Juniper sets sights on the enterprise

Juniper sets sights on the enterprise

Juniper Networks will take its new range of routing products head-to-head with Cisco, using channel partners - picked up when it bought security vendor NetScreen - to do its bidding.

Traditionally, Juniper has sold carrier-grade routing equipment through channel partners such as Ericsson, Alcatel and Siemens; hardly typical tier-two resellers. But in February, Juniper announced the acquisition of security vendor, NetScreen, for around $US3.4 billion, signalling a shift into the lower end, higher volume enterprise market; bread and butter for many resellers.

Now the company wants in on the Cisco dominated enterprise router market. With the NetScreen distribution network in tact and controlled by Juniper, it plans to push a new range of routers, the J-Series, aimed squarely at chipping away at Cisco's massive market share.

Juniper CEO, Scott Kriens, said NetScreen was an attractive acquisition target, in part, because of its partnerships in the channel market, not just its technology portfolio. The existing distribution network seemed perfect for the up-coming J-Series products, which have been in development for about two years.

"It was very much an element in the discussions we had internally in making the decision to make the acquisition," he said. "NetScreen gave us ... a distribution proposition that allowed us to get to the customers, which at those price points and volumes you have to do through partners and resellers."

Juniper's A/NZ director of channels, Brian Allsopp, said the networking vendor would price the J-Series competitively. While he wouldn't comment on specific margins, he said the company was looking for a different kind of reseller.

"We don't want resellers who just want pass-through margins, we want people who want to consult," he said.

Resellers interested in getting into the security market are high on the hit-list.

"Security over the last couple of years has been a specialty play, but it's getting broader. A lot more resellers are getting tied up in security," Allsopp added.

He remained coy when asked what he thought Cisco's likely response to Juniper's J-Series release would be, but said choice was a good thing and predicted channel competition between the two would be lively.

There's no question Juniper has been a formidable force in the carrier space, with market share split fairly evenly between Cisco and its smaller rival. Its high-end equipment, which is reputedly high-quality but frightfully expensive kit, has been favoured by many telcos and attracted the same sort of fanatical following usually reserved for Apple users. But now the $US15.5 billion company wants to play on Cisco's turf; the $US130 billion networking giant's heartland.

Kriens scoffed at the suggestion Juniper would not be taken seriously as an enterprise networking vendor without a range of switching products.

"We have nothing to add to a commodity item," he said.

Melbourne-based IT security consultant, Adam Pointon, maintains some routers for his clients and said he was interested in having a look at the new J-Series line.

He said the main appeal of Juniper was that it's an alternative to Cisco, and any alternative should be investigated.

According to Pointon, updating the software on a Cisco router can be quite a task.

"It's a real show stopper," he said. "It can't be done while there's people in the office."

He will look at Juniper's new line to see if it's easier to maintain.

Pointon's views are echoed by the CTO of US-based security consultancy Neohapsis, Greg Shipley. He's no stranger to managing Cisco networks, and said the company's routing software may be its achillis heel.

"The software versioning has become a nightmare," he said. "Cisco's various release trains have become more of a train wreck."

In order to upgrade a router with a given feature, administrators must become experts on release builds, RAM sizes, feature sets and hardware compatibility matrices, Shipley said.

"I logged onto Cisco's website the other day and saw more than a hundred images for a single hardware product," Shipley said.

Juniper might be able to capitalise on Cisco's increasingly complicated software management processes, he said. "Juniper has a real advantage by sticking to a single image repository and a more disciplined release cycle," he said. "It takes the confusion out of much of the software update and management process, which is only growing in importance."

Shipley's unsure if Juniper will succeed in its enterprise push. It doesn't have the portfolio Cisco has in the space, but the addition of NetScreen products and good channel distribution into the mix mean it's possible.

Still, Shipley had his doubts.

"It's certainly possible, but I'm sceptical," he said. "Juniper is going to have a hard time without a more unified portfolio. I'm unsure how compelling Juniper's offerings are going to be for those that are moderately or completely satisfied with Cisco's suite of products."

Telecommunications analyst with research house IDC, Susanna Vidal, said Juniper would need to make some adjustments to its traditional strategy if it wants enterprise market share.

"The enterprise market behaves differently [to the carrier market]," she said. "There are a larger number of vendors and it's more dynamic."

Cisco representatives contacted by ARN refused to comment on Juniper's planned launch of the J-series, citing a policy of never directly commenting on competitors.

Patrick Gray flew to California as a guest of Juniper Networks.

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