CRN Exclusive: Juniper CEO On Beating Cisco Through 'Openness,' Its HP/Aruba Relationship And Enterprise Channel Push

Year One In The Books

Juniper Networks CEO Rami Rahim said his first year at the helm has been about innovation and execution as the company "goes back to its basics" with the channel leading the charge and partners on top of mind.

"My goal is for Juniper to be a company that our partners love to do business with, and I can't emphasize that enough," said Rahim, in an interview with CRN.

Rahim said Juniper's new product line, channel focus in the enterprise and Open Converged Framework initiative are pushing the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based networking vendor ahead of competitors like Cisco. As Rahim approaches his nineteenth year at Juniper, he talks to CRN about his relationship with Aruba Networks -- now part of Hewlett-Packard -- Juniper's security road map and how his company is enabling its partners in the enterprise.

Describe your first year as CEO of Juniper.

It feels a little bit longer, I would have to say, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. Last year was a year of restructuring and realignment for the company. We made some difficult decisions, but very good decisions that have set up for really good positioning this year. This year is really more around innovation and execution. We're investing in technologies that right now are very pertinent to our customers, both in the service provider and enterprise side. We're in a great position to really transform the economics of networking with scale performance, carrier-class capabilities, really simple architectures, giving our customers choice with open architectures, and I'm very excited about where we are as a company and the opportunity that we have ahead of us.

Partners and the channel have been a really big focus area for me and for my leadership team because I'm not confused about how important our partners are to our success and our ability to achieve our full potential as a company.

What is Juniper doing to push enterprise sales in the channel? Is that a big priority in 2015, 2016?

It absolutely is extremely important. The enterprise space represents 30 to 40 percent of our business. We want to continue to invest in it and grow it. Increasingly, our enterprise customers are asking for the same set of capabilities and product features and carrier-class functionality that we at Juniper have a real strong DNA for developing.

Enterprise customers are asking more and more for openness; they want to make sure they don't get locked into an end-to-end architecture that doesn't allow them to choose best-of-breed technologies, and that openness has been part of Juniper's DNA from the very beginning.

We have to wrap that all around a channel strategy that enables us to go after this space as effectively as possible.

What exactly are you doing to help channel partners in the enterprise?

I want Juniper to be a company that our partners love to do business with. We're doing this with things like the Juniper Learning Academy that gives our customers insight to our innovations and ways that help them be relevant to our customers and differentiated in the marketplace. Our Marketing Concierge Program helps our partners very effectively and very cost-effectively put up marketing campaigns targeting specific verticals, like the retail space, for example. Also, Juniper Financial Services really facilitates them in closing deals much quicker.

We're making it easier for our partners to do business with us by giving them access to information about our road maps. For our most strategic partners, there's no difference in terms of the access to information that they get about the technologies and road maps that we're providing to what our sales force does inside our company.

What do you think differentiates Juniper from Cisco?

Because of our focus in IP innovation. If you compare the capabilities of our products from the standpoint of scale, performance, the ability to automate for the purpose of reducing the cost of running networks, I think our products are truly differentiated.

The openness of our architecture. We give our partners and our customers the choice to build truly best-of-breed solutions. The incumbent would go more toward an end-to-end play that not everybody is going to be supportive of. Those are two dimensions that have been working very effectively for us.

How does your Open Converged Framework strategy compare to Cisco's strategy?

The vision for the Open Converged Framework is pretty simple: It's to give our partners and customers the ability to have best-of-breed technology, but also the peace of mind they can buy end-to-end solutions that are going to work seamlessly out of the box. Anybody that tells our customers it's either one or the other -- you either get the end-to-end or the best-of-breed -- is wrong. You can, in fact, have both. The Open Converged Framework is an approach to allow our customers and partners to have both, the seamless end-to-end and best-of-breed technology, which means choice -- choice between the very different parts of the network.

Our strategy is to be a pure-play innovator in IP networking. We've never, as a company, been afraid to challenge the status quo when it comes to the kind of solutions and architectures that are out in the market, that if we feel there's a better way to doing things and that's how we went.

