that can drive this into their strategy have a chance to make a very powerful statement to their customers: "We can help you protect the investment you've made as opposed to asking you to replace it to meet your goals."

CRN: Is Extreme still a strong enough partner for you or do you need to be out looking for someone else?

Kriens: We have a good relationship with Extreme. We have had and continue to have, so really our focus begins with the customer, and they have had success, certainly in particular in the Avaya relationship where Extreme, Juniper and Avaya -- all three of us -- have had a good working relationship getting our products to market together, and that has been very valuable. So we're pleased with the relationship, and, again, focused on deploying our security strategy to help our customers...It matters what customers want to buy, not what sellers want to sell.

NEXT: Cisco opens the door for Juniper

CRN: How does security industry consolidation impact Juniper if it continues along the way it has been going?

Kriens: I think it is going to continue and I think what you're going to find is that there's more and more consolidation around the reality that there's no such thing as security by itself: There's network security. Just as ultimately there was no such thing as word processing as a market place, security is destined to become feature and functionality of the network. The opportunity for people who build network operating systems is to demonstrate that to the market place and cause it to happen sooner and not later, but it is inevitable.

CRN: What challenge does Juniper still need to address?

Kriens: Our focus going forward is more education within the marketplace, specifically in the customer environment, as to what's possible with the right partners, and to continue the conversion of the market thinking that you should just make the easiest and safest choice into a strategy instead of making the best choice, and that that absolutely makes a difference to the success of your business. It's more important that we spread that belief across a broader community than it is that we do anything different, and the challenge is how to reach the marketplace with these beliefs, because it's a large market and it's confused by a lot of marketing.

CRN: What do you see, then, as Cisco's biggest weakness, or the area where you can have the most impact against them?

Kriens: I don't think it's a weakness, actually. I think it's just a reality that they've got to find $3 billion or $4 billion or $5 billion a year every year of growth to satisfy shareholders and meet their own goals. That means they have to alienate more and more participants, whether those are other technology companies or whether those are partners, or once partners. And it's not really wrong, it's just that the only way you can get $5 billion a year is to take it from somebody, and so the fact that they have to challenge their partnerships and redistribute the IT spend to their benefit at someone else's expense in dollars of such magnitude is just a by-product of a necessary growth condition. So it's not a weakness, it's just a reality of their challenge that creates opportunity for the market to stop and look at another way to solve problems.

CRN: Much has been made recently of Cisco and Microsoft and do they compete, do they partner, do they do both? Seemingly more it seems they compete. Does that create opportunity for Juniper to slip in while Cisco is distracted with that?

Kriens: I read somewhere where John [Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco] said he thought he had a two-to-three-year lead on Microsoft or something, so it is becoming more visible...Again, I think it's inevitable that these challenges with existing relationships and pre-existing relationships, those relationships have to change. It's not wrong, it's just reality, and by extension, it's opportunity, because it means the market has to stop and look differently at its needs, and for us, that translates into opportunity.