Exploring Experience-First Networking — An Interview with Juniper Networks EVP Manoj Leelanivas – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Daniel Newman | April 6, 2021

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast – Interview Series I am joined by Manoj Leelanivas, EVP and Chief Product Officer of Juniper Networks. Manoj spearheads all aspects of product development and strategy including the AI-driven enterprise business unit — an exciting role in today’s business world.

Our discussion centered on how Juniper is different from other companies in the networking space including an overview of their experience-first networking strategy. It was an excellent conversation and one you don’t want to miss.

The Future of Networking

My conversation with Manoj also revolved around the following:

  • An exploration of the growth Juniper has experienced in recent years including some background on the company for those who might not know about this tech giant
  • Details on Juniper’s software initiatives
  • What Experience-First Networking means for customers
  • Key outcomes Juniper is seeing from Experience-First Networking
  • How Juniper stands apart from its competitors
  • Exciting developments Juniper has in the works

2020 showed the need for better, faster, stronger networks, but complexity comes right along with progress. Juniper is looking to solve this by championing simplicity through everything they do, starting with engineering of networks. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in how networks are changing the way we work.

Watch my interview with Manoj here:

Or listen to my interview with Manoj on your favorite streaming platform here:

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

More insights from Futurum Research:

Juniper Commits Automatically To Experience First Networking Strategy

Juniper Networks Tops Expectations On Strong Demand And Execution 

Juniper Reveals Data Center Intentions With Apstra Acquisition


Daniel Newman: Hey everybody, welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst and Founding Partner and Futurum Research. Very excited about this Futurum Tech Podcast. Today we will have Juniper Networks joining us. EVP and Chief Product Officer Manoj Leelanivas, and I’m really excited about this conversation today. First of all, I’m excited to introduce Juniper Networks to our community, very interesting company doing some very progressive things innovating on many fronts. And a company that we haven’t had a lot of attention here at Futurum. But a company I plan to be talking about a lot more in the near future.

Before I have Manoj join us, I just want to say, first of all, thank you to everyone that stopped by everyone that’s listening. Whether you’re listening on demand, on Spotify, or an Apple, we really do appreciate the community. Make sure you are hitting that subscribe button and spreading the goodwill. And as I always do, just a quick disclaimer: this show is for informational and entertainment purposes only. So while we are talking about publicly traded companies and their executives, please do not take anything we say as investment advice. Manoj, welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast, Tech TV, the webcast video, we hit all the formats. We are all about pleasing our community, our customers, and our audience because we want everybody to you know, consume content how they want and the network is pretty important in this whole thing. How are you doing today, Manoj?

Manoj Leelanivas: I’m doing great. Hi, Daniel. Hi, everyone. Great to be here.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it is great to have you here, as I said, as my setup while you were backstage in the green room. And we haven’t had a lot of presence from Juniper. But we are really focused on the future of connectivity of the network. You know, your company with very deep roots in working with the operators and service providers building your business and expanding into enterprise at the edge 5G, a pretty significant new rollout and security. In fact, I spent a good chunk of one of my days this week listening to your head of security, Samantha Madrid at her analyst event. And I thought it was really interesting, a lot of innovation going on. And by the way, I was super impressed in an era of equality to see I believe it was seven of the nine speakers that came on the security house firm were women. And how cool is that? But so much going on, how about just you know, give us a quick rundown of you know, who you are, your role. I gave you everyone your title, but talk a little about what you do every day at Juniper.

Manoj Leelanivas: Great, Daniel. So I’m the Chief Product Officer, and what it encompasses, you know. I’m responsible for all the products on the businesses and also marketing. That’s what my responsibility is. Danny the life is, you know, goes all the way from strategic topics, to some tactical topics, to you know, customer engagements, and sometimes even customer escalations. So it’s the whole sort of nine yards in many ways, but delighted to be leading products and strategy as well as in this business for Juniper, a very exciting time for us.

Daniel Newman: It’s a big company, performance has been pretty strong. I know the last quarter was, it was a pretty good one for the company from spending some time in advising and working alongside, you get both that big company feeling and that small company feeling. I know that probably sounds a little bit weird to people out there. But people like yourself that are in big roles running really important parts of the business publicly traded company. But also, like you said, you’re getting involved in and engaging at times, even with big customer needs, which is sometimes makes you feel like a little bit of a smaller company. But I think it’s all about really wanting to be an experienced company.