You've recently partnered with Aerohive and Ruckus Wireless, while already having a partnership with Aruba. Why three wireless vendors?

To give our customers choice. Each of these wireless partners might have strengths in different areas. A customer that is building out a large enterprise campus might choose Aruba. In the case of Ruckus, they would be well-suited for education or hospitality. Aerohive has great presence in K-12, and local and state government. Giving our customers that choice and also giving them peace of mind that those choices in wireless LAN will, in fact, result in solutions that work very effectively together with Juniper's own switching and security is a winning strategy.

Is the HP acquisition of Aruba this year having any impact with partners or strategic vendor alliances now that Aruba is HP?

It's resulting in people asking questions. I still have a good firm eye-to-eye agreement with the Aruba leadership team in HP that this is a partnership that makes absolute sense for both sides. The HP leadership team knows that if they were to close off interfaces and not give our customers or partners the choice between wired and wireless infrastructure, it would not be good for them. So for that reason, we believe that we still have a very strong partnership with Aruba in addition to Ruckus, and now Aerohive.

What is your view on the HP split?

When it comes to HP, the side that's going to be more relevant to Juniper and our business is HP Enterprise. I've always viewed them as more partners than competitors. Certainly, that’s true in the wireless LAN space and true in the wired switching space where, generally speaking, we address different parts and tiers of the market. No strong opinions on the split itself, but I do view HP Enterprise as a partner of ours and somebody that we like to do business with.

Any thoughts on John Chambers leaving his position at Cisco or the new CEO Chuck Robbins?

I've always had a very healthy dose of respect for all my competitors, and that certainly includes Cisco. They've always been a formidable competitor. I don't know Chuck personally, but I'm not counting on them being any less competitive in the future. We operate and innovate under the assumption that this is a competitive space, and we have to stand out by building better product and forming fantastic partnerships.

How big is security right now for Juniper?

Security for us is extremely important, and it's all about the network -- to make sure security is very highly aligned with our switching and routing to build domain-level solutions for the cloud, the enterprise campus and for certain parts of the service provider space as well.

We have already released into the market the fastest firewall that's out there. If you're building out a large cloud infrastructure and you want to make sure you can secure your data and applications without slowing things down for your customers, we got a fantastic solution. We're not stopping there. We have a very rich and robust road map we're investing in heavily.

Can you explain your security road map?

We're working on the management experience of our product to continue to make it very easy for our customers to manage our security products and to install policies as easy as possible. We're leveraging the power of our cloud and subscription-based business models, and these are really patented technologies in the area, for example, of deception technology that can give us a true leg up against the competition in this space.

We're tapping into the innovation that exists in the market with all the billions of dollars going into security startups. There are some great technologies and mechanisms for detecting threats that are happening outside our walls, and we want to tap into that by partnering effectively with these companies and enabling them to leverage open API in our security products so they can not only detect the threat, but protect and stop them at the point that makes sense inside the enterprise network.

How can a Juniper partner be the most profitable?

We're equipping our partners with the tools, the education, the financial services that help them differentiate themselves and set them apart, so they don't only play a pricing game.

This year, we've giving them longer planning windows so they can plan their MDF dollars in the program effectively. We're targeting them at commercial, which is a space we're paying them some incremental money for, as well as giving them a consistency bonus where if they actually hit their numbers, we will pay them something above and beyond the top.

Partners are talking about how Juniper is getting back to its basics. What do you think they're talking about?

We're going back to our roots as a true innovator in IP technology and security. I was employee No. 32 at Juniper and worked on our very first products. I know firsthand that that's the recipe that worked for us as a startup, and that's the recipe that's going to work for us today.

If you look at the restructuring and realignment that we did last year, we reorganized ourselves inside the company essentially as a startup. Where there's very few organizational boundaries, it's very easy to makes decisions and innovate quickly and rapidly. We can leverage our size as a company to our advantage right now in providing the agility and the innovation our customers are demanding. The fact that our partners are telling CRN that, I think that is great news for me, because it shows the strategy and recipe is working.