Juniper Networks’ Rami Rahim On Enterprise, Automation, And How Juniper Mist Is ‘In A League All Its Own’

‘In the first quarter of this year, orders were up 20 percent year-over-year. And that’s essentially because I don’t think we have had this level of technology differentiation for the enterprise ever, at Juniper,’ the company’s CEO Rami Rahim tells CRN.


Enterprise On The Rise

Historically a service provider-focused vendor, Juniper Networks’ enterprise business segment revenue has been creeping up over the last few years. But despite a global pandemic that shut down most carpeted enterprises, the networking giant has posted significant growth within its enterprise business, according to Juniper Networks CEO Rami Rahim.

At the same time, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Juniper has been enjoying double-digit growth in its security portfolio and is integrating recently acquired 128 Technology, its SD-WAN play, deeply into its product line. And that line is also being infused with automation and artificial intelligence via the centerpiece of the company’s “experience-first” networking strategy, Juniper Mist.

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Rahim sat down with CRN after the company’s Q1 2021 earnings to talk about Juniper’s AI-powered platform and how Mist is going head-to-head – and gaining market share – against the likes of Cisco Meraki and Aruba ESP. He talked about the company’s as-a-service model and its crucial partner strategy, in addition to its impressive enterprise growth – the segment had 20 percent bookings growth during the company’s first quarter of the year.

Here’s what Rahim had to say.

What are the most important pieces of Juniper’s portfolio today, and how is that focus helping you compete against your rivals?

Our true north as a company right now is around experience-first networking, and that means something very specific. It means we want to offer our customers the best possible experience of both operating the network, and then also using the network to do whatever you use it for. That applies to all of our strategic customer solutions that we’re offering today. There’s the AI-driven enterprise, which is all around dramatically simplifying the day-to-day operations by essentially, replacing manual operations with robots. Running the network, everywhere from the client, through the wireless network, the wired networking and the wide area network, to your cloud of choice. Then, there’s the cloud-ready data center solutions. Here again, the key is to delight our customers with a data center network that is essentially intent based. You just provide whatever business outcome you’re looking for in a network, [and] it essentially configures and autoruns itself. Last but not least is the automated WAN space. This is sort of our bread and butter, where, of course, performance and scale matters. But even there, there is a high degree to which experience-first applies. We’re introducing automation capabilities [and] assurance capabilities into the network. So, experience-first networking applied across the enterprise cloud-ready data center [and] automated WAN. That’s the strategy, the vision, and it is working.

We just announced our [Q1 2021] results [this week]. Our enterprise business did extremely well through COVID last year, and in the first quarter of this year, orders were up 20 percent year-over-year. And that’s essentially because I don’t think we have had this level of technology differentiation for the enterprise ever, at Juniper. We’ve invested in our go-to-market organization. In fact, we started with doing this several years ago, with an eye on the enterprise, and it’s paying off for us. And we’re investing in our partners to make sure that they are equipped to basically take these technologies into the market and to do so very profitably.

The service provider business declined 4 percent year-over-year while the enterprise segment accelerated. To what do you attribute this uptick?

Service provider continues to be very important for us and it will continue to be very important to us as service providers are a customer of ours, but also, service providers are partners of ours in addressing the enterprise market. In the enterprise, we’ve actually seen good, solid growth in the enterprise now for a number of years, but I think that growth is accelerating. And that is a matter of strategy. It’s not going to be long before the enterprise is in fact, our largest customer vertical in this company. That’s because, again, we’ve invested, in both go to market and technology. And the market opportunity is massive! Just client to cloud; the campus and branch opportunity in and of itself is a $20 billion market opportunity. Data center, depending on how you count it, that’s maybe around another $10 billion. There is a large market opportunity of which we are relatively small shareholders, so the opportunity for growth is immense for us.

Do you think the pandemic helped accelerate Juniper’s enterprise business?

There are certainly parts of our business that saw tailwinds from COVID. I would put that more in the cloud providers’ base where the shift to working from home put more pressure on cloud applications and cloud services. On the enterprise, there were puts-and-takes. There were probably some tailwinds in certain areas, but there were also significant headwinds that we had to deal with. There were certain parts of the enterprise market that would have traditionally been available to us that were shut down, like the carpeted enterprise. But despite that, I think the solid execution, great differentiation, and fantastic partner programs all contributed to momentum ahead of peers and share-taking through COVID. And I think this will accelerate as we emerge from COVID.

I sincerely believe that as we emerge COVID, the need for IT solutions will actually accelerate in the specific areas where we have invested -- in the cloud-delivered, simplified, AI-driven solutions. I don’t think people are going to be rushing to more on-prem complexity. I think they’re going to be rushing for the new breed of IT solutions that are cloud-delivered.

Do you see the enterprise segment continuing to grow as people start thinking about returning to the office?

Absolutely. It’s notable that we’ve managed to achieve growth and momentum in the enterprise, even through the challenges of the pandemic, which has, in fact, represented major headwinds for those who have had to shut down entire portions of the enterprise, like the carpeted enterprise. The team has done an outstanding job in pivoting our focus to COVID-resilient segments of the enterprise. For example, public sector, college campuses, warehouses, manufacturing, big box retailers, are areas where we’ve seen some real strength and appetite by customers. Secondly, I think we’ve developed solutions that in and of themselves are COVID-resilient. Our AI-driven enterprise solution is inherently a much simpler technology to deploy and they yield huge benefits in terms of the ongoing ease of managing the network and that’s what customers are looking for these days. So, in a situation where there have been these headwinds, differentiation matters, and technologies that help customers deal with those headwinds really mattered.