Manoj Leelanivas: I couldn’t agree with you more, in many ways, we would like to think of ourselves as a company with the nimbleness of a small startup but with the scale of a much larger company. And many of us have been in startups before myself in the early days of Juniper as a startup company, I have my own other security startup company, a lot of recent acquisitions in which have done startups, you know, spring that innovation muzzle, and that, you know, speed the velocity muscle to the company, right. So it’s a great mix of, you know, teams, which are, you know, scale teams, as well as very nimble and innovative teams. And it’s an exciting time for the company because we’re blending the two different talents together to drive what’s the future for us. And it’s exciting because enterprises are going through a huge inflection and we just completely taking advantage of that market.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. Last year was a really trying time for many industries. COVID was a stressor of many businesses, but tech how they did really well because tech really was an enabler for so much. And obviously having the network, the capacity, the bandwidth through put, the operators that you work with, I mean, so critical in terms of making this last year even stomachable for many of us, you know, we being able to stream our favorite shows, being able to do our work and hop on our zoom or WebEx calls whatever you’re doing. This tech, the cloud, the network, the capacity, it really did enable so many things. And I think you went back 100 years and we had to suffer through what 2020 was like our lives would have been a lot harder. I wanted a little walk down memory lane, you know, because Juniper is a big company and if you’re a wily veteran infrastructure, you know who Juniper is, if you come out of the service provider or operator space, you definitely know, but I don’t know the Juniper, I would define it as a household name everywhere. And so you’ve grown, you’re growing even when others aren’t growing. But just give me a quick two minute background on, you know, the who is Juniper. So everybody that maybe isn’t as familiar can be familiar.

Manoj Leelanivas: Totally. So in terms of Juniper, if you look at our business, we grab the networking infrastructure for the top service providers. Top 50 service providers, top 20 cloud providers, half of the Fortune 500 companies. So the networking infrastructure is an area which we have been dominating. But the thing which may you may not know, about Juniper was Juniper was predominant seen as a service provider company. But right now our business is if anything, far from 100% service provider. Our service provider revenue in 2020, was over 40%. And our enterprise revenue is now over 35%. And our cloud revenue is over 25%. So almost 60% of the company is cloud and enterprise. And guess what enterprise is going to be the fastest growing work for Juniper in 2021. And this is driven by the power of the campus and branch portfolio, we build in with the recent acquisitions of Mist and 128 Technologies with the data center solutions in which have driven by Apstra and our switching portfolio and our security solutions. So this is a big change in Juniper, it’s a deliberate shift in the strategy. And the acquisition of the last two years has helped us propel the enterprise business. And now we are actively taking share from some of the big behemoths in the enterprise industry.

Daniel Newman: Well, those distributions you mentioned are probably going to come as a surprise. I know I spoke to one analyst mentioned the name and like oh, yeah, they’re big with the operators. And I’m like, well, they’re big with a lot of things and the businesses are shifting, the new wave of focus is definitely enterprise. And as you mentioned, cloud scale. I mean, you basically attributed 60% of your revenue to the two businesses that most people, I wouldn’t say, don’t know Juniper is in but don’t necessarily see. But right now, it’s getting closer and closer. You know, it’s like that traditional diet of fat carbs and protein 40, 30, 30, you’re getting pretty close to operator, cloud and enterprise splitting up pretty evenly in the revenue diet of Juniper. So that’s pretty cool. Something else I noticed in some of the briefings, I’ve gotten to sit through some of the strategic direction meetings and the roundtables where other analysts have been hosted. I’ve noted that while infrastructure comes as Juniper often look at this big iron, selling big switches and boxes, or at the edge, little switches and boxes, but software has really become a big component, a big part of your story. Talk a little bit about that transition, because you’re not alone in that space, but it is definitely something you’re looking to differentiate on.

Manoj Leelanivas: Absolutely. So first, before our software let me start with our focus areas, right and how it actually syncs with the software. We are targeting enterprise markets, which are going through mega inflections today. If we look at the campus and branch and during this post COVID world, micro branches, micro campuses work from home all of it. There is a transitioning that’s happening from legacy infrastructures, which were managed on premise to cloud based architectures. So these cloud based solutions, you know, powered by say, for instance, Mist comprising of Lan, Wi Fi is the event security, all focused on delivering a superior user experience, and also significantly reducing operational costs. So that is what is driving this moment. Similarly, on the data center side, if you look at the large enterprise data centers are born in the cloud software as a service companies that demanding hyper scale like operations. Operations like Google utilizing AI, Ops, and automation. And this is another area we are actually absolutely focused on. And reason the acquisition of Apstra is a perfect foil to redistributing switches. And if you look at the common theme across all of what I just mentioned, it is software and software is driving the key control points for this market. And at the end of the day, everything is powered by AI and automation in our portfolio going forward in software.

