Every pretender to Cisco’s crown faces an inevitable dilemma. As a challenger in the networking and security space, do you risk handing the market gorilla yet more free publicity by referring to it in every second sentence, or do you operate a strict ‘no c-word’ policy and risk resembling an ostrich burying its head in the sand?
The 300 VARs flown out to Juniper’s EMEA partner summit in Spain recently saw the vendor take the former option as it laid out aggressive battle plans to take on Cisco in the enterprise space.
Having doubled its turnover to $2.3bn in the past three years, the Nasdaq-listed vendor has built itself a robust platform from which to mount a challenge on its nemesis. Juniper now claims to have a footing in 92 of the world’s 100 largest companies and has amassed 600 staff across 26 officers in EMEA.
Stephen Elop, who was brought on board as chief operating officer in January, stressed the vendor would only fight battles it believes it can win.
“Cisco has some challenges,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest is that it has successfully achieved phenomenal scale, but with that it has to start painting a larger and larger picture by moving into areas such as set-top boxes and web conferencing.
“The feedback we get from customers is that they need someone to solve their network problems. Our focus will be on high-performance networking.”
Elop’s philosophy will mean a larger investment in high-touch sales into service providers, Fortune 100 companies and government accounts – three markets that view networks as strategic to their business.
However, Juniper also conceded that there has been one big obstacle blocking its path to further growth: its lack of tools and systems.
The vendor may have grown from nothing to a multi-billion dollar organisa tion in less than 10 years, but the perception among resellers – at least until recently – was that it had not made a commensurate investment in its systems.
Garath Lauder, managing director at VAR Data Integration, one of seven top-level Juniper Elite partners in the UK, said: “The real issue was on the services end. The administration of support and quality of support meant that it would take an unreasonable amount of time to turn a contract around.”
Ease of doing business was the first issue addressed by Gert-Jan Schenk, Juniper’s vice-president of EMEA operations, as he laid out Juniper’s strategy to delegates.
Schenk claimed Juniper had made inroads into improving its level of customer support and product quality, but conceded that resellers were demanding further investment.
“Some partners told us last year that working with Juniper was quite complicated,” he said. “We have taken specific action by investing in technical services, but we still have some work to do on systems and tools.
“We’re making a multi-million dollar investment in our ERP system, which we will make a decision on in the next few weeks.”
David Small, Juniper’s vice-president of EMEA channels, said that resellers could expect four further changes in systems and tools in 2007.
“This year we will roll out a unified partner portal that will have a single log-in and simple access tool for services such as licence management and returned materials authorisation requests,” he said. “We will also invest in global account delivery, customer services access management – which will give partners the ability to look at case tracking and share that with their customers – and self-service licensing for partners.”
For VARs there has never been a more crucial time to back the right horse in the networking and security space as vendor consolidation continues apace.
But with Juniper still dwarfed by Cisco in most markets (according to research house Canalys, it has just five per cent of the EMEA enterprise router sector compared with Cisco’s 76 per cent), will the vendor end up as just another meal for a larger foe?
Graham Jones, chief operating officer at pan-European security VAR Integralis, is convinced otherwise: “We were late with Juniper because we were a very strong Check Point and Nokia house. But going forward, against a backdrop of mergers and acquisitions, we have to choose one big partner that will go all the way through, and that partner is Juniper.”
Schenk said the vendor intended to double sales again “over the next few years”.
Mark Hatton, managing director of Juniper distributor Sphinx, added: “We have seen our Juniper business grow at a phenomenal pace over the past few years. And everything we hear from Juniper indicates growth will continue at the same rate or faster.
“Juniper has recognised it is not all things to all people and that it must pick its fights carefully. It has a number of key focus areas – including firewalls/VPN and WAN acceleration – where it has the best technology and great partner communities.”
The past few months have seen several networking giants overhaul their channel programmes. In April, Avaya ditched the revenue thresholds in its partner programme in favour of a value-based points system before Mitel shocked the market earlier this month by moving to a one-tier channel model.
But for all the talk of change and transformation in its corporate direction, Juniper emphasised its partner strategy would continue to be underpinned by stability.
In the UK, the vendor currently has 450 resellers, including 25 mid-tier Select partners and seven top-tier Elite partners.
Schenk explained the strategy: “In EMEA, we are 100 per cent indirect except for global partners such as Verizon and France Telecom,” he said. “The partner programme is based on the amount that resellers invest in training, technical expertise and demo equipment, and not dollar spend.
“We’ve deliberately decided not to change anything because it’s working well and is highly regarded by our resellers and distributors.”
However, UK partners should look out for two minor tweaks to Juniper’s channel strategy.
First, the vendor has appointed Computerlinks as its fourth UK and Ireland distributor after “agreeing to part company” with DNS Arrow. Rivals have claimed Germany-based DNS Arrow, which captured the Juniper franchise when it acquired InTechnology in December, was failing to deliver sufficient sales volumes.
Dave Ellis, director of e-security at Computerlinks, said it was too early to reveal the distributor’s go-to-market strategy, but added: “We’re not losing focus on any of our vendors, but will be bringing additional resources on board to handle Juniper.”
Small said: “We already work with Computerlinks in the Nordics, where it has done a great job for us. This is an extension of that relationship.”
Hatton at Sphinx, one of Juniper’s three other UK distributors alongside Azlan and Horizon equIP, said: “Computerlinks is a good appointment and has done well for Juniper in other territories. There’s enough room in the market for four distributors.
“Each of us has different complementary vendors so can offer a different solution. Computerlinks has a big vested interest in its Check Point business so it will be interesting to see how it takes them both to market.”
The other slight adjustment comes in the specialist certification programme Juniper runs in parallel with the main programme.
The vendor has added a sixth specialism in the area of unified access control (UAC) after developing a UAC product based on its recent acquisition of Funk Software and its own SSL technology.
“UAC requires specific skills sets from partners,” Small said. “We have a broad suite of partners and recognise that partners can be specialised in a single technology and bring huge value to Juniper around that.”
However, to advance to the higher Select and Elite status, resellers will be required to gain a number of specialist qualifications, Small added. The other five specialist qualifications are around enterprise routing, advanced security, remote access, data centre and WAN acceleration.
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