Aruba and HP – The Ecosystem Is King

Aruba-HP-LogoNote: This is part of a multi-post series I am writing that compares Aruba to HP and how the integration of Aruba Networks into HP might play out. You can read my intro post here.

I am a HUGE fan of vendor ecosystems. A HUGE fan. I have written about them before. The last post I wrote on them can be found here. I really do think they are the key to driving a vendor’s success. One could argue that the large vendors have it easy. They have the resources to build those ecosystems. They can spend money that the smaller vendors cannot and can essentially buy loyalty from customers and partners. Of course, at some point, those large vendors were small ones. They did something different to propel them to the large vendor status. Their competition fell by the wayside and either drifted off into obsolescence, or just outright died.

Sorry. There is no TL/DR for this post. Buckle up. It’s a long one.

So let’s get a lay of the land when it comes to ecosystems between HP and Aruba. Let me clear about one thing. This is specific to wireless. This has nothing to do with the many things HP is doing around SDN and other areas of networking.

Let’s focus on the following topics:

Books
Certification Programs
Conferences
Design Guides
External Technical Websites
Forums
Marketing
Resellers
Social Media

The end goal of all of these things is to produce large numbers of networking professionals who are knowledgable and comfortable with the HP wireless portfolio. It carries over into other areas of networking as well. Get people fired up about one section of your product portfolio and it should translate into an uptick in sales for the other products. If they trust you in one area, there is a good chance they will trust you in another area.

HP’s Wireless Ecosystem

Books

The one area that HP has an advantage over Aruba is that of books. Although their books tend to be certification focused, they have at least begun efforts in the past few years to get technical content out there. I suspect that over time they will be able to produce more books that are technically focused outside of the certification process.

Certification Programs

The certification program with regards to HP’s wireless solutions has been up and running for some time now. If you look at the list of available certifications here, you won’t find much in the way of wireless. They do offer the Accredited Systems Engineer(ASE) certification for wireless. They also offer the Master ASE certification for wireless. Neither of these are certifications that I am very familiar with. I have no idea what the numbers are of certified professionals regarding these programs. I could not find any published numbers around either of these programs. If someone can provide those numbers, I would love to see them. Suffice to say, there is not any sort of lab-based exam regarding HP wireless that I am aware of.

Conferences

HP Discover has been going on for several years now, and occurs in multiple parts of the globe. When I attended the Las Vegas conference in 2011, I tried to attend as many networking sessions as I could. Several of them were wireless focused. However, these sessions tended to be very high level and didn’t have a whole lot of technical content. I do recall one session in 2011 that covered their wireless security solutions that had some technical content.

As for the 2015 conference in Las Vegas that I attended last week, I recall just one session that seemed to be HP wireless specific. I skipped it after learning it would not be Aruba-focused, so I am not entirely sure how much technical depth was in that session. The other sessions I attended that were wireless focused were Aruba-centric. Those sessions were relatively high level and seemed to be more of an introduction to the Aruba wireless line. I attribute that to the very short time Aruba had to prepare for the conference.

I should also point out that except for the keynotes, I didn’t see any video recording of the sessions in either the 2011 show or the 2015 show. When I went to look for past sessions, I found nothing of any significant value. As for videos, the lack of recordings of breakout sessions meant that there was nothing to watch, other than an occasional interview with HP Networking executives. A search for HP Wireless videos on YouTube, simply gave me a bunch of videos with people fixing printer problems.

As for their show floor at HP Discover, they always had their wireless gear on display, except for the 2015 show. If you wanted any sort of technical depth on HP wireless, you had to talk to the people on the show floor.

Having attended the Las Vegas Interop show a few times, I have seen HP with a large booth each year I visited. The wireless group from HP tended to be at all of those shows as well. They had all of their products on display, and if you wanted to chat with someone from the wireless unit, they were available, much like at the HP Discover show I attended in 2011.

Design Guides

I found one. It is from 2010 and can be seen here. I could not find anymore. That isn’t to say that they don’t exist. I even checked the partner site, since I work for an HP partner. If you deal with servers and storage, there is a decent amount of content on the partner site. However, for networking, I found nothing of substance.

External Technical Websites

This would be the place where I tell you about non-HP websites/blogs that write about HP wireless topics. I couldn’t find any. Of course, I don’t speak and read every language across the globe, so if a site didn’t show up in an English Google search, I missed it.

Forums

As for the forums, there are some posts on HP’s support site, but they tend to be relatively sparse. It doesn’t appear to be a very active segment of the HP support forums site.