Do I expect that things start to open up? The answer is yes. I believe we are emerging from the pandemic and certainly there are reasons to be optimistic in this country because of vaccination rates, the economy seems to be picking up and projections on spending seems to be on the rise right now. As more people are starting to come into the office, certainly the need for investment in office IT is going to pick up and open up brand-new opportunities that I’m really excited about.

How critical has the channel been to driving Juniper’s enterprise growth?

Absolutely critical. Practically all of our enterprise business, in one way, shape or form, leverages partners. We have solutions right now that are perfect for our partners. We can bring new levels of efficiency to our partners’ operation [and] with the simplicity of the solution that we’re offering in the market, we can enable partners to win more business. You’ve seen the momentum in our business. You’ve also seen the analyst recognition of us being rated highest in execution in wired and wireless networking by partners, which is not a small deal. Gordon [MackIntosh, Juniper’s channel chief] (pictured) has done a great job of putting in place programs that allow our partners to be very profitable when they worked with us.

How does Juniper Mist compete against the likes of Cisco Meraki and Aruba ESP?

I honestly think that Mist is in a league of its own. Mist was built from the beginning with a microservices cloud architecture. And that means that the speed of innovation is second to none. It means that the volume of data, down to the individual client, application, or session, has been optimized from the beginning. The proof is in the pudding -- fast deployment, fewest trouble tickets, [and the] fastest time to resolution. We are, I think, honestly miles ahead of the competition that we’re seeing it with the share that we’re taking in the market right now. I honestly believe that our competitors would need to start from scratch in order to build the kind of differentiation and deliver the result that we’re delivering every day in the market.

The as-a-service model has become a popular networking trend this year. Tell us about Juniper’s as-a-service strategy.

Our strategy is to dramatically simplify the deployment and the operations of network. And that, I think, by necessity means we’re offering solutions that can be software-led, and to the extent possible, that are going to SaaS-led. Take, for example, our software-driven enterprise solution. All of the telemetry capabilities, the automation capabilities, the artificial intelligence, is actually delivered as a service from the cloud. That has tremendous benefit for our customers because the pace of innovation is just unbelievable. You can innovate so rapidly and rollout new capabilities that’s simply impossible with traditional on-prem solutions, and it’s showing up with real customer outcomes. Things like very fast deployment; we’ve accelerated the pace at which customers can deploy technology. Customers have reduced the number of trouble tickets that traditionally being dealt with by human beings in whatever environment they’re in by upwards of 90 percent and faster time to resolution. This is why I think we’ve gotten so much attention from industry analysts and why we’re winning business and taking share. I think, honestly, partners have taken notice of this -- this for partners essentially means more logos, which is great, and more efficient operations that allow them to be more profitable.

How does the purchase of 128 Technology help Juniper better compete in the market?

The 128 solution itself is differentiated. The visibility down to sessions and applications, in and of itself, is giving us some real differentiation in SD-WAN. But the big reason why we fell in love with 128, [both] with the technology and the team, is the synergy that exists between 128 and Mist. Because of that fine-grained visibility into sessions and applications, we have access to so much data and information that Mist thrives on -- particular the Mist AI engine, Marvis. So, what we’re working on now is diligently combining this to be a truly Mist-powered client to cloud solution that includes wireless, wired, and WAN. The team is actually ahead of plans in terms of how well they’re executing here. I think we’re going to have a solution -- end to end managed by Mist -- within the next quarter or two.

Even in the early days after closing the 128 Technology acquisition, we’re seeing some real momentum in the market. We’ve closed multimillion-dollar MSP deals and we are seeing a significant expansion of existing customers, and because of the security attributes of 128 Technology, we’re winning meaningful deals, and a number of deals within the federal government.

How has the product development roadmap changed in the past year to address the needs brought on by COVID?

The good news is, there was no need for any major adjustments because if anything, we’ve always felt the need for experience-first networking, the need for highly automated networks, for self-healing networks that can self-identify issues, the need for automation and AI as a way of alleviating or removing the human factor from the day to day mundane work of running networks. That’s always been our strategy and our vision. But COVID has just accelerated it. It’s sort of taking like a decade’s worth of need and the appetite for this kind of technology and compressing it within a 1-2-year period. So, if anything, all we’ve done is increase our confidence that we’ve been building the right portfolio, the right roadmap, and increase our appetite to invest in success.

Juniper recently announced it was investing more than $100 million in the channel. Why is now the time?

Honestly, first, I think Juniper has always been a company that respects and understands what we can do on our own, but then also respects and understands where we need partners. You’ve got to make it interesting for partners to go all-in with you, and we’re making our bets. We’re doing it by developing solutions that can help our customers win more business, grow top line, and be more profitable, and, of course, we want to invest in the program that will help them move our way, and do it profitably. We do this because it’s a wise, smart investment that I think is going to pay off for Juniper. And of course, I think will pay off for our partners.

Now’s the time [to partner with Juniper]. I think, in our enterprise in particular, it has never been stronger or more differentiated. The market opportunity there. We have so much room to grow to address the market that we’re pursuing right now. Now’s the time really to partner very effectively with Juniper and we’re ready to support [partners] to help them make the pivot to our solutions and to our approach.