From a software perspective, if we’re looking at what are the three big things from a company perspective right? Number one is we’re focused on providing those business outcomes for our customers, which really matter to them. You know, let me just give you an example. From a proof of concept to production in weeks, instead of months, or from days into minutes instead of days having 10,000 different devices in the network upgrade without a hitch. It’s providing that outcome which nobody else could give them before. I think that’s the number one focus for us in software. And number two is basically you know, how do we get broader deeper relationship with our customers you know, start at a particular place with a control point like I mentioned. Like Mist start deploying in a Wi Fi solutions, which you know, delight the customers and then add in a wired solutions then add security solutions all attached to the same control point that we offer a lifetime value with the customer continues to increase. And this is the example Fortune 10 company has done exactly that. Started with Wi Fi then went to LAN then went to SD LAN, so that is a key part of the software move. Last but not the least, I would say it’s also about the business model.

When a company like Juniper, predominantly focuses on system infrastructures selling new devices and boxes, in the past, the most of the software world, there is a software, multiple expansion, which also happens with that. If this may be again, news to many people, Juniper already has $500 million in software revenue in 2020. And now we’re going to grow in 50% more in the next three years. And even better, we have over $100 million in recurring revenue ARR Annual Recurring Revenue, and we’re targeting 300 million in the next three years, it’s more than doubling the revenue. So this is a three prong strategy in software focused on customer outcome, expanding relationships, and drive a business model, which drives over multiple and valuation. So that’s kind of the overarching software story for us.

Daniel Newman: It’s a big story. And by the way, anyone that’s listening, you know, hitting those ARR targets, hitting the software targets are very important. That’s something that with many of the IT OEMs, many of the legacy hardware and infrastructure players, you know, we’ve seen how the hyper scale cloud has really driven the attention of the markets. You know, we’re balancing the two markets, there’s the customer market, which you’re serving, what the customer needs, and then there’s the stock market, that shareholders that want to see companies that are robust. And whether it’s AWS and the big cloud players, whether it’s, you know, even like an Oracle coming out and saying, hey, more than 70% of our revenue is recurring, that gives your investors and your customers that confidence in what you’re doing what you’re building has foundation and stability. Well, for a lot of the big hardware OEMs, it’s been harder to come by. So the fact that you’ve made that pivot, you’ve started to diversify that business, it needs to be noted, it needs to people need to pay attention to this, because this is that the core and then you start turning that knob and you start growing it and you start showing that, hey, we have more revenue coming in from first of all these long term recurring sources. And second of all, these higher margin services, we all know the box is the first thing we sell. And going back to the days of adding service plans to a box, we added those because hey, we want a little of our service. But be because it’s how we make money in this industry was attached services to hardware, which brings me to something else that Juniper has been talking a lot about.

And I did an entire session with your executive team on what you guys call experience first, networking. So you’ve talked a lot about making customers happy, customer delight, customer satisfaction, and networking, it’s almost hard sometimes to imagine some architect in the data center deploying a system or at the edge of some branch with a big smile on their face. But that’s kind of what the story that you’re talking about the story Juniper is trying to tell us, hey, if you’re deploying our branch solutions, or you’re deploying our data center cloud solutions, we are building our software and our hardware to be easier to deploy. More dependable, reliable, consistent, more intelligent, talk a little bit about that.

Manoj Leelanivas: Experience with networking at the end of the day, let me just start the story with you know what the networking world was right? If you look at the last decade, all the focus in networking was about uptime, you know, network will remain up. But now the world has shifted to network being up is not enough, network has to perform with a much better experience it provide a better user experience, better application experience. So that is the shift towards experience with networking from the classical high performance networking. At the end of the day, it’s about providing a much more simplified operational experience for our customers, our operators, operators of our gear. It is also about providing a superior and secure end user experience, an experience where your applications would seamlessly know the network almost becomes invisible. So this is the crux of experience with networking. Let me solidify with some examples. You have Daniel here, right? Daniel is on a zoom call, say working from his home and is working with a bunch of other folks in different places, different branches and whatnot. What you really want to focus on is the zoom experience for Danny. Daniels, zoom experience should be stellar, right. So that is experience with networking. If something happens, the network should figure out what’s wrong, do the automatic corrections using AI and ML algorithms, and then you know, fix the problem.

