IP giants losing strategic edge

Last year, Cisco CEO John Chambers clearly set the network industry’s priority: To increase the level of strategic engagement and directly involve network solutions in business-process reengineering — in short, to get out of the plumbing business.

So this year, Cisco and archrival Juniper are doing just that, right?

Hardly. In fact, the two vendors seem locked in a race to the strategic bottom.

Cisco started the strategic shortfall mess with its Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) announcement. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is the key IT trend of the decade, according to BusinessWeek. But at its analyst conference in December, Cisco told a stunned audience that the purpose of SONA is not to support SOA.

Cisco’s actions set the bar incredibly low for Juniper, yet at its February analyst meeting, Juniper managed to shoot below it. Juniper tossed SOA into a few pitches, but the most relevant speaker on the topic was Juniper CFO Bob Dykes, who described how the outfit is changing its cost structure using, in part, SOA.

Apparently Juniper thinks it’s the only company doing SOA, or that SOA can somehow revolutionize applications without impacting networks, because the company’s enterprise pitches didn’t mention SOA as a strategic issue, much less provide a clue as to how Juniper might address it.

Think about this for a minute. Juniper’s enterprise strategy is largely based on security, which SOA elevates from the network level (VPNs and firewalls) to the application level (as part of the Simple Object Access Protocol identity and security management features).

Isn’t that enough of a connection to merit some dialogue with analysts on your enterprise future, given SOA’s adoption? At Juniper’s analyst event, we were treated to a carrier-strategy overview that had only two mentions of the Juniper-stimulated IPsphere Forum on the slides, and IPsphere is perhaps Juniper’s strategic home run, an initiative supported by carriers worldwide and joined even by Juniper’s rivals.

Worse, the newly announced Service Provider Infranet initiative that supports IPsphere, and has pretty much the same layers as IPsphere, isn’t a road map for Juniper’s implementation of IPsphere. Juniper’s representatives said the company would seek partners for the services layer, which is the only layer the IPsphere Forum is defining. So how does this support IPsphere?

Didn’t we once look to giants such as Cisco and Juniper for their insights about how the industry was going to develop? Their rear-view mirrors have taken over for their windshields, vision-wise. Are these two companies so dumbed down by the aftermath of the bubble that they have no idea what’s happening in an industry they’ve largely shaped? Or is it that they don’t want to do strategy anymore?

Cisco talks about sales engagement, Juniper about razor focus on strategic customers. That sounds a lot like a purely sales-driven approach to me.

Cisco and Juniper seem to have decided that all this strategy stuff, things that demand the customers consider the future, takes customers’ eyes off the near-term buying process. Keep their heads out of the stars and their hands on their wallets.

But in a market as confusing as this, such a move hurts customer morale.

Fortunately, strategy hasn’t died, even if it’s lagging at Cisco and Juniper. IBM is strategizing how to suck all the features out of networking with SOA; Big Blue would be glad to help Cisco with an SOA strategy. Alcatel is strategizing how to do the network operation layers Juniper wants to avoid.

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— Nolle is president of CIMI Corp., a technology assessment firm in Voorhees, N.J. He can be reached at (856) 753-0004 or tnolle_ @cimicorp.com.

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