IT pioneer Juniper Networks is taking a bold step forward into an AI-powered future of connected software with its acquisition of Mist Systems.
If anyone can speak to the evolution of network technology, it’s Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR) Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President Manoj Leelanivas. He started his first stint at Juniper in 1999, right at the beginning of the dot-com boom, and stayed through 2013. After leaving for few years to be the CEO of a security-analytics technology start-up, he returned to Juniper in 2018 to lead the company’s products and solutions.
Much has changed since those early days of technology. The networks that used to enable phone calls and connect people to simple (by today’s standards) online web portals have expanded and evolved to rely more than ever on cloud and wireless capabilities. These moves have put more computing tasks into globally accessible storage space and control points. At the same time, the sheer scale of these networks has skyrocketed, thereby requiring more automation and artificial intelligence to help network operators keep up.
People want things to be simple, packaged, not a puzzle they need to put together... We’re on the journey of network simplification for the enterprise.Juniper Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President Manoj Leelanivas
In line with those trends, Juniper recently acquired Mist Systems – a leader in the wireless-AI-network space. Leelanivas credits the acquisition with giving Juniper “an AI-driven enterprise solution.”
“It’s a role that starts with envisioning what you need to address in each market segment.” he says.
Leelanivas arrived in time to help Juniper’s top management in its push towards “AI for IT,” an initiative that uses the latest in machine learning to return simplicity to network operations that have become ever more versatile and complex. With workers, devices, data storage facilities and other components generating exponentially larger volumes of data and activity, the modern enterprise network has grown beyond a scale that humans can manage effectively. That’s where AI-based solutions come in.
“Juniper, being predominantly a systems company, is in the throes of a transformation,” says Leelanivas. “We are driving towards a more software-defined architecture and delivering highly automated network operations.”
“More simplicity within more complex systems is at the heart of the conundrum,” he says, and AI seems to be the answer. Juniper’s security and system monitoring products already contain many automated features, he adds. The acquisition of Mist Systems, has helped Juniper build a wireless IT platform that can expand to meet the needs of any enterprise.
“We now have a software-defined, AI-driven enterprise solution we can take to market.” he says.
But Juniper wasn’t simply buying the technology. Mist will maintain its customer base and autonomy, at least in the short term, Leelanivas says. Juniper will incorporate Mist’s wireless, AI-driven platform in its own software-defined portfolio. At the same time, Mist will gain access to Juniper’s customer base, including top telecommunications companies, retailers, airlines, public cloud providers and social media companies.
“Typically, an acquisition has overlaps; in this case, there’s no overlap at all. We have ‘Solution A’ from Juniper, ‘Solution B’ from Mist. Now we can plug them together into a single AI-driven solution,” he says.
Both Juniper and Mist produce open architecture network products, which allow customers to patch in elements from other vendors, even if it means the company sells the customer less than its full portfolio. “To make it simple for the end customer, we have to be very flexible.” Leelanivas adds.
Juniper sees AI-driven solutions as essential for both established companies and start-ups alike. Regardless of the organization, a user-friendly experience is key. No matter how many technologies an IT network deploys, end users expect an intuitive experience. Leelanivas believes that the Mist acquisition will also lead to solutions that keep the user front and center.
“People want things to be simple, packaged, not a puzzle they need to put together,” he explains. “So, we’re on the journey of network simplification for the enterprise. How do we provide a seamless, secure and automated multicloud experience, rather than a cobbled-together solution? How do we make it simple for the data center to migrate to the public cloud? And how can our solution be a comprehensive thing that is attractive to just about any sector we are dealing with?”
With the Mist acquisition, Leelanivas believes Juniper has taken a big step toward answering those questions. “Now our sales force can take a unified message,” he states. “We’re an AI-driven IT operation, across the board.”