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How Juniper is using AI in SD-WAN to differentiate itself

Since the networker installed Mist AI as the cornerstone of its enterprise strategy, the results have paid off with continued growth.

This week Juniper Networks announced that its Mist cloud and AI engine can be used to manage its SD-WAN solution. Juniper, historically a front-line wide-area network vendor, bolstered its router portfolio with the $450 million acquisition of 128 Technology (128T). 

The SD-WAN landscape is very crowded, but 128T took a different approach to solve the problem of using the internet as a business network. Its Session Smart Router (SSR) changes the way packets route on a network. 

128T was founded by the same leadership team that founded Acme Packet, which did something similar with voice and video traffic.  

AI starts with Mist at Juniper 

The AI capabilities came to Juniper via the 2019 acquisition of Mist Systems. Prior to Mist, Juniper's enterprise business was floundering with no real differentiator. Since then, Juniper has used Mist as the cornerstone of its enterprise strategy, and the results have paid off with that segment of its business showing continued growth as well as improved positioning in Gartner's Magic Quadrant. 

In late 2020, Juniper brought Mist Assurance to the 128T WAN suite. This lets customers address typical "day-two" issues, including anomaly detection, AI-based troubleshooting, and predictive insights. The idea of "day-two" problems refers to all of the critical, but often forgotten, problems an organization faces once an application is in production. This release addresses "day-one" operations that include initial configuration, provisioning, and deployment. Current customers would be using 128T's Smart Conduction platform, which is a good tool but does not have the sophistication of Mist. Also, Conductor is an on-premises product while Mist is cloud-based, which better addresses a world that is becoming increasingly dynamic and distributed.  

Customers can use Mist across the Juniper enterprise portfolio 

This release also makes it easier for customers to move to an all-Juniper network if they so choose, because Mist already works with the company's wired and wireless portfolio. The unification of the data from wired-wireless-WAN addresses the challenge of managing user experience. Historically, each portion of the network was managed in isolation, which worked fine in a world where applications and data resided on-premises, often in the same location as the user. As more and more workloads have migrated together, understanding user experience requires an understanding of the end-to-end network making siloed management ineffective. 

New security capabilities coming to the branch 

In addition to the day-one operational capabilities, Juniper added new branch security capabilities, which include IDS/IPS and URL filtering. The embedded security capabilities obviate the need for extra appliances, simplifying the typical complexity found in a branch. While IDS, IPS, and URL filtering isn't a holistic security stack, they do address the needs of most branches. More sophisticated customers would likely deploy separate appliances if they are looking for advanced capabilities. 

Juniper also unveiled two new cloud-managed SD-WAN gateways. The SSR120 and SSR130 are designed for small and mid-size branches. Like the larger SSR1000 line, which is designed more for head-end scale, the two smaller products offer multiple WAN link options that include LTE, which is becoming increasingly attractive as a backup connection. 5G will usher in the era of cellular first connectivity to branch offices and using LTE now as a backup is a good way to try operating a wireless WAN. 

This product release is an important one for Juniper because it has typically played second or even third fiddle to Cisco and HPE-Aruba. The Mist-ification of Juniper combined with 128T in the WAN and Apstra in the data center has given the company a solid set of products to compete more effectively. 

The fundamental tenet of my research has always been that share gains happen when markets transition and the network industry is rapidly shifting to AI-based platforms. Obviously, there is more to success than having good products, but Mist provides Juniper a solid platform upon which to continue building its enterprise products.