Although he didn't say it in those words, Juniper chairman and CEO Scott Kriens made it clear that when enterprises take a drink of the one-stop shop Kool-Aid that Cisco CEO John Chambers tried to sell Interop attendees yesterday, they could be selling themselves short of the best of breed solutions that he claimed may deliver more business value, ones from more focused solution providers like Juniper. Although Juniper just last week announced the aquisitions of two companies -- Peribit Networks and Redline Networks -- that essentially broaden its offerings and make it less of a pure play than it once was, Kriens carved the technology industry up into four categories that he said vendors can establish as their areas of focus and sought to position Juniper as a pure play focused on the second of the four: traffic processing. The other three (in one, three, four order) were end user devices (PCs, phones, handhelds, etc.), application processing (the apps themselves, databases, etc), and transmission (eg: fiber optic networks). The four categories were sufficiently broad enough to position Juniper has being extremely focused while positioning Cisco as being in all four.
The pure-play vs. one-stopshop story of how vendors that aren't distracted from excellence by exceedingly board product portfolios can build better solutions isn't new. Virtually all of the more tightly focused security vendors came out with the same story when it became clear that Microsoft was beefing up in the areas of personal firewalls, anti-virus, and anti-spyware. As the argument went, such one-stop shops can do many things well, but none of them really well. On the flip-side, one stop shops say they have no such distractions and that by shopping with one provider, the chances of successful and cost effective integration and interoperation get much better. Juniper's Kriens disagreed, arguing that you might be assured of integration and may even derive savings from it, but that you could end up paying a more costly penalty in other areas such as performance. Kriens turned the keynote into a sermon, advising Interop attendees that that compromises such as these are simply the realities of the business and that the trick is to figure out how to best take control of the realities rather than the realities taking control of you. Said Kriens:
...You can have things that are good, fast, and cheap, except that we can only have two of the three. Not that we don't want all three and not that it wouldn't be great to have all three. It just turns out that one of the realities is one of those has to be compromised in order to optimize the other two. And I'm not going to pick on anybody in particular but cell phones are getting cheaper and cell services are getting cheaper and it sure makes a lot of things happen faster in my day. But it's not very good. You could say the same thing about hot spots. [They're] really fast, and really cheap. But if you step five fee out of the zone, not very good.... if we pretend this isn't real, then we don't know which tradeoff to make. The issue is not to wish it wasn't so, or on the other hand, it's also not to live with that and be depressed and say "I never want to go to one of his keynotes again," but instead, how do we optimize reality, how do we gain control over those choices so that if we want to make one of those tradeoffs, we do it consciously... the question is "Which risk do I want to take?"
There was another message about the risks of going with a one-stop shop that was embedded in Kriens keynote: Should the more all-encompassing solution depend on proprietary technologies in order to grease the wheels of integration, enterprises may be prevented from excercising their option to reconsider a best of breed solution from a more focused provider, one that complies with open standards.
Kriens also advised that focusing on best of breed solutions that comply with open standards can help to makes businesses more nimble. One reason that businesses need to be nimble, according to Kriens, is that that business cycles are fluctuating from bad to good and back again more frequently. By keeping their cost structures more nimble and flexible, businesses can offset more pronounced losses during a downturnwhile preserving their ability to increase re-investment when things get better. The idea, as demonstrated by one of his slides (see photo, above), is, instead of keeping costs constant, to more directly align cost cycles with business cycles. While I'm sure the folks at one-stop shops would take issue with Kriens' characterizations of them as purveyors of sub-optimal, less flexible solutions, there was still a great deal of practical business advice for companies looking to survive the rigors of the 21st century -- advice that made sense whether you're planning to buy technology or not.
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