There are two ways to approach a complex solution opportunity. One is to fully integrate and build it all in-house. This path has been taken by HP and Cisco with regard to the hyper-converged solutions. The other is to partner with vendors whose offerings complement your own, and this is the path that Lenovo and Juniper Networks are on. Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, then conclude with some comments on the Lenovo/Juniper effort.
The advantages to building a complex solution in house have to do, at least on paper, with control and cost containment. This is because there are command and control advantages as long as the central management structure is strong and the vendor owns the overall solution. In addition, in such efforts overhead and sales expenses aren’t duplicated so costs should be lower. However, very often divisional conflicts and a lack of strong central control can bury the first set of advantages while excessive overhead/corporate costs connected to large complex companies overcome the second.
The disadvantages to this model are that should any of the divisions fall significantly behind the technology curve, the entire solution is risk. In addition, should the corporation need to replace that faltering component with a 3rd party solution, distrust between the partners of convenience will make a high level of integration nearly impossible (because both are in the same business). Ultimately, that forces limiting the solution to one with minimal integration.
In contrast, partnering allows for a greater degree of flexibility so that if one partner fails to perform, the other is generally free to pursue a, better relationship. Plus, because the firms typically don’t compete directly, they are far more willing to cooperate at deeper levels, potentially assuring higher integration. Also, since there is no strong central manager, if the two parties don’t cooperate, there is no one to step in and force the process. So the partners are dependent on the relationship and it becomes increasingly important for them to showcase a strong commitment.
The disadvantages in this approach are mainly around redundancies in costs, potentially raising solution’s price. Plus, integration is ad-hoc in the sense that the parts are often created first and then integrated after the fact. There typically isn’t a common standard inherent to the partners’ common efforts. So you look for firms that are very lean, that tend to use open processes and technologies aggressively to offset or overcome these risks.
The newly announced relationship between Lenovo and Juniper Networks is clearly one where the second set of rules apply. Both companies have a strong history of executing, meaning that the risk that one will need to find a replacement for the other slight. There is no apparent competition of any significant measure between the firms so the important trust aspect should be strong. Both companies are relatively lean, sharply offsetting the disadvantage of redundant costs and allowing them to come together without creating excessive additional costs.
While there is no obvious common standard between the firms, they are both strongly committed to creating open offerings which should make the integration path far easier. In short, while Lenovo and Juniper are substantially different companies their structure and history should allow them to form a partnership that matches or exceeds those provided by more integrated vendors, and delivers more flexible solutions than integrated firms can likely provide.
While there are disadvantages to the approach that Lenovo and Juniper are taking, both firms’ structures and histories assure that, while joint solutions will initially be a bundling of very different products, they will eventually become far more integrated as the firms’ collaboration becomes deeper.
Lenovo, in particular, is creating a sort of partnership art as they flesh out their integrated portfolio of company-branded and partner-branded products. In that sense, Juniper is joining Microsoft, SAP, Nutanix, Red Hat and VMware in what has become one of the industry’s more impressive set of powerful partners that help Lenovo flesh out an increasingly impressive, even unmatched solution portfolio.