That is what the future of the networking is, it’s all about that experience. You mentioned data center earlier, if you look at the data center, it needs to be self-healing. You know, when you have 10,000 switches in a data center, it’s impossible to figure out exactly what the problem is. But you know, the network should be able to automatically figure out the problem and solve it. So this is the experience first networking journey. And if you double click further, you can see there are three parts to it. There is the day zero or the day zero minus one experience, right where you know, how you engage with the customer, how you get the install, going in all that stuff that should be seamless day one. How you actually installed and also provision something and start a particular service. And day two is ongoing operations. All of it needs to happen in a seamless, smooth fashion. And this is where we are putting a lot of investment to make sure that the network you’re seeing now it’s not your dad’s network anymore. It’s the network of the future, it’s the network which is self-healing, self-correcting, and self-configuring. That is where we are driving to focus. And if you look at operations, it’s all driven by AI, right. You know to look at support is AI driven. And now we have MAVIS and a virtual network assistant who we can converse with on what is wrong with the network. So this is the direction we’re heading. Taking the industry, networking industry from an era of uptime, to experience. Like I said, you know, channeling Captain Kirk from Star Trek, it’s not your dad’s network anymore. So that that’s what experience with networking is.

Daniel Newman: Okay, so I want to push a little bit here, this is an opportunity, I think that people need some clarity, everything you’re offering, there is what people need. So under the whole guise of meet the customer, where they are, they need intelligence, they need self-healing, they need automation. But I would also argue that you and everyone else is kind of saying that right now in their own ways. How is Juniper differentiating and how do you see the differentiation versus other network providers that are also proclaiming AI ML based intelligence built into their networks to accomplish this? Because everything you’re doing is right. But I think a lot of people are kind of saying something similar. So junipers got to have its story, right, where’s it sticking out?

Manoj Leelanivas: Great question I’m going to answer in two parts. One is one of the proof points and the other one about our differentiation. So to me, at the end of the day, proof of the pudding is in the eating when service now, the largest ITSM Company in the world, have a fundamentally different experience. They were able to reduce 90% of their trouble tickets in networking by moving to Mist an AI driven solution, an actual outcome which reduced 90% of the trouble tickets. Or if you look at one of the largest technology universities in the world, was able to get students back into the campus because of the solution we provide in terms of you know, Wi fi in the campus as well as you know, the ability to track people in in this COVID driven world. Right. So examples are, if you look at the birthplace of AI, Dartmouth University, you know, they chose their entire solution based on our campus switching and wireless solutions. These are great examples. Or if you look at some of the largest data centers, you know, we are having a video come here in zoom and zoom is powered with data centers provided by Juniper right. These actual outcomes is the best proof point than anything that I say, because they show a differentiation, which only Juniper could provide.

Now, specifically on differentiation. One of the big advantages of going after an enterprise market, which is going through this inflection, from on prep infrastructure to cloud infrastructure, data centers, which is needing automation is that we are a company with very little baggage. If you are a large behemoth, you know, wedded to an ancient way of doing things disruption is always a problem. Eating your own young is always a problem, we don’t have the profit, you know, we can disrupt. And we acquired the right sort of technology to complement the internal talent we have. So team and technology wise, they are one of the best in terms of solving this problem for AI and ML and cloud. And this is not an overnight thing, right? If you look at some a company like Mist over the last five years, they’re building this technology, they kept collecting data from the customers, they analyzing using machine learning algorithms and doing AI and MAVIS on top of it. This is not something you can you know, replicate overnight, right? So we have a headroom, which is for the four or five years of the efforts, we put in there an amazing team and the ability to disrupt because we don’t need to worry about the business, we’re going to lose in the legacy on prep infrastructure. So the combination of all three makes it super powerful. Only an additional piece I will say is that we look at customers differently, you know, even if their entire solution is not from Juniper, we are okay with that.

Unlike our competitors, right. So if you look at Mist, if you look at Apstra, they work in a heterogeneous environment. In fact, they both can work in a brownfield environment and manage our competitors’ devices well and actually make the automation seamless. This is the strength, right? This is very different from a typical vendor customer focus. This is about looking at the customer as a partner, it doesn’t matter what switch choices you made, we’re going to make sure that your experience is front and center for us. And we’ll make sure your experience is the best possible. It’s again, the customer focus and the customer outcome. So those are the two points I would really emphasize.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think both those points are worthy of a little additional emphasis. Look, I am always one on endless briefings that I take or executive sessions I always say, well, where are the customer wins? Where are people in deploying this and buying this because as I see it, it’s easy to say whether you’re a cloud provider that your instances are better, if you’re AI that you have faster inferences, if you’re an endpoint that your devices have greater battery life, but revenue, customer adoption, market share uptake, those are the things that really are telling the story behind the marketing every single time.

