Juniper's $405M Mist Buy: AI, WiFi, Management & More
It's easy to look at Juniper's $405 million acquisition of managed WiFi provider Mist as a me-too transaction, giving Juniper the capabilities that Cisco and other big competitors already have.
It's easy, but wrong, according to Mike Bushong, VP enterprise marketing, Juniper Networks.
"Many people say we have a wireless-sized hole, and acquiring this wireless-sized company filled that hole," Bushong told Light Reading, explaining the deal, which was announced this month. "But if you look at this acquisition and think it's primarily about closing the wireless gap, it's missing a bigger point."
The real purpose of the acquisition is to provide network simplification and automation for enterprise networks, and the telcos and managed service providers who serve those enterprises, Bushong said.
"Enterprises have to deal with raging complexity. The goal is driving simplicity in enterprise networking. In this case, what Mist does is they deliver that simplicity. The vehicle happens to be wireless."
Enterprise networking has been a bright spot in Juniper's financial results. In 2018, Juniper reported net revenues of $4.647 billion, down 8%. The company attributed the slowdown to its cloud and service provider business -- but said enterprise and security are growing, with enterprise up 14% year-over-year and security up 18% year-over-year. And software grew 32% year-over-year, accounting for more than 10% of revenue during the fourth quarter.
Mist brings to bear artificial intelligence to go beyond network management to ensure optimal application user experience. "The whole premise is that it's no longer good enough to focus on uptime. User experience is the new uptime," Bushong said.
AI analyzes network data to provide predictability, "self-healing," programmable workflows, and insight into the user experience -- how well applications are running on the network. "It's converting from a network-centric market to user-centric," said Jeff Aaron, Mist Systems' VP of marketing.
WiFi access points do extra duty as network sensors. "We rewrote the control plane and added extra radios, collecting 150 user states for every mobile client every second and moving that data to the cloud," Aaron said. Mist uses that data to analyze wireless and wired connections, as well as device issues, to find potential problems.
"Next we put a human face on it," Aaron said. "The true definition of AI is you don't know the difference between a computer or a human." The administrator can ask a question in plain English -- "What was wrong with Sally's iPhone yesterday?" -- and receive a response back in natural language as well, which also correlates individual user problems with potential problems for groups of users.
Additionally, Mist integrates Bluetooth with WiFi for precise location services by users. "The minute I walk onsite at The Gap, or the Swan and Dolphin hotel in Disney World, it wakes an app, and users get notifications and directions," Aaron said.
Mist targets retail, healthcare, hospitality, higher education and any so-called "carpeted enterprise" (normal office environments). It's particularly useful for open seating offices where workers don't have assigned desks, and need to be able to locate conference rooms and other shared facilities, Aaron said.
Mist provides security services as well, partnering last year with Palo Alto Networks for threat detection, quarantine and other services. The Juniper acquisition extends security from wireless, to wired networks and WANs as well, Aaron explained.
Managed service providers can benefit from the Mist technology, to manage enterprise networks for customers. Verizon partners with Mist on that service, replacing Cisco Meraki, Aaron said.
In expanding to WiFi management, Juniper goes up against stiff, entrenched competition. Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Arista all offer their own managed WiFi services and, like Juniper, they're using those services to expand from WiFi-specific service to overall enterprise LAN management. Arista joined the club most recently, acquiring Mojo Networks in August as part of a strategic expansion by the networking vendor from the data center to enterprise campus.
— Mitch Wagner Executive Editor, Light Reading