Juniper Networks' CEO Rami Rahim told his EMEA channel last week that, in two years, the vendor will be a very different company as it shifts from its hardware legacy towards AI-enabled software-defined "self-driving networks".
For its partners, that begs the question: what changes will they need to make in their business?
Netherlands-based security and networking firm Infradata has been a strategic Juniper partner for fourteen years, selling across six EMEA countries and the US.
Its group CTO, Mohamed El Haddouchi, said he has mixed feelings about Juniper's shift.
"Actually we are really curious. We're happy that Juniper is innovating and making changes, but we also have some fears about this change in direction," he told CPI.
"Especially when we have had a business model built on its earlier solutions and learned how to make money with that technology. In this new direction - where the trend is that everything will become software - we have had to challenge ourselves in software development, software integration, API, and automation orchestration."
Juniper EMEA channel boss Sander Groot was keen to alleviate any concerns about the vendor's transformation.
He told CPI that pushing into the enterprise space - the territory of long-time rival Cisco - is one of his top priorities for the coming 12 months, allowing partners to expand their margins.
"We are 100 per cent convinced that the growth out there is in the enterprise market, and we are currently pivoting.
"We are helping our partners with sales enablement and technical enablement in this. And one of the ways we are doing that, as my number-one priority for this year and into next year, is to continue to drive deal registration.
"Why? Because offering price protection early on will help our partners feel comfortable leading the way into the enterprise markets; they don't have to look over their shoulder anymore. They can be assured that it will be protected by Juniper. Some of our competitors are not doing this."
Groot also highlighted that Juniper's acquisition of artificial intelligence-powered networking start-up MIST Systems earlier this year is going to be a key selling point behind its enterprise push.
"We will bring AI to other elements of our solution spectrum. And over the next 24 months we will integrate it in many more routing, switching and security offerings," he said.
"What we're doing is 100 per cent real and it's something truly unique. Nobody else has this yet, so we need to capitalise on it.
"We are executing on this now and if we could take a snapshot of Juniper in two years' time, the world will look a lot different on the Juniper offering side. We will have strengthened it and AI will be integrated everywhere."
Bought last year for $405m, MIST is currently integrated into Juniper's wireless LAN offerings. Groot said he currently has 140 plus partners in EMEA who have signed up because of MIST.
El Haddouchi from Infradata suggested that if Juniper is to be successful in transforming as a business, it should consult its partners before expanding MIST's technology across other parts of its portfolio.
"We saw some of this movement in the market in March [the accelerating move towards AI-enabled SD networking], even before Juniper saw it," he said.
The CTO added that it's often the vendors - not the partners - that are often moving too slowly with innovating their business.
"We were already a partner of MIST before [the 2018 acquisition]. Most of the time we have more frustrations with the vendor rather than the other way round, because sometimes they can be too slow.
"We see vendors like Cisco too saying ‘wow, we've invented something new in software'. Well, we're already there."
He added: "I heard a saying recently that if something happened to humanity, the only thing that would be left are resellers and cockroaches. And he is right because we are very quick in adopting new changes. We don't have the R&D behind making products and software that takes two years. When we see a movement, we can move faster."
For Andrew Humphrey, the chief sales officer at £42m-revenue UK services partner Hardware Group, the addition of MIST adds a strong string to Juniper's bow.
However, he said he's suggested to Juniper that they should acquire again, arguing that rolling out MIST's AI capabilities to the vendor's existing portfolio will not be enough moving forwards.
"MIST added a really strategic element to the portfolio, but there is another strategic direction they could go down.
"And I've expressed this to Marcus [Jewell, Juniper's chief sales officer]. One of the most important issues is that the next acquisition needs to deal with the missing gaps in Juniper's portfolio. And that, I would argue, is in the switching space and perhaps the WAN optimisation space as well.
"Juniper was quite late to market in SD-WAN - especially as they focus on the enterprise space. I would say an SD-WAN layer focused on the enterprise space would make a lot of sense
"And ideally the [next company Juniper acquires] should not be using Cisco-operated code or else it will be a nightmare for us to transfer that as well."
Infradata is a Cisco partner, but El Haddouchi said he would not characterise it as a strategic vendor for his firm.
He agrees with Humphrey that Juniper should make a play for the enterprise space.
"Enterprise is where we need to make money. But service providers have to take too many steps so margins are lower for us."
However, following Juniper Network's annual EMEA summit, in his view, key questions remain.
"They need to make software more profitable," El Haddouchi said. "We need some of the software to be profitable natively, outside of rebates."
He added: "I've suggested software subscription packages. Instead of just selling their software, they need to let us add value with our own services… And that will help with margins. Also, we want to know: what will datacentres look like in two years? If 80 per cent will be only in the cloud - in that scenario there are a set of decisions to make that will be different if that figure is 50 per cent.
"We still don't know…And we want to know where to place our bet."
For Humphrey, rebates are also top of mind.
"What I welcome is that, looking at 2020, we have twice the MDF we had in 2019. But what we've also heard is that rebates are increasing. Well, I'm waiting to get a bit of paper telling me what they're increasing to," he said.
"I spoke to Sander and Marcus two months ago and we talked a lot about how we should go about structuring the rebates, so I need to see that feedback on what they've decided."
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