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Juniper Networks Chief Executive Rami Rahim says he plans to embrace the work of the Open Compute Project and help customers deploy the consortium's open networking hardware.
Rahim, who was named Juniper's CEO in November following the sudden resignation of Shaygan Kheradpir, told TechTarget in a recent interview that the OCP is "an opportunity, not a threat," even though the initiative started by Facebook seems to challenge Juniper's core business of selling expensive, proprietary networking gear.
"I'm not going to be intimidated, if you will, by potential downside, if the upside is huge and that's how I view it," Rahim said of the OCP. "We need to embrace it; we need to help our customers with it."
The "huge upside" stems from Juniper's small share of the global Ethernet switch market. In the fourth quarter of 2014, Cisco accounted for 61% of the market while the other major vendors, including Juniper, had less than 10%, according to IDC.
As a smaller player, Juniper has nowhere to go but up, according to Rahim.
"Juniper is not a startup, but it's also not an 800-pound gorilla in that market that will find it difficult to adapt to a changing environment," he said. "To the extent that we can be disruptive to gain more share in a market opportunity like switching, we're happy to do it."
In December, Juniper introduced an OCP-compliant top-of-rack branded white box switch. The OCX1100 switch comes with Juniper's Junos operating system, but customers have the option of swapping it with another OS.
Dell and HP also sell white box switches that are favored by Wall Street banks and large cloud providers like Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which collectively spend more than $1 billion a year in hardware, according to Forrester Research.
Within five years, gear designed through the Open Compute Project could account for 30% of switch spending from 6% today, according to Infonetics Research.
Embracing OCP, but not replacing proprietary hardware
How far Juniper will travel down the OCP path remains to be seen. So far, the company has limited its work to top-of-rack switches, which Rahim acknowledges is not the company's priority in terms of hardware design.
"The need for Juniper to invest heavily in that hardware is not very high," he said.
While OCP technology will have an impact on the development of networking gear, it won't replace the need for some proprietary technology, Rahim argues.
"There is absolutely differentiation that's possible in the hardware," he said. "For that reason, the risk of commoditization [of Juniper hardware] is not there today."
Focus on software-based network automation
Rahim plans to have Juniper standout in software-based network automation. Examples include NorthStar, a wide area network controller, and Contrail, a software overlay for data center network virtualization. Contrail includes a controller, an analytics engine and vRouter software for hypervisor endpoints.
This software represents "off-box" automation that controls many more network elements outside of Juniper hardware, Rahim said.
"SDN [software-defined networking] and NFV [network functions virtualization] to me are all means to an end, and that end is automation," he said. "Automation simplifies network operations, crushes operational costs and improves agility."
Roughly 80% of Juniper research and development goes to software with the remainder going to hardware, Rahim said. "One of the most important things I need to do in my job is to pivot enough of our investment, so it goes into the area of automation."
Bringing engineers, customers together
Rahim also wants to provide customers with more access to product development teams when difficult networking problems arise.
"I tend to really embrace the idea and the concept of putting all of the different functions of the organization in front of our customers, including, for example, engineering," he said. "Sometimes solving the problems that they [customers] are solving involves having the product developer, the people that are true experts in the product, interfacing directly with them."
Rahim, who began his 18-year career with Juniper as an engineer, believes that developers should interact more with customers in order to build more useful products.
"I'm making that much more institutional, much more of a culture in the company, he said.
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