Why Faster Chips Won't Help Juniper Catch Cisco

Last Updated Oct 29, 2009 3:50 PM EDT

Juniper Networks introduced a new chipset, as well as a new router and network application platform today at the New York Stock Exchange, which it also counts as a customer.

That's an important point, as enterprise customers in areas like financial services, where speed is a critical component of stock trading, as well as health care, government and entertainment, are starting to require faster and more flexible networking capabilities to meet surging demand for bandwidth to support IP-based video, telephony and collaboration tools. The same holds true for the telecommunications, cable and other Internet service providers that serve those industries.

Juniper, along with Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei and others, see the current spike in demand as an opportunity to yank market share away from market leader Cisco Systems. Juniper's answer to this challenge includes a new chipset that it claims is several orders of magnitude faster than anything else on the market, as well as a new router and an open network application development platform.

Pradeep Sindhu, Juniper's founder, vice chairman and CTO, said that the new chipset, dubbed Junos Trio, represents "a fundamental advance in performance, flexibility and power efficiency-- This will dramatically change the economics for our customers, while helping them create new and better experiences for their customers." The company also introduced a new router, the MX80 3D, which allows customers to configure their network resource allocations on the fly, as well as a Web-based network management platform called Junos Space.

But while Juniper is undoubtedly bringing dramatic technological improvements to the market, it's far from clear that this will translate into significant changes in the competitive landscape.

Why? Juniper is driven by technology, not sales. While I'd be surprised if John Chambers, Cisco's voluble CEO, were able to keep up with Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson during a technical discussion, I know from having sat through his stilted presentation that Johnson can't charm the paint off a server chassis quite like Chambers.

And while Cisco's ceaselessly growing stack of products, from routers to application servers to desktop collaboration clients, may seem like overreaching and even lead to some confusion about what it is Cisco really thinks it's about, the company's product portfolio also allows salespeople to sweeten deals that might otherwise be tough to close.

Nor, apparently, are they very good at going to market with a unified message. Ron Westfall, an analyst with research firm Current Analysis, told me, "They have to follow up with a better sales strategy; you don't get a sense that everyone is using the same sales playbook."

The one area where Juniper has made headway is in edge routers like the one it introduced today, so at least it seems to be making the right product decisions. But it has a long way to go to translate any technological advantage into actual gains in the market.

  • Michael Hickins

    Michael Hickins has written about technology and business for BNET, InformationWeek, InternetNews.com, eWEEK -- where he was executive editor from 2007-2008 -- The Curator, Pseudo.com, Multex Investor, Reuters, and Conde Nast's WWD.com. Hickins is the author of The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing, a collection of short stories published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1991. He also published Blomqvist, a picaresque novel set in 11th century Europe, in 2006. Hickins remains passionately interested in the intersections of business, technology, politics and culture, and endures a life-long obsession with baseball. He is married with two children and lives in Manhattan.