Juniper Networks (Nasdaq: JNPR) has sure come a long way from its days as a tiny router start-up founded by a few smart engineers. Its recent acquisition of Ankeena Networks, though carrying a price tag of less than $100 million, brings the company another step closer to its goal of becoming a true rival to Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO).

Constantly diversifying
Since making a name for itself in the late '90s by delivering a high-end router for Internet "core" networks that challenged Cisco's stranglehold on this market, Juniper has steadily branched out into one important telecom equipment market after another. For example, Juniper's M-Series and MX-Series products are important players in the faster-growing market for routers used on "edge" networks ringing major metropolitan areas. And through its Project Falcon initiative, the company is shooting to make its hardware a key part of the wireless backhaul networks needed to handle booming levels of 3G and (eventually) 4G data traffic.

In the world of corporate networks and Internet data centers, Juniper has been just as aggressive in making a name for itself. Sales of its EX-Series Ethernet switches have been taking off, while its 2004 acquisition of NetScreen Technologies established the company as a leading vendor of security hardware such as firewalls and virtual private networking (VPN) gateways. Not all of Juniper's investments have fared well -- for example, in the market for WAN optimization hardware, which is used to speed up data connections for corporate branch offices, the company has struggled to compete against the likes of Riverbed Technology (Nasdaq: RVBD) and Blue Coat Systems (Nasdaq: BCSI). But enough have paid off so that the company can't simply be pigeonholed as "mostly" a provider of some expensive telecom hardware.

The full impact of Juniper's diversification efforts, however, is bigger than the sum of its parts. By expanding its product line to cover a number of key networking markets, Juniper can begin pitching itself to enterprises and service providers not merely as a point supplier, but as a true solutions provider that can take care of a variety of business needs throughout their networks. This leaves the company in better position to face off against not only Cisco when fighting for large accounts, but also other big names such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Huawei Technologies.

Where Ankeena fits in
This is where the Ankeena acquisition comes in. Ankeena's hardware speeds up the delivery of online video and other media content by storing it at points closer to an end-user, and then intelligently figuring out what speed it can be delivered to viewers. The company's gear, which competes with Cisco's Content Delivery Engine line, can be sold both to content delivery networks trying to compete with the likes of Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM) and Limelight Networks (Nasdaq: LLNW), and to Internet service providers trying to cut down on their bandwidth costs. In other words, companies that Juniper is already targeting with its other telecom gear.

Moreover, it looks like Juniper has plans to make Ankeena's software part of its JUNOS Space platform for building networking applications that can run on top of its routers and switches. The more quality apps that Juniper can add to JUNOS Space, the more likely it can keep its battle against Cisco from coming down to mere hardware specs -- a field where the two companies seem to be constantly leapfrogging each other.

With analysts expecting 2010 revenues of nearly $3.9 billion, Juniper definitely isn't a small fry anymore in the networking equipment world. But judging by how the company keeps adding to its product line, it still has plans to get a lot bigger.

Fool contributor Eric Jhonsa has no position in any of the companies mentioned. Akamai Technologies is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days.