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Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Open Letter to Juniper’s New (Again!) CEO

From the first, Juniper has had perhaps the strongest hardware technology of any network vendor.  For a time, in the middle if the last decade, it also had some of the best marketing.  Then things turned for Juniper.  It brought in a CEO from Microsoft, a CEO who was supposed to take the company into the new age of software.  He didn’t.  They then got an activist investor who pressured for increased shareholder value.  A new CEO came in, one who seemed focused on spending the company’s cash to prop up share price.  Now, that CEO is gone too, after only about a year.  A new CEO from inside was named, Rami Rahim.  The obvious question is “Can he turn things around?”

The plus side is that Rami is a Juniper insider, a person who knows the company’s culture, people, and strength.  He headed R&D and was involved in Juniper’s seminal MX router.  You also might assume that getting a product guy into the role is a signal that the Juniper Board is changing its own course, and trying to build a future and not mortgage one.

The minus side is that Rami is an insider, perhaps too rooted in the boxes-and-chips mindset that was great a decade ago but that has now run its course.  The future of networking is software, and can a hardware guy preside over a spurt of software innovation?  Maybe, if he does the right thing.  What might that be?  Not being one to hold back on advice, let me give some (unsolicited) to Rami.

First and foremost, you have to create a solid story in SDN and NFV.  Not the anemic me-too stuff you have now, but something that will address what the operators really need to get from both technologies.  SDN and NFV stands or falls on software above the traditional network hardware–above the network in fact.  There’s a lot of open-source stuff out there that could be harnessed to tell a more complete story in service and network operations, orchestration, and management.  You need to get it, and tell that story.  You’ll have to fight your own roots, some old friends, and maybe even some old bosses to do this.  It’s necessary.

Second, you need to inspire your own company.  Juniper has had years of bad management at the top, and you’re suffering a major hemorrhage of human capital, the very mobile, industry-aware people you can’t afford to lose.  Most of them don’t want to go, but they don’t see a choice.  Give them one, and show them which choice is the right one.

Third, you have to inspire the Street.  Your predecessor wasn’t my kind of guy, but his biggest problem was that he was dancing to the Street’s tune.  Some of the problem is likely your own board; who hired your last (bad) pair in the first place?  Some of the problem is the “activist investor’.  You need to avoid having costs run away while you’re establishing your software credentials, but you also need to present a compelling vision of the network of the future and Juniper’s place in it to Wall Street.  Juniper needs to be a growth company to keep the sharks off your neck.  Show them how that comes about.  Otherwise they’ll just push you out too.

Fourth, you have to harness hardware and not let it drive the bus.  Hardware, in the IT world, is something you run software on.  We’re heading there in networking, but unlike the IT world there’s still a big opportunity to define just what it takes to run network software.  Juniper has done some great work in ASICS and done some lousy positioning of that work.  Mostly because it wanted the chip to be the center of the universe.  Make it a tool, the thing that can make your software better.

Fifth, harness your visions.  Juniper has been out in front of a lot of important developments.  Juniper talked about what became the cloud before anyone else.  They talked about proto-SDN and proto-NFV.  They then let all of that leadership go to waste.  Juniper had a separate chassis for an expanded control plane; it’s gone.  They had a global initiative to modernize service creation and deployment, one that actually had a better foundation than either SDN or NFV.  It’s gone too.  It may be too late to turn back the clock, but it’s darn sure not too late to turn back the practice of turning away.

Sixth, get your marketing mojo back.  Your positioning has been insipid for years now.  You can’t educate a marketplace, you have to inspire it.  You can’t spend cycles and money buying favorable opinions of yourself and your products; the customer sees through all this stuff.  The press will never sell your product.  analysts won’t sell it either.  YOU have to sell it, using those other channels to connect to your buyer, not to carry your message.   Your PR is awful, your website is awful.  But fixing both is a wave of the hand for you now.  Wave.

Finally, lead.  This is no time to build consensus, to seek opinions.  Be sensitive to their ideas, respect their views, but lead.  You need to get Juniper moving very quickly because they have sunk a very long way and there’s not much time left.  That time has been given to you.  Use it wisely and you’ll be remembered as the guy who made Juniper great again.

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