Secondly, I do like the fact talking about Brownfield because there aren’t a lot of environments anymore, where people are just coming in and completely gutting and starting from scratch. People are trying to evolve existing infrastructure, doing this in a very agile and iterative way that allows for hey, if we roll out this part of the network as part of deployment, we can add value across the whole thing from edge to core, the more you can really tell that story. And then I would say, you know, just from what I spent some time this week that security story warrants a little bit more discussion. Seems you’re definitely getting your shots in there, where you’re making the investments, you’re putting forward a new approach. And security is top of mind right now, it’s something that even a year ago, I would say was less Top of Mind, whether it’s been the Zoom bombings, solar winds, and most recently, the Microsoft Exchange hacks, you know, these are different types of security breaches than what you’re necessarily with acutely, but the world sees it all kind of the same.

So companies that have a narrative on security, front and center are going to be seen as differentiated. And then of course, if you can execute and prove and keep getting those wins, even more so. So I only got a minute or two left with you Manoj. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. But I’d love to kind of have you talk about the future. Someone in your role has to be thinking about, okay, what’s next? So we see you’ve gone to ARR, you’re pushing towards software, experiences is there and of course, continuing trying to win market share and grow in these markets that weren’t necessarily your most notorious? Okay, I’m bored. Just kidding. Now, what? What’s coming up?

Manoj Leelanivas: Our, mission is a very good question again, our mission is to connect everything and everyone and also empower everyone, right. It’s basically power, the connections, you know, which connect clients to cloud clients to each other. And also, you know, companies to opportunity, right, it’s about powering connections. It’s also about empowering change, you know, especially in this world of today, baring change in terms of, you know, the whole socio economic, to the geographical, getting people together. So I think the mission is, from a networking point of view, so the toughest network challenges, but that seems to be the true north, which is heading, you know, which is in guiding us. And if you look at our focus in a business perspective, especially on the enterprise side, it’s about the client to cloud experience in this new post COVID world where things are going to be more of a hybrid nature. How do we look at a holistic experience, from client to cloud? Doesn’t matter whether you’re working in a branch or a campus or a micro brand your home, how do you get that experience, which is secure? This is where security client to cloud all the way is super important to, and all of the networking connectivity part is super important. So that’s one piece of the equation. The second one is, it’s all about the data center and the cloud, how do you power the data center to the cloud and make it automated, make it efficient, make it self-healing? So those are the two streams where we see lots of innovation opportunities, and that continue to be focused on the enterprise side.

And furthering the mission is about, you know, making that future happen, where it is really a self-driving network. It’s self-configuring, you know, self-healing, in many ways, and self-operating. In the perfect world, networking should be invisible, we should not be thinking about networking, Daniel should not be thinking about networking, picture this work. And I think that is the mission we are on, we started off with providing the best, the fastest, the baddest switches and routers, now we are on a mission to provide that experience, which is fundamentally different from what our competitors can provide and focus on customer outcomes, and focus further on making that whole networking invisible. And this is where we’re going to be successful as a company.

Daniel Newman: Well Manoj Leelanivas, Executive Vice President, Chief Product officer at Juniper Networks, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have this discussion with you. We’re going to have to have you back because I’m going to have more questions, we’re certainly going to have to kind of circle over the next six and 12 months to sort of see how these things are executing. I want to hear about these revenue streams. Are you getting this growth in software? Are you getting this growth in ARR? How about that uptake on security? The self-healing, I agree with you 100% of AI ML at every corner and every turn. And by the way, these are the real applications everybody out there for AI and ML. I know everybody thinks about Siri on their phone and you know, different speaker and assistants. And there’s some cool things that those are doing. But this type of AI and ML is actually what’s keeping all those software, all your applications, the 300 plus SaaS applications, most enterprises are running up and going all day every day to keep your life in order. But Manoj thanks so much for joining me today.

Manoj Leelanivas: Thank you for having me, Daniel. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. And you know, great to meet your audience too.

Daniel Newman: Well everybody a great conversation there with Manoj Leelanivas from Juniper Networks was great to have the company come in, introduce itself tell its story talk about its differentiation. It’s a competitive space. And clearly the company is doing some things very, very well. You’re hearing about it. It’s very specific. It’s the growth, it’s the market share. It’s the wins. That’s what we’re paying attention to. That’s what we’re seeing. That’s what Manoj was talking about on this podcast today. But we’re going to hold him to it. We’re going to bring him back. We’re going to talk about all things performance, making sure that the company’s living up to its promise of competitive space, but a very important space and all you watching this, its companies in this exact space is making that possible.

For this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series, I want to thank Juniper for being a good partner and having Manoj join me today. I want to thank you all the subscribers out there that have tuned in, that download, listen, record, share. Let’s get the word out there. Many more of these kinds of conversations in our archives, but for this episode, it’s time to say goodbye, and we’ll see you later.

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Chief Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio