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Juniper Networks goes 'Back to the Future'

New CEO Shaygan Kheradpir looks to Juniper's past to prepare for its future.

In the movie "Back to the Future," Dr. Emmet Brown changed the world when he fell off his toilet and hit his head on the sink and the vision of the “flux capacitor” came to him. The flux capacitor was the technology that allowed Emmet Brown to build his DeLorean-based time machine that skewed the existing space-time continuum.

For Juniper’s new CEO, Shaygan Kheradpir, a similar skewing of the space-time continuum was required when he was hired. In the past few years, the company’s stock price had jumped around and the momentum of many of Juniper’s products had been inconsistent. A change was certainly needed.

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Luckily for Shaygan, no fall off the toilet was required for his inspiration. Instead, he took a look back at what made the company successful in the past and is trying to resurrect that culture. This week, Juniper held its annual industry analyst conference, and it was the first time Mr. Kheradpir addressed the analyst community and articulated his vision of where the company is going. During the Q&A portion of the event, Shaygan discussed bringing back a culture of co-creation with Juniper’s customers to do some unique things with the network.

His keynote actually started off talking about something called “the rise of the creative planet.” I wasn’t sure where he was going with that theme at first, but the vision behind creative plant is that the rise of social, consumerization, cloud and mobility fuel constant innovation and change. The network can actually play a big role in this transformation, as the network can provide contextual information to change the nature of applications. Kheradpir actually described this as a “network that Tweets,” as a metaphor to describe a network that can tell us something that we perhaps didn’t know.

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It’s this ability to provide greater intelligence and tell us “things we don’t know” that Juniper is eyeing as its opportunity to gain share in the markets it serves, which are cloud builders and organizations that require “High IQ Networks.” From Juniper’s perspective, fulfilling on this vision isn’t something that can be done with commodity, white box switches. Rather it’s a combination of silicon, software and systems. This is something I certainly agree with and something I’ve blogged about over the years. There’s no solution that can be solved with only hardware, only software, or only silicon. It’s really a combination of the three and how they get used in specific customer environments that leads to the solution.

However, Juniper does require more than product. The company has always had good products, but do customers understand how to use these products? Do they even want them? It’s often easy for engineering-centric vendors to build solutions and then hope for a problem.

The culture that Shaygan Kheradpir is trying to bring back is one of co-creation and co-development with Juniper’s customers. He described this as reinstating the entrepreneurial zeal into the company to build and create solutions with its customers, rather than in isolation. I believe this was the primary point he was referring to when he described his mission as going “back to the future.” One could argue that the initial product line at Juniper, starting with the M40, was built based on a lot of direct customer feedback.

The vision of a creative planet is certainly something that can’t be argued with. The bigger question is whether vendors or customers really understand how to take advantage of this inflection point. Here’s where the co-creation, co-development go-to-market model that the company is trying to move back to can help Juniper leverage its products and get the growth engine going again. There have been a number of changes at Juniper since Kheradpir took over at CEO. Based on the content from the analyst day, I certainly expect more as the company looks to evolve.

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