Marketing

HP has a decent marketing machine. It appears to be directed at management though. I assume they have a pretty decent sized budget, but I am guessing a lot of that effort gets focused on the personal systems, or the server and storage side of the house. I don’t see much in the way of HP wireless, if any. It isn’t for lack of looking on my part. I get tons of e-mails from various vendors. I even allow LinkedIn to send me e-mails when people post to groups. I see an occasional e-mail about HP Networking, but never really about the wireless line.

Resellers

I don’t know how big the partner network is for HP in the realm of networking. I suspect it is the same deal as a lot of other vendor partners. Partners tend to sell big for one or two brands in the networking space and maintain a partner relationship for other vendors they don’t sell as much for. They are essentially partners in name only. Think of it as an insurance policy. If you don’t want my primary vendor(usually Cisco), I can offer you this other vendor(e.g. Juniper, Brocade, HP, etc).

Within the US, there are some big national resellers who will sell HP wireless gear, and probably some more regionally focused partners who do the same. I am familiar with all of the big players in my home market of Nashville, and I am unaware of any of them who move any HP wireless gear in substantial numbers. It may also be regionally focused. I know of one particular reseller with a presence in Nashville who does very little HP business in Tennessee, but sells a LOT of it in Florida. I fully admit I may have a limited view into the HP partner ecosystem, so I may be way off in my assessment of HP wireless sales.

Social Media

HP has a pretty large social media presence, just not in the HP wireless realm. Let me give you a quick test. Go to Twitter’s website. Search for “HP wireless”. Look at the results. Now, search for “Cisco wireless”. Look at the results. See the difference?

I realize there is more to social media than Twitter. I checked Facebook. Nothing to note. I am sure you can find something on LinkedIn, but I am guessing it is more along the lines of finding HP employees to connect with.

Aruba’s Wireless Ecosystem

Books

Sorry Aruba. You have no books to speak of. Considering you do have design guides and a fair amount of training courses, it isn’t all bad I suppose.

Certification Programs

Although not as popular as Cisco wireless certifications, Aruba does have a very healthy certification program. From the basic high-level certification like the Aruba Certified Solutions Professional(ACSP) to the Aruba Certified Mobility Expert(ACMX) and Aruba Certified Design Expert(ACDX) certifications, there is something for everyone. People with the ACMX or ACDX certifications are required to pass a lab exam and are given a number unique to them when they pass. This is not something that is trivial to setup. It takes a lot more work to setup a proctored lab exam than it does to put together 100 or so questions for a written exam.

I am sitting in an Aruba Mobility Bootcamp course this week. It is the third Aruba course I have taken in the past year or so. The courses have materials that are all branded the same, which indicates a unity in course planning and management. It is a well oiled machine. Instructor knowledge varies, but is pretty good in my limited experience. When I took the ClearPass Advanced Labs course last year, it was taught by an ACMX. You can see the full certification layout here.

Conferences

Aruba has its Atmosphere conference every year in multiple cities around the globe. The Las Vegas show is probably the biggest one. The conference is fairly heavy on the technical side. There are multiple tracks, but the Airheads track is for the technical end user.

A large number of these sessions are video recorded, and you can watch the videos on YouTube. Click here for a playlist of the 2015 Las Vegas show session videos. Additionally, as an Aruba Partner, I have access to the presentations that were restricted to Aruba partners. A lot of them were video recorded. The ones that were not recorded have the slide deck available for download.

Although I have never been to an Aruba conference, I expect all of their technology was on display at each event. I have no doubt there were plenty of Aruba experts on hand to talk about any facet of the technology. If you watch some of the breakout session videos, you will see a good amount of technical depth around their solutions.

I fully expect to see the full line of Aruba products on display at upcoming HP Discover conferences. What I will be curious about is if they have the same in depth technical breakout sessions that Atmosphere is known for.

Design Guides

I like what Aruba is doing in the way of design guides. Although just HAVING them is a good thing, they go a step further and make them publicly available to anyone without having to register on their website(You use a fake e-mail address for those sites, right?). You can see the design guides here(http://community.arubanetworks.com/t5/tkb/v2/page/blog-id/Aruba-VRDs/page/1?_ga=1.137053936.1587483989.1417455721). There are about 25 of them available as of this post.

External Technical Websites

There are several Wi-Fi professionals out there that write technical articles about Aruba Networks. I’ll mention three of them, but I can assure you there are more. I specifically mention these three because they have real-world implementation experience with Aruba. Many of us who blog about all sorts of stuff may only have lab experience or an academic understanding when it comes to certain vendors.

Chris Lyttle maintains the Wi-Fi Kiwi site, where he writes about all things wireless. He has done a fair amount of Aruba implementations, and he writes frequently about them.

Eddie Forero maintains the Wi-Fi Republic site, where he also writes about all things wireless. He has a fair amount of Aruba work under his belt as well.

