What Is Juniper Nowadays?

Juniper is refocusing on scalable networking hardware innovation, after a tumultuous – and sometimes comical – few years.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

October 20, 2016

7 Min Read
What Is Juniper Nowadays?

Juniper's role in the networking universe was clear and important: It was the company that built the engines that ran the Internet. Juniper core routers carried the bits on the global networks that transformed business, politics and life.

More recently, Juniper's reputation went bad. It lost focus, got into a fight with activist investors and then -- in a spectacular fiasco -- went through through three CEOs in one year.

To the outside observer, the $4.9 billion company today might seem like it's going through an identity crisis. Bigger players, such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , provide full-service networking and data center technology and solutions, including switches, servers and edge devices. Smaller companies, such as Arista Networks Inc. and a variety of specialist startups, specialize in narrow technology niches (for example, in Arista's case, high-performance cloud networking).

That leaves Juniper stuck in the middle. It's neither a generalist nor a specialist.

As Juniper gets ready to report quarterly earnings on Tuesday, it makes sense to ask the question: What is Juniper nowadays?

Juniper's identity today is simple, Scott Sneddon, senior director of SDN and virtualization at Juniper's Global Center of Excellence, tells Light Reading: It specializes in providing end-to-end networking -- and nothing else. Not servers and collaboration services like Cisco, not mobile devices like Huawei, not virtual reality cameras like Nokia -- just networking.

"We're a pure-play networking company," he says. "We focus on networking -- networking security, networking automation, and managing network infrastructure."

Figure 1:

Moreover, Juniper hardware and software is interoperable with other vendors' kit, using open standards and interfaces, to connect with existing networks, claims Sneddon (in what is a familiar refrain from all vendors). "Nobody is building a network from scratch," Sneddon says. "Everybody has something they need to interoperate and integrate with."

Roz Roseboro, senior analyst at Heavy Reading , sees recent improvement in Juniper. "It seems to have its act more together than it did a couple of years ago," she says. "I think it's getting back to the way things used to be. It was hyperfocused, expanded a little bit, got out of control, and now it's back to basics."

Roseboro traces Juniper's problems to former CEO Kevin Johnson, who came in from Microsoft and brought in top Microsoft executives to lead the company. Juniper partnered with IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle on software. Johnson announced his departure in 2012 and was replaced by Shaygan Kheradpir in January 2014.

That's when things got weird. Literally a day after Kheradpir came into office in January 2014, he faced a fight with activist investors Elliott Associates. They reached an agreement on a new operating plan. (See Investor to Juniper: 'You Suck' and Juniper Bows to Investor Pressure, Refocuses.)

Then Kheradpir unexpectedly resigned following a review by Juniper's board of directors regarding his conduct in a negotiation with an unnamed Juniper customer. Juniper executive Rami Rahim took his place as CEO. (See Turmoil at Juniper as CEO Quits.)

Rahim seems to have steadied the company, Roseboro says. "It was like comfort food to the company to have Rami there," Roseboro says. "Everybody likes Rami."

She adds that Juniper is "getting back to high performance innovation, instead of trying to be so many things to so many people."

Scalability is a big part of Juniper's strategy, and virtualization is key to delivering scalability. Juniper provides virtualized firewalls and MPLS routers that can be delivered as virtualized network functions for providers who want to deliver virtual CPE to customer premises.

Juniper uses the same software for its virtual and physical devices, allowing network operators to trial services using virtual devices on commodity hardware, and then roll out physical devices for greater performance, Sneddon says.

"We have physical MX router and virtual MX router, but for the purpose of managing they're the same -- same CLI, APIs, routing and IP protocols on the physical and virtual," Sneddon says. "If I have a customer that I bring up on the network for a low-bandwidth service and they grow over time, I don't have to change the operational tools. It's a consistent operating system across all those platforms -- the JunOS operating system."

An X86 router maxes out at 50-60 Gbit/s but that's equivalent to a single line card on a carrier-class IP router. "It becomes more cost-effective at some point to transition to more purpose-built hardware," Sneddon said.

Next page: Scoring a coup

Scoring a coup
The Contrail SDN controller is key to that strategy. Juniper scored a coup when AT&T adopted Contrail for its AT&T Integrated Cloud and ECOMP enhanced control, orchestration, management and policy software. (See AT&T to Use Juniper's Contrail for Its Integrated Cloud and AT&T's Chiosi: Unite on Open Source or Suffer.)

Contrail is available as open source -- OpenContrail. Sneddon concedes that 70-80% of code check-ins for OpenContrail are from Juniper employees, which is a bad ratio for an open source project. However, that's down from 95% a year ago -- so OpenContrail is moving in the right direction, Sneddon says.

"World-class routing" is key to Juniper's strategy, Sneddon says. "We very much lean on that for market leadership. The MX is the moneymaker for us; all the major telcos are buying that box. The technology is very solid." The routing strategy extends into switching, with the QFX10000 spine switch based on Juniper silicon and running JunOS, the same OS that runs on the router.

Juniper sees its customer base as telecom operators and big enterprises looking to integrate best-of-breed solutions from multiple vendors, and Juniper implements open APIs to achieve the required interoperability, Sneddon says.

"The way I see the landscape is you've got the class of customer that will buy Cisco because it's the easy and low-risk decision," he says. Customers that want to integrate multivendor technology will look to Juniper or Arista. And, Sneddon says, Juniper can beat Arista based on its depth of experience in routing, as well as Juniper's reliance on its own, high-performance processors, where Arista uses merchant silicon.

In a world where networking control is going to software, Juniper is betting that hardware still matters, Roseboro says. Juniper is "pushing the notion that hardware is still super important, even though software is taking over the world," she says. And Roseboro agrees. "The software still has to run on something. Hardware remains important. Hardware innovation remains important."

Are you a service provider executive who wants to learn more about the impact of web-scale competition on the communications sector? Join us for Light Reading's third annual 2020 Vision Executive Summit taking place in Rome, December 6-8. Contact our events team to find out if you qualify for a VIP pass.

Extending Juniper's networking strategy, the company acquired BTI this year to strengthen the company's data center interconnect play. Juniper is looking to manage packet and optical together, and BTI is key to that strategy. (See Juniper Buying BTI: Is That Enough?, Juniper Closes BTI Acquisition to Beef Up DCI and Juniper: Packet-Optical Convergence Driving BTI Acquisition)

Technology and services derived from the BTI acquisition have helped bolster Juniper's position with cloud customers. Further strengthening Juniper's cloud play, Juniper this week hired Randy Bias as vice president of technology for cloud software products. Juniper credits Bias with coining the "pets vs. cattle" meme, a defense of using vast arrays of cheap, disposable networking equipment (like cattle) rather than less numerous, more expensive equipment that required high maintenance (like pets). Previously, Bias co-founded Cloudscaling, an OpenStack startup acquired by EMC.

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— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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