Ruckus – a strong buy for Brocade, Juniper isolated again

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Pity poor Juniper. The networking company’s alliance with Ruckus Wireless last summer raised hopes that it would strike it third time lucky in the WiFi market, filling the gaping wireless gap in its platform. Now Brocade has snatched carrier WiFi leader Ruckus from under its rival’s nose with a $1.2bn acquisition, the latest in a series of deals which could make Brocade a more dangerous challenger to Cisco in the service provider space than Juniper itself.

The acquisition makes Brocade look far more like Cisco in the wireless operator space – in its statement, it said the key aim was to address “critical networking requirements from the data center to the wireless network edge”. As enterprise networks and data centers converge with telecoms infrastructure, there are new opportunities for the corporate switch/router vendors, and all of the majors – Cisco, Huawei, HPE and Brocade – are aggressively targeting the segment, which puts further pressure on Juniper, traditionally the most heavily focused on operators. Brocade expects that, with the acquisition of Ruckus, it will claim number one spot in service provider WiFi as well as storage area networking, while being number two in data center networking, and number three in enterprise WLAN.

By contrast, Juniper has lost several strategic partners to others’ acquisitions recently – its sales and marketing arrangement with Nokia will be squeezed out by the Alcatel-Lucent merger; reports that it might be bought by Ericsson ended when the Swedish firm got into bed with Cisco; and HPE snapped up Juniper’s previous WiFi partner Aruba. Juniper’s own WiFi acquisition, of Trapeze Networks back in 2010, failed to deliver the results the firm had hoped for and it has remained a tiny player in the WLAN market with less than 1% share, excluding its Ruckus reseller pact. That was to have expanded into a strategic deal, with plans to integrate the WiFi technology into Juniper’s Ethernet switch.

Brocade’s move has left it as a wallflower in the accelerating search for strategic partners to address the new-look carrier network market, one categorized by virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN), wireless-first access, cloud and video infrastructure, and increasingly commoditized switches and routers. It has not stood still – it recently laid the foundations of an optical business with the acquisition of BTI and its products for superfast interconnections between data centers, and it has been ahead of the game in some of its SDN moves. CEO Rami Rahim has intensified the focus on physical and SDN networks while relying more heavily on partners in less fundamental areas like WLAN, and he believes in blurring the lines between enterprise and service provider portfolios as these requirements increasingly converge.

However, losing Ruckus to Brocade may sound the death knell for any presence in the wireless and access market, leaving its competitor in the stronger position to challenge Cisco as an end-to-end player stretching from cloud platforms to the mobile edge. Like Cisco and Juniper, Brocade has been working hard in the NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) area, partly as a way to penetrate the carrier and access network markets by the back door as these shift away from traditional platforms. Now Ruckus will help it to extend its reach further, complementing previous purchases like Connectem and giving it many of the tools to provide the flexible, on -demand networks that operators will demand in future.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.

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