Charlie Clemmer works for Aruba….errrr HP, but maintains his own personal site where he writes about……you guessed it…..Aruba Networks.

Forums

The Airheads community is a vibrant one. You can take a peek by clicking here. Lots of engineers participate in asking and answering questions. In addition to the forum posts that are primarily Q&A based, there are frequent blog posts by Aruba employees as well as by outside wireless folks. You can see the latest blog posts here. I read a lot of these posts and I can tell you that they range from high-level to very deep from a technical perspective.

In addition to just having the Airheads community, Aruba Networks saw fit to appoint Sean Rynearson as chief Airhead, to ride herd over that unruly mob of Wi-Fi geeks. When he isn’t posting his scheduled tweet about joining Airheads(I kid. I kid.), Sean posts some pretty interesting links to technical content. It is nice to be able to reach out to a known human whenever issues or general questions arise!

Marketing

Aruba does a pretty good job of marketing. They understand who they are marketing to and have a good mix of technical and high-level information. Although I am not a fan of webinars in general, Aruba has a fair amount of them available for partners and customers. As far as other marketing content, I seem to get a pretty steady stream of it via e-mail and via their YouTube page. I don’t necessarily like all of the videos, but there is a decent mix of things that would apply to managers and those that apply to more technical people.

One thing I do like in the way of marketing is their website. It is pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. On the parter side of the website, I have access to a fair amount of information. I would especially like to note the Arubapedia site that partners have access to. It is a tremendous amount of information related to all things Aruba from a technical perspective.

Resellers

There are plenty of Aruba partners out there. When it comes to supporting partners, Aruba gets it. I have access to almost anything I need from a hardware and software perspective. The Aruba account teams I work with in Tennessee are always willing to help out in order to make us more effective as a partner. Whether it is training classes, or just help when we run into issues with implementations, they have always been willing to assist. I know that as the organization grows and more partners are onboarded, it will be more difficult for Aruba to give all of them the same service that my company receives today. However, I have access to a local Aruba partner rep, so if we are overloading the account teams, that person is able to step in and help out in any way they can.

Social Media

When compared with the presence of HP Wireless in social media, Aruba has them vastly outnumbered. Consider that Aruba has representation on Twitter from the CTO down to the engineers. Marketing is on it as well. If you need to reach out to someone within Aruba, there is a good chance that you can find them via social media. Go to Twitter and search for Aruba Networks. You’ll find an active corporate Twitter account along with a large number of Aruba employees. You’ll also find them on LinkedIn.

Closing Thoughts

When it comes to ecosystem, Aruba has HP Wireless beat hands down. When I think about what Aruba is to become, being part of HP, it looks promising. I say that knowing that Dominic Orr and Keerti Melkote will lead the HP Networking campus division. They fully understand the value of the Aruba ecosystem. I can only imagine that they will keep it intact. I have to take Dominic Orr at his word when he mentioned during the Atmosphere 2015 keynote in Las Vegas, that nothing will change.

HP certainly has the resources to build a great ecosystem. With the boost to their networking division that Aruba Networks gives them, I expect that ecosystem to grow much larger than it is today. Once HP splits into two companies, more focus can be directed towards winning the business of corporate customers, and adding more resources to their existing and future partners.

 
Posted in aruba, hp, vendors | Leave a comment

Let’s Revisit The Aruba Networks Acquisition

Aruba-HP-LogoBack in February, I wrote a piece entitled “HP Buying Aruba?”. In that post, I provided some context around why I thought HP buying Aruba could end up being a bad idea. I also mentioned in that post that I hoped HP did right by Aruba’s customer base and didn’t put the corporate handcuffs on them.

After several months and many conversations with HP, Aruba, and my peers, I have a different take. I am not 100% ready to back off from my concerns though. The acquisition has closed. The deal is done. However, it is too early in the process to be certain of much of anything regarding the future state of Aruba, its products, and its ability to execute as they have in the past. Let’s just say I am about 75% headed in the opposite direction of my initial concerns.

This past week, I was fortunate enough to attend HP Discover in Las Vegas. HP paid for my travel and expenses for HP Discover. For that, I thank them and I can definitively tell you that I was not pressured into writing anything as a result of this trip. As luck would have it, Aruba had a decent presence at the conference. Since the acquisition of Aruba by HP just closed a few weeks ago, there was a lot that could not be done from a legal standpoint until the deal closed. When I initially registered for HP Discover, I didn’t see much of anything in the way of sessions regarding Aruba Networks on the agenda. Thankfully, that changed in short order and I was able to sit in on numerous sessions related to Aruba Networks and their products/strategy in the past few days.

