In Juniper's Enterprise Switching Bid, Channels are Key

Juniper has put its past channel struggles behind it and is ready to push ahead with new enterprise LAN switches, partners said.

One of the big factors that could make or break Juniper's efforts to become a solid competitor in the enterprise LAN switching market is how well the new EX Series does in the channel.

Competitors such as Nortel Networks were quick to say that "Juniper doesn't have the channels to pull it off," said a spokesperson for Nortel.

Channels have and will be a challenge for Juniper with the new EX Series switches. The company plans to start small with a focus on partners that have the expertise in selling LAN switches.

Following Juniper's announcement that it would incorporate NetScreen security features into its Junos operating system in the fall of 2006, Juniper set out to transform its network channel with a focus on "channel partners who had strong network and security practices," said Mike Banic, senior director of product marketing at Juniper.

From that effort, Juniper has solicited some 150 to 200 "top tier providers" to commit to making Juniper a part of their networking practice, Banic said.

Those efforts followed some serious problems in Juniper's channels strategy execution. Following its acquisition of NetScreen in 2004, Juniper struggled to rationalize its channels programs.

"Juniper had no real experience in a broad-based channel model. They stumbled," admitted channel partner Philip O'Reilly, CEO at SoluNet, a large reseller in Melbourne, Fla. "But those problems have been corrected. The product line is more integrated than it's ever been."

Now with the ability to market a more cohesive and comprehensive range of networking and security products aimed at the enterprise, channel partners now have a better pitch for potential customers, believes Abner Germanow, director of IDC's enterprise network services in Framingham, Mass.

"Juniper has a strong brand, but their business has been very fragmented. They had security [and routing and WAN optimization] but they couldn't have a conversation with the network VP as a whole. In the past, they've been toe dipping. Now they can commit to enterprise networking," he said.

CEO Scott Kriens agreed. "We didn't have critical mass with some as a partner [without the EX Series switches]. We spent lot of time narrowing down people who have networking solutions and prepared the channel for receiving the products," he said.

And rather than rewarding channel partners on volume, Juniper will focus incentives on the value that partners can bring to customers, Kriens said. "We don't give people discounts based on volume. Resellers earn more profit based on the value-add [they bring] to the customer. As a result, there is a more profitable path now more than ever before for reselling Juniper."

This time around, O'Reilly believes the new EX Series enterprise switches as ready for the channel. "Unlike the J Router program, I think this product is ready for prime time. It is Juniperized in the sense of the OS unification, the look and feel, product support, and the way the channel is supported."