How new is Juniper's 'New Network'?
The devil's in the wireless details
Juniper Networks had a lot to show last week during its "New Network" launch , billed as its most significant event since its founding in 1996. Covering new data center kit, software, and partnerships, the rollout even occasioned a fresh Juniper logo and promises of a new vision of networking going forward to next decade.
But Juniper's vision is still not wholly complete. There remains some notable questions and gaps in its plan — with some that remain from the company's "old" strategy.
Junos Space: How to win third-parties and influence customers
The crown jewel of Juniper's marketing message is still Junos, the company's single operating system that spans its entire portfolio of hardware. Its "New Network" plan now includes Junos Space, an open platform for ISVs to develop applications running on Junos. Yet the company's showing of Space seemed to be rather lacking a compelling third-party developer story.
Space was shown to include three pre-loaded applications: Ethernet Activator, an app that Junos said will let customers quickly create and activate services; Service Now, which automatically forwards troubleshooting details to Juniper; and Route Analyzer, an MPLS route analyzer. Only the last was developed outside of Juniper — and by Packet Design, a firm that Juniper invested $2m into last year.
Juniper seems to have an uphill battle ahead of it to attract a sizable community of third-party developers to Space. Cisco already has its competing Application eXtension Platform (AXP), along with a much larger install base to woo devs into the fold. Juniper has an interesting vision here, but needs to show how third-parties are taking advantage of Space.
Mike Banic, veep of Enterprise Marketing at Juniper, argues that the market for network-centric apps for automation and orchestration will compel developers to Junos Space.
"The only thing that makes it possible for them to attract a larger customer base is if there is an open standard way of orchestrating more than just the components they can control," he said. "By opening up Junos, it actually is very inviting to the third-party developer community where a lot of money will be invested."
Banic adds that higher education is one area where a lot customers are using Junos Space products in a more significant way.
And perhaps it's too early in the network app game to call a winner.
"I would say AXP is a little ahead of Space only in that they've got some third-party ISVs they can point to with some success stories. But there are very few," said Zeus Kerravala, analyst and senior VP of the Yankee Group. "If this was a marathon, I'd say Juniper is at mile one — but Cisco is only at mile two. It has a slight lead, but there's a way to go."
Kerravala said that based on developer feedback he's heard, neither Cisco nor Juniper are easy to work with.
"They have to be willing to share the spotlight and be ecosystem-led," he said. "Part of the reason Microsoft is so successful was because it was the application vendors that drive them. This, in essence, is an operating system story — they're creating a platform for other developers to build on. It's a different go-to-market model than these companies have had in the past, where Juniper and Cisco have been the primary thing people buy, not the applications.
Banic told us that Juniper does have an aggressive plan to roll out more applications, and will announce in 2010 how it's going to make it increasingly easier for third-party developers to work with Junos Space.
Where's the wireless?
Glaringly absent from Juniper's announcement were details on the company's wireless LAN strategy. Rumor is that Juniper is developing its own WLAN solution internally, but it won't be ready until next year. This amidst a series of acquisitions among rivals, such as Cisco's $2.9bn deal to buy the wireless technology firm, Starnet.
Could Juniper's tried-and-true plan of having everything work under Junos be keeping the company shy of making its own necessary acquisitions to expand its portfolio in time?
"The 802.11n standard was ratified  just a couple of months ago," said Kerravala. "If Juniper had acquired Aruba six months ago when Aruba was really cheap, they would be in the 802.11n space right now. What may happen now is that a lot of the early adopters are going to buy a Cisco or Aruba. Juniper would miss the entire early adopter wave. The single OS is a great vision to have, but not to the detriment of product integration."
Juniper's Banic said it's understandable there is criticism of its reluctance to make acquisitions at the pace of others, but claims the company's decisions are based on getting value out of the purchase rather than Junos compatibility.
"Wireless is definitely something we have our eye on," he said. "We see that wireless LAN fits into an over-arching mobility strategy that enterprise customers have. Right now, we're balancing our priorities on things that we can invest in over periods of time that are aligned with customer need — and are appropriate with the R&D and expense that we can make on an annual basis."
Unified Fabric, MIA too
Also significantly missing from Juniper's announcement last week were details on its unified fabric strategy, first promised last winter under the code-name "Stratus."
Stratus is supposed to be Juniper's answer to Cisco's Unified Computing System that ties virtualized servers, networks, and storage into a single data center fabric.
Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson said at the event that the company was "meeting milestones" in development but couldn't disclose release dates.
"The lack of Stratus is huge to me," said Kerravala. "To me, what they announced at the event was, 'This was our vision six months ago. It's still our vision today.' And that was it."
Kerravala adds that a unified fabric would be a natural fit for Juniper around its value proposition of high performance and reliability.
"The faster they can come up with some details around what they're going to announce and when, the better it will be for them," he said.
Juniper tells us that Stratus simply wasn't something that it planned on talking about during the event because it wanted to focus on products and partnerships that were ready.
Evidently, much of what makes Juniper's "New Network" so new is still yet to come. Cisco, at least seems to relish that. When asked to comment, a Cisco spokesman said the company wouldn't provide comparison comments — but then added, "our leadership has been pretty clear: first to market with industry standards-based unified fabric capabilities, and first to market with unified computing.
However, given that a good portion of customers buy Juniper because it's cheaper than Cisco — and not because it has a terrific plan — maybe fuzzy details are enough. ®