Juniper and EMC Hold Hands Instead of Marrying

The latest story on Juniper/EMC is that there’s not going to be an acquisition but there will be some dancing, primarily aimed at certifying Juniper’s QFabric as an EMC data center switch.  The move is billed by CRN as a “reference architecture” which would imply a much more significant level of integration, but neither the story nor what I hear seems to confirm that.  I’m hearing only that EMC is certifying QFabric as complying with EMC switching requirements.  There’s no reselling, no indication of a broader strategic linkage.

The data center fabric strategy was a lot like many of Juniper’s products—very clever at the product level but launched into a strategic vacuum created by Juniper’s consistent lack of positioning and absence of higher-level value propositions.  There has also been a consistent rumor that the chips that formed the primary foundation of the Juniper launch weren’t even used in the product.  Given that enterprise network opportunity is totally focused on the data center and that the data center is where the cloud starts, Juniper pretty much has to make QFabric work.

Well, I don’t think this EMC thing is an example of how to do it.  I was negative on the launch from the first because of the positioning and the lack of aggressive development of a higher-level context.  EMC might (and that’s a big “might”) add some short-term opportunity to the QFabric mix, but if the problem with the product was strategy and positioning from the first, then only getting those two things is going to fix it.

You have to wonder whether vendors like Juniper resist meaningful cloud and SDN strategies because they don’t understand them, because all this futuristic stuff can interfere with the short-term goal of pushing boxes, or what.  They’re not the only player with the problem either; Alcatel-Lucent has yet to make a meaningful SDN statement though I hear they are working feverishly on it.  Ericsson has made some very smart and timely comments on “service provider SDN” but so far hasn’t provided any meat on the bones of the story (and I’ve asked for it).

This sort of behavior may well be a key factor in the operators’ launching of the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) initiative.  The opening paragraph of the white paper produced by the group talks about the explosion of proprietary, purpose-built, gadgets in the network and the cost and agility risk they pose.  You have to believe that operators writing a paper would start it with their pet peeves.  And NFV is a considerable step toward commoditizing network equipment, something that SDN by itself could be but wouldn’t necessarily have to be.  The sense of the NFV paper is to move functionality out of proprietary devices to be hosted in servers.  Cisco’s whole SDN direction is about proprietary functionality, and Juniper’s recent Universal Edge announcement is about moving things from servers into proprietary devices.

Of course, Juniper could revolutionize networking by pushing NFV principles themselves.  Why?  Because they took a big step in that direction years ago.  As has been the case so often, Juniper had a product that anticipated the current market trend.  It hosted Junos on what was effectively a separate server.  Where did you go astray, Juniper?  There was so much potential there!  To close out the theme, they went astray by depending on partners for application-layer stuff, and that never moves a company’s strategy forward.  Now they’re doing the same with QFabric.  So when the same CRN article notes that Juniper is undergoing a high-level management restructuring, I have to wonder if the people are getting replaced because they didn’t drive good strategies and positioning, or whether they’re dumped for failing to make the bad strategies work.

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