Scott Kriens

CEO, Juniper Networks

Cisco Systems isnt on the ropes yet, but tension is palpable in the battle for the network core and edge as scrappy Juniper Networks -- directed by Chief Executive Scott Kriens -- rolls out faster, smarter routers and gobbles up market share along the way.

In typical entrepreneurial fashion, Kriens has declared time and again that plenty of business is available for all comers. Nevertheless, Cisco appears to be in Junipers sights. In the two years since the M-series of Internet protocol routers rolled out, Juniper has steadily chipped away at Cisco and now controls about 29 percent of the router market, valued at $2.10 billion in 2001.

While Cisco scrambles to make its routers run as fast as the M160 -- the first router to reliably move Internet traffic at 10 billion bits per second -- Junipers challenge will be to keep the momentum up despite the drag of tough market conditions that have forced service providers to pull up on spending. Juniper will also have to fend off new technologies from Avici Systems, IronBridge Networks and perhaps even Procket Networks, a start-up that has the man who engineered key router software for both Juniper and Cisco on its team.

"These are times that will test the conviction of all involved," Kriens says.

But Kriens has financial stability on his side. After a stunning initial public offering in 1999, Juniper managed to keep its share price -- and market clout -- high in 2000, and racked up unexpectedly high earnings while competitors withered.

Analysts are betting Juniper will power on. "The company has transitioned itself from a one-trick pony in the core router space to a global company with products spanning from dedicated access to edge aggregation to core networking," Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. analysts say in a report. "We believe the best is still ahead for Juniper as it continues to execute in these rapidly growing markets."