Juniper hiring hints at buyout plans

Despite public statements to the contrary, Juniper Networks appears to be moving fast on the acquisition front, particularly in wireless LANs.

The company quietly appointed a vice president of business development late last year to, among other things, orchestrate the company's acquisition of a wireless LAN player. Nicholas Pianim has a background in venture capital and once led a now-defunct Internet data center company.

Pianim did not respond to an interview request left on his voicemail at Juniper, and a company spokeswoman said he probably won't.

"He's not a company spokesperson, and we are not willing to comment on his specific role in the company," the spokeswoman said.

According to published reports, Juniper CEO Scott Kriens said at an analyst meeting less than two weeks ago that the company is looking to acquire firms and/or technology where it has gaps, but that Juniper is in no hurry. Pianim's appointment indicates otherwise as Juniper and other industry players look to counter Cisco Systems's recent US$450 million acquisition of WLAN switch maker Airespace.

Sources say Pianim is in discussions with Juniper WLAN partner Colubris Networks, as well as WLAN switch makers Aruba Wireless Networks and Trapeze Networks. The possible targets were tightlipped about any such talks.

"There really isn't anything we can say regarding Juniper or any other potential partnership," a Trapeze spokeswoman said.

Pianim is also overseeing an internal bake-off between Aruba and Colubris gear at Juniper, sources say. The "winner" of that evaluation could end up being bought by the company, they say.

Some observers believe the frontrunner is Colubris, which has a two-year-old joint development and marketing arrangement with Juniper for public WLAN hotspot and secure enterprise WLAN applications. The two have multiple joint customer accounts.

Sources also say Aruba will be seeking well north of what Cisco paid for Airespace, which may make it too expensive for Juniper. Then again, the $1.3 billion network equipment maker paid US$4 billion in stock last year for NetScreen Technologies.

Pianim was named CEO of iAsiaWorks a public Web-hosting provider with a focus on the Asian market, in October 2001. Before that he was the company's vice president of global business development. IAsiaWorks liquidated operations in March 2002.

From April 1999 to March 2000, Pianim served as a principal at Eureka Capital, a private investment company. From June 1998 to April 1999, he served as a manager at wireless carrier Cellular One, and from September 1994 to June 1998, Pianim was a principal at Idaho Partners, another private investment company.

Analysts expect Juniper to acquire companies this year in order to broaden and deepen its penetration into the enterprise network market. In addition to WLANs, other areas Juniper is considering are VoIP, storage, and Layer 3 and 4-7 switching, analysts say.

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