The path to 5G networks requires service providers and their technology suppliers change how they operate, but not all at once. They need to understand how and where to use the cloud and network automation, and partners they trust with software skills strong enough to build and support new network applications.
This all makes competition tougher for technology vendors, and providing services and software expertise is a necessity, according to Juniper CEO Rami Rahim, who spoke with Light Reading late last month in Barcelona.
"Today having a tech advantage is necessary but not sufficient to success," he said. "And the way in which you help your customers consume that technology, and even the effort that's required in understanding what aspects of the technology truly matter to our customers, has changed.
"It's become more complicated. It's not just about speeds and feeds. It's not just about how much scale, how much bandwidth they need to be carried. It's about the operational aspects of the product. And there you almost need to have lived in the trenches of running a large network to truly internalize and understand what matters most of your customers. And that's the challenge."
Rahim is managing just such a challenge, at the helm of Juniper. The company is coming off a quarter where cloud and service provider sales dropped while security and enterprise sales grew. Shortly after our chat, Juniper announced it was buying Mist Systems for its cloud-managed, AI-driven approach to managing wireless networks for the enterprise market.
Once a laser-focused Tier 1 service provider specialist with a hardware edge, Juniper is now touting its open source and cloud capabilities, while less than half its revenues derive from traditional telcos and cable operators.
It may sound like Juniper is spreading itself thin, but selling to big enterprise customers means that Juniper needs to line up well with how those businesses source and buy technology.
"You have almost an equal number of enterprises that want more of a turnkey solution from service providers and those that actually want to procure technology directly from the technology vendors," Rahim said. "In all cases, one thing that we have recognized is that success for our customers, whether they be the enterprise or the service providers, requires that we package our solutions, our technology with very robust services."
Because Juniper works with enterprises, cloud service providers and Tier 1 telcos, Rahim argues the company can work around technology deployment challenges faster. As an example, he cited a "large Tier 1 carrier" that sought to deploy a service and wanted the underpinning of that service to be virtualized and hosted in the cloud, instead of a traditional appliance-based approach.
"Rather than procuring the building blocks, compute, storage, networking, orchestration, the VNFs themselves, they came to us," Rahim said. "And, after we showed them the capabilities that we have, they essentially gave us the entire project, soup-to-nuts. We're building, operating, transferring a complete stack from compute, storage, and networking to the orchestration and management, up to VNFs that are either developed by us or procured from a third party. The important thing in all of this is we are packaging it. We're doing the solution development, we're doing the testing -- and once it works, we're handing it over to them."
Rahim wouldn't name the customer but noted that the change in how technology gets to market is a key trend. "I think that is a model that I believe we're going to see more and more of -- and it's one that I fully support because, honestly, the thing that this industry needs more of is speed," he said.
The race to 5G puts another pressure on telecom players -- the need to set their networks up to deliver on some pretty far out promises. Telcos are necessarily using SDN, NFV and cloud-native applications to scale and manage their networks; they're getting to a point where they can deliver services more efficiently and quickly. For this, Rahim said Juniper is an ideal partner because it has both the technology advantage and the deployment expertise to help telcos use the cloud.
What sets Juniper's cloud technology apart? Rahim lists three things: "First, it has been built with a very robust BGP engine that allows it to scale to levels that others cannot. Second, it's a truly open architectural approach that works on any underlying infrastructure. Many of our deployments are deployments over third-party, non-Juniper underlying infrastructure. Third, the security capabilities that have been embedded into the solution are truly differentiated and second to none, relative to anything that's out there."
Rahim said it's also important that Juniper's entire OpenContrail project is now open source and community-controlled by The Linux Foundation. The project name was changed to Tungsten Fabric about a year ago. "We built out Contrail to be differentiated before we actually contributed into the open source community," Rahim said. "That doesn't always happen. And sometimes, when you have a community of people trying to build something from scratch, it becomes more challenging. So, I think we gave the open source community a very solid footing, a foundation, that they're now building on top of and our customers really value that."
As 5G rollouts begin, the challenges for technology vendors like Juniper keep piling up. They need to produce valuable, differentiated software but also be accessible to open source communities. They need to have cutting edge, integrated hardware but also be able to support white box deployments. They need to produce growth and profits for their investors, while at the same time showing the industry that they're flexible enough to change, without burning their margins to the ground.
Around the corner, of course, are all the new services, applications and whatever else 5G networks will unleash.
"I think, the biggest use cases for 5G are yet to be even known to anybody yet," Rahim said. He noted that industrial IoT, augmented reality and the more established use cases will be real -- and profitable -- if the industry gets it right. But Rahim's tendency is to look even farther down the road.
"I believe that 5G is going to sort of usher in new services that are completely virtualized, offered from virtualized clouds, that are just unknown to anybody right now," he said. "Nobody wants to be left behind. Nobody wants to be in a situation where those services start to become apparent -- when they're known -- and they don't have the infrastructure that will be there to carry them and to provide them the user experience that's required."
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