Juniper Networks has announced a $405 million acquisition of Mist Systems. This is my quick take on the acquisition and why Juniper bought the startup.
Mist sells cloud-managed WLAN equipment and software. It targets the enterprise market with a focus on verticals including retail, large enterprises, hospitality, and manufacturing.
Pretty much every WLAN vendor has a cloud-managed offering these days. Mist aims to differentiate itself via analytics.
The company collects reams of data points on its APs and the clients that connect to them, including performance data, throughput, capacity, roaming, uptime, and RF statistics.
It funnels this data back to its cloud service. The service compares these metrics to administrator-defined service levels. If a service level is violated, Mist says its APs can automatically remediate the problem, or alert an admin.
As with other Wi-Fi vendors, Mist also offers BLE beacons. These beacons can be deployed for use cases such as wayfinding at large venues, as well as for tracking assets like as medical equipment. Beacons can also monitor people via their mobile devices, such as how customers move through a store.
Why Mist Is Attractive To Juniper
1. Juniper had a WLAN-sized hole in its enterprise portfolio
Wireless access is the keystone of campus network access. It’s also a powerful wedge for a vendor to penetrate deeper into the enterprise through integrated wired switching, unified access management, policy enforcement, user experience, and IoT.
Without its own solution, Juniper essentially ceded strategic ground to its partners and competitors.
CEO Rami Rahim notes in this blog that the acquisition makes Juniper much more competitive in the enterprise: “With the addition of Mist’s industry-leading wireless portfolio, we are becoming one of a limited number of technology suppliers that can truly service the end-to-end enterprise.”
2. Mist aligns with Juniper’s commitment to operational simplicity
At last year’s NXTWORK event, CEO Rahim said that Juniper was betting its enterprise play on two principles: multicloud and operational simplicity for IT.
I’m not sure how Mist fits the multicloud bill, but it certainly aligns with the message of operational simplicity. Cloud-managed WLAN systems give operators a clean, centralized UI and make it relatively easy to manage and monitor APs, track performance, and so on.
Mist also touts its digital assistant, called Marvis. Marvis lets admins use natural language queries to drill in on performance data and initiate troubleshooting.
Mist’s positioning clearly aligns with Juniper’s message of simplified IT.
3. Analytics is key
As mentioned in the background section, Mist aims to differentiate itself via data gathering and analytics. By automatically collecting, correlating, and analyzing health and performance metrics, Mist creates a data set it can leverage for performance monitoring, or to serve as a data source for troubleshooting, or to trigger automated remediation (assuming customers trust it enough to turn on such capabilities).
Juniper’s Rahim plans to extend Mist’s data gathering and analytics capabilities to more than just Wi-Fi. He writes:
“AI-driven operations must extend across the whole IT stack if it is to reach its full potential. By integrating Mist’s cloud-management and advanced AI engine into the balance of Juniper’s enterprise portfolio, we are setting ourselves up to continue to lead the transition to the software-defined enterprise.”
It makes sense Juniper would take advantage of an analytics platform. IT operations teams don’t lack for raw data. They do lack systems that can ingest, examine, and surface up relevant, contextual information.
If Mist has a good analytics platform, that’s a net positive for Juniper because Juniper can leverage such a platform to help meet its goals of operational simplicity.
One question that comes to mind is how, or whether, Juniper will integrate Mist’s analytics capabilities with Juniper’s Appformix solution.
Also, please note that I’m being careful to use the word “analytics” where Mist and Juniper use “AI.” AI is a loaded term.
AI conjures images of super-smart computers tackling complex problems and always making the right choices. That’s not where AI is in the real world. Healthy skepticism about AI is warranted. Which leads to my next point…
4. AI is a signal
Remember when every networking vendor was suddenly software-defined? The same thing is happening now with AI. If your marketing literature doesn’t mention AI or ML at least once per press release or executive blog, you might as well be selling token ring.
Mist gets top marks for AI marketing. AI is plastered all over its website, in its brochures, and in briefings.
For technology buyers, AI should be a signal ask more questions.
For investors, executives, and financiers by contrast, AI signals “the future.” For this audience, the subtext is that a vendor is forward-looking and exploring new growth opportunities. That’s just what this audience wants to hear.
So from a marketing and investor perspective, Mist ticks a key messaging box for Juniper.
Now that Juniper has made a purchase decision, it has a few challenges ahead.
First is integration. Juniper clearly plans to extend Mist’s analytics capabilities beyond wireless. Mist was a Juniper partner before the acquisition, so presumably they’ve had an opportunity to kick the tires on each other’s APIs.
But ownership is much more intimate. We’ll have to wait and see the speed and depth of Mist’s integration with Juniper’s portfolio, and how well the two companies can pull it off.
Second is its own track record. Juniper acquired Trapeze Networks back in 2010, but made little to no headway as a wireless vendor.
In 2014, Juniper and Aruba Networks joined forces to integrate Aruba’s WLAN gear with Juniper’s wired offerings. Juniper made a similar deal with Ruckus in 2015. But Aruba and Ruckus both ended up with competitors, which complicated the partnerships.
Now Juniper is in control of its own destiny again, but it has to exorcise the ghosts of past WLAN deals.
Third is customer perception. Juniper is primarily regarded as a service provider vendor. It’s flirted with the enterprise as a Cisco alternative, but hasn’t had the same success as competitors such as Arista.
Mist gives Juniper a fresh start. Let’s see what they do with it.