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Would you buy a soft Junos switch or router from Juniper?

What’s the term for when you’re just throwing things out there to see what works? Spitballing? I’m just spitballing here. I think Juniper Networks should start selling Junos, the operating system for its switches and routers, as a software product.

I believe in branding. If a company has a brand that users like, use that brand. Everyone loves M&Ms and lots of people love Skittles, but you never see an advertisement for their parent company, Mars Inc. Remember when BlackBerrys were a big deal? Research In Motion (RIM) rarely, if ever, tried to market new products under the RIM brand. Heck, the company changed its name to BlackBerry eventually.

Juniper has Junos. It is a great brand. It’s a great piece of technology. Every Juniper customer whom I’ve talked to loves Junos. Sometimes they don’t completely love the hardware Junos runs on, but they always love Junos. To paraphrase one example from a customer: “The Virtual Chassis technology on this particular model of Juniper EX switch is kind of a pain in the neck to work with, but darn it, I love Junos!”

Juniper knows it has a good thing going with this brand. Take a look at its relatively new network management software brand, Junos Space. When Cisco re-branded its network management software, it chose Cisco Prime. It didn’t bother re-purposing NX-OS, the operating system for its Nexus data center switches, as a management software brand. NX-OS Prime? Too many Cisco customers still grouse about the instability they dealt with in early NX-OS code releases back in 2009 and 2010. But customers love Junos, so Juniper extended the brand.

I know what you’re thinking. This is the switch and router industry. These companies don’t sell software. They sell boxes. Big vertically integrated systems with high profit margins that (sometimes) keep shareholders happy. But things change. Cisco built the Nexus 1000v, which looks and feels like a Nexus switch, but serves as a distributed virtual switch on a hypervisor host. Everyone is at least testing a product with Open Virtual Switch (OVS) software in it. Cumulus Networks, Big Switch Networks and Pica8 are all building business around switch software that can run on white box or bare-metal switch hardware.

Why not throw Junos into the mix? How many Juniper customers would like the chance to run a Junos router on an x86 server or regain control over the virtualized access layer of their data center by Junos running on hypervisors? How many cloud providers or Web content providers would try out Junos as an OS for bare-metal switches? I have no idea, but I find the concept interesting.

It will probably never happen, because… shareholders. Cisco would never do this and neither can Juniper. Wall Street wants profit margins. Is it a complete coincidence that after Dell went private, it started selling bare-metal versions of its data center switches with support for Cumulus and Big Switch operating systems?

I’m not so naïve as to think Juniper could just rip Junos out of its system stack and release it as a product. It would probably take a lot of time and money to do such a thing. I might even be dead wrong about releasing Junos as a software product. Maybe people don’t want it in that form. I just think it’s an interesting idea. Last year Juniper memorably announced an enterprise software licensing program, Juniper Software Advantage, but offered absolutely no software products within the licensing regime at the time of the announcement. It was a perplexing move, but months later it moved its security software products into the program. I think people would have really been excited to see Junos available through that licensing scheme. Like I said, I’m just spitballing.

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