Industry Voices—Raynovich: Why Juniper's new SD-WAN focus makes sense

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Juniper Networks is on the right track with its cloud-based SD-WAN service. (Pixabay)

Better late than never. Juniper Networks' SD-WAN strategy has taken a long time to gel. In fact, until recently, I wasn't even sure what it was. But this week's announcement to create a new cloud-based SD-WAN management platform adds clarity to the position—and even gives visibility on how Juniper could leapfrog Cisco to modernize the router.

As I recently detailed on Futuriom, the entire networking hardware sector is piling into SD-WAN—some companies in belated fashion—because SD-WAN is a strategic platform that can flip your business model to delivering enterprise networking and security services as a software subscription from the cloud.

RELATED: Juniper Networks gets Mist-y with new cloud SD-WAN service

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Juniper said this week that it would put its software-defined networking (SDN) orchestration platform, Contrail, in the cloud. It also plans to use Contrail as the management platform for all its enterprise networking assets, including SD-WAN devices, its EX Ethernet switching devices, and security products such as firewalls and third-party security apps such as Zscaler. More importantly, Juniper is using this SD-WAN approach to an integrate with Mist, the AI-driven wireless LAN player it just announced it was buying.

Will this set Juniper on the right track? Hopefully. Juniper is still profitable, has a lot of cash (the company had about $5 billion in cash at the end of last year), and has been searching for a new direction for a number of years. Unlike Cisco, Juniper’s share price has languished in recent years. Cisco’s recent message to Wall Street that it’s focused on building more recurring software revenue has caught investors’ attention, and Juniper has probably noticed that. A reinvigorated networking rival to Cisco would be welcome in the market.

Another exciting thing about Juniper's approach is that it's emphasizing an "open and adaptable solution" that integrates with public clouds using its virtual routing product known as vSRX. This would contrast to Cisco’s approach to SD-WAN, which is still largely proprietary.

Contrasting with Cisco

It's the right time to do all of this. The SD-WAN marketing is growing very quickly—Futuriom believes the market is currently growing in excess of 50% annually and will reach $1.6B in software tools and platform revenue by 2021. Juniper, like Cisco, desperately needs to evolve away from hardware devices to software and services. The main thrust of SD-WAN is that it’s abstracting the networking control and software from routers into the cloud and enterprise branches—putting more power into the end users’ hands. If you don't provide this value, your routers and switches will just end up being hollowed out commodity boxes.

As the SD-WAN market was emerging, it was startups such as Silver Peak, VeloCloud (acquired by VMware), Versa Networks, and Viptela that led the innovation in the market. Cisco caught on to the threat and bought Viptela, but it's not yet clear to what degree Cisco wants to push the market forward, or merely defend its installed base. With its large footprint in enterprise and service provider networking, it’s not too late for Juniper

Meanwhile, Cisco is having challenges integrating the various pieces of the puzzle it has acquired, as well as presenting a unified management interfaces for its routers, switches, and SD-WAN software. End users that Futuriom regularly speaks to say it’s a challenge figuring out which management interface to use in a Cisco environment, because it can change from device to platform. For example Meraki, its wireless LAN platform, uses a separate interface than Viptela or Cisco’s routing devices. Unless Cisco makes major strides to integrate the management software—and puts it in the cloud—it’s not clear whether it’s serious about driving SD-WAN.

Juniper has made a step in the right direction by professing the need for an integrated management platform, based in the cloud. Management software will be the key to this battle. The end users I regularly interview speak to the efficiency of managing WAN links and deployments with cloud-based software (for example, see this blog I wrote for Silver Peak). This appears to be the emphasis of Juniper's announcement—use Contrail Service Orchestration as the software in the cloud to manage a wide variety of networking devices and software services. As an example, Juniper's new SD-WAN will allow customers to extend a secure SD-WAN in the cloud by adding a virtual firewall (vSRX) using a public cloud platform of choice.

Based on these recent announcements, I think Juniper’s enterprise SD-WAN strategy is now on the right track. There’s more work to do—for example, Juniper could benefit from talking about SD-WAN a lot more—but it has made a big move to acknowledge that it needs a streamlined management platform for directing WAN connections from the cloud. Juniper finally gets it.

R. Scott Raynovich is the founder and chief analyst of Futuriom. For two decades, he has been covering a wide range of technology as an editor, analyst, and publisher. Most recently, he was VP of research at SDxCentral.com, which acquired his previous technology website, Rayno Report, in 2015. Prior to that, he was the editor in chief of Light Reading, where he worked for nine years. Raynovich has also served as investment editor at Red Herring, where he started the New York bureau and helped build the original Redherring.com website. He has won several industry awards, including an Editor & Publisher award for Best Business Blog, and his analysis has been featured by prominent media outlets including NPR, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @rayno.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.

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