Does Juniper Have a Magic Wandl?

Juniper announced it was buying its long-time network monitoring and planning partner, Wandl.  Obviously this could indicate a strategic shift on Juniper’s part, particularly when you marry it with the departure of the “Microsoft camp” (CEO Kevin Johnson and software head Bob Muglia).  It could also mean nothing much, and it’s too soon to call this one definitively.

Wandl is a company that provides planning support for network operations by analyzing traffic data and network conditions.  Most people would put this in the “analytics” category rather than the “operations” category because the products don’t actively control network behavior in real time.  Operators in our survey put the company most often in the category of a capacity or network planning tool, which is an element of OSS/BSS but not the key element (service creation, order management, and service management in real time are the keys).

That doesn’t mean that Wandl couldn’t become part of a next-gen OSS (NGOSS) strategy, and this is where the Juniper decision to buy them gets interesting.  On the surface, Wandl as a partner contributes no less to Juniper’s portfolio than Wandl as a subsidiary element of Juniper.  There’s no reason why its sudden acquisition would generate a change in strategy, but it could be that the acquisition signals a change, or a competitive countermove.

If Juniper, hypothetically, were going to launch a major NGOSS-linked initiative that would make Wandl the centerpiece of a highly critical and profitable strategy, Juniper would likely immediately have two thoughts.  Thought One:  We are about to make these Wandl guys rich with the sweat off our backs marketing this NGOSS stuff, and why not buy them and keep all the money for ourselves?  Thought Two:  We are about to make these Wandl guys the center of a major Juniper strategy and Cisco just said they’re going to do software M&A!

All of this presupposes that Juniper is about to launch an aggressive NGOSS-linked strategy, and I don’t think that’s very likely.  OSS/BSS is an enormous undertaking, something that only a few giant players have gained any traction in marketing (Ericsson, Amdocs….)  Juniper has never had a horse in that race and has just been blowing kisses at the TMF whose stuff is the standards foundation for the space.  If  Juniper were going to do something with OSS/BSS on a large scale, I’d have thought they’d be advertising that in dialogs with operators, engagement in the standards processes, and so forth.  I don’t see any of that.  I also think that such a move would be nearly impossible to bring to fruition in the near term (fast enough to help their numbers in 2014) and it would be a giant project for a company that never got its software or even network management story straight in the past.

The other possibility is that Juniper has a reliance on Wandl for some of its capacity and network planning applications, and simply fears that another network vendor will grab them up.  Wandl is involved with equipment/networks from all the router/switch vendors and so it could very well be seen as an asset in a multi-vendor world.  But the problem with this story is that if Cisco was really seeing Wandl as critical they could certainly have outbid Juniper.

So where does this leave us?  One possibility is that Wandl is linked to some Juniper plan in the NFV arena.  NFV and SDN could (separately or together) create a kind of network/operations shim layer between classical OSS/BSS and the evolving network infrastructure.  For example, if you used this layer to make the whole network look like a single agile virtual device, you could express that device simply to current management systems and take up all of the special tasks associated with the next-gen network inside your virtual device—including management/operations (CloudNFV supports but doesn’t demand this model, for example).  This is kind of where I think Juniper must be headed with the Wandl deal, if there’s any strategic justification for it at all (a point I’ll return to in a minute).

It would be much easier for a network player like Juniper (or its rival Cisco, or even Alcatel-Lucent) to create an NGN shim layer than to become a true OSS/BSS player.  It’s not an impossible stretch to make a true NMS that’s SDN and virtualization-aware into such a layer, and it’s hard to imagine how you can stay in networking without a management model that can do something with SDN and function virtualization.  Otherwise you’re relying on a competitor to take the higher-level management role.

This would be a pretty interesting development if it were really behind the Wandl deal, but it’s hard to see where the genesis of this would have come from inside Juniper.  They’ve never had a strong operations story, their software story never gelled under Johnson/Muglia, and those two (particularly the latter) have made a rather quick departure.  Who takes over?  Logically it would be the Mad Scientist who was the founding father of this supposed Juniper shim-layer story, or somebody brought in.  Will some executive from Wandl be that somebody?  Their key people’s names aren’t even listed on their website nor are they provided by the major sources of executive and board information (the company is privately held).  I don’t know enough about who’s there to know who might be a candidate for a bigger role.  David Wang is the CEO, though, and if he suddenly takes a bigger role we’d know this was the angle for the deal.

The other possibility is that this is a small move.  Juniper, like other companies, sometimes buys partners just because they see it a sound financial step (the earnings are good) or because there’s a small risk that a competitor would make that small-step decision (Huawei is also a Wandl partner, for example).  Juniper has not made many (if any) successful strategic acquisitions, so it would be a stretch for them to make one now.

But if there was ever a time for it, this is the time.  The new CEO starts at Juniper in just a couple of weeks, and he’s going to have to hit the ground running.

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