Most of the sessions were very basic in nature. I attribute that to a very short amount of time that was given to Aruba to prepare, since they couldn’t really cooperate with HP until the deal was closed. Additionally, the assumption was probably made that most wireless people at HP Discover would not be existing Aruba customers. I’d say that was probably a fair assessment. The geek in me would have loved to see sessions similar to what were given at Aruba’s Atmosphere conference, but that would have taken a lot more time to prepare for, and Aruba just didn’t have that kind of time. Nevertheless, it was a valiant effort on the part of Aruba, and I think they did the best they could with the limited time they had to prepare.

Well, if I didn’t learn much in the sessions, except for the Meridian one, was I able to get any additional information at the conference? In short, yes. I had quite a few conversations with a few folks at Aruba and HP, as well as some discussions with other fellow bloggers who were there with me. Although nothing was 100% in terms of future state, I think I got a good feel for where I THINK they are headed with the combined companies.

I’d like to take some time and really expound on a few key areas like ecosystem, company culture, execution, and final Aruba/HP product disposition. However, I also think it is worthwhile to try and get a feel for who Aruba is as a company. If you are familiar with them already, then this post probably isn’t for you. Wait until my follow up posts on the key areas I just mentioned. They should be coming out this week, unless the Aruba training class I am in gets the better of me and I am mentally exhausted after each day.

If you aren’t familiar with Aruba and their company culture, here are a few video clips that may help you understand them:

The following excerpt is from the keynote address that Dominic Orr gave at Aruba’s Atmosphere 2015 conference in Las Vegas. You can watch the whole thing if you want, but I think the interesting part comes at the end when Dominic explains the HP acquisition. If you don’t want to watch it, here is a TL/DR version where I paraphrase Dominic’s comments.

1. The Airheads community is Aruba’s biggest asset.
2. All partners are an incredible asset to the company.
3. Our loyalty and dedication to you will not change. Customer first. Customer last. That aspect of Aruba’s culture will not change. That culture is an appreciation of how customers stuck their neck out and took a chance on Aruba. Aruba will not forget that.
4. Aruba will go out to battle with you. That competitive culture and commitment to being the leader in the mobile access layer will not change.

Watch video up to about 1:30.

Another video out of the same Atmosphere conference was a Tech Field Day roundtable discussion. There are some interesting points made by members of the panel, but I think the real value of this discussion starts with the audience questions. Two main things to note in this portion of the video that begins at 17min45sec into it. First, Ben Carnevale makes a VERY good point regarding company culture, and Ryan Adzima adds relevant commentary around it. Second, Eddie Forero adds on to Ben’s comment with the statement that although he trusts Dominic Orr, he wants HP to NOT make him a liar.

Closing Thoughts

Once you understand how different Aruba Networks is from HP in terms of culture, you understand why there was so much initial hesitation around this acquisition. I’m a lot more optimistic after spending last week at HP Discover, but there are still plenty of unknowns. A lot can happen in the next year. I’ll look into my crystal ball in follow up posts and see if I can make sense of how this Aruba acquisition can be a good thing. There’s also the potential for it to be a bad thing, but I think there are some good things in motion that should prevent that.

 
Posted in aruba, hp, vendors, wireless | 2 Comments

HP Buying Aruba?

hplogoTwo things happened today. First, Twitter blew up at some point with rumors of HP in talks to buy Aruba. Second, my shares of Aruba stock shot up about 20%. I was disappointed with the first and pleased with the second. Of course, they were directly related.

 
In Case You Weren’t Aware…..
 
HP has had some issues over the past several years. Not so much issues with their technology, which has always been good, but more so with execution. The latest attempt to right the ship has been to split the company into two distinct entities. Trim the fat off of the corporate monster so to speak. Or, maybe a better way to put it is that HP wants to become less of an “all things to all customers” type of company, and more of a “some things to some customers” type of company. Some customers will be served by one of the two HP companies, and some customers will be served by the other, or both. This allows more focus in certain areas, and focus is never a bad thing.
 
Why Does It Matter If HP Buys Aruba?
 
Although this is all speculation, allow me to continue down this road of “speculation”. I realize that neither HP nor Aruba have confirmed any of this. This is probably someone telling someone else something they weren’t supposed to tell. That person tells someone else, and next thing you know, it ends up as an article on a finance site. We all tweet about it and fuel the frenzy, along with the investors who look at balance sheets and run up the stock price of Aruba. By the time it is all over, people will form opinions based on a mix of facts and rumors and one side will have you believe the CEO’s of both companies drown kittens in their spare time. Or, those in favor will have you believe that God almighty came down from heaven and helped to broker this deal. Hopefully, we all end up somewhere in the middle.
 
To answer the question of why it matters, I have to look at it from differing points of view. The first is that of a shrewd business person. The second is that of a technical person who likes the world of technology, and especially Wi-Fi. These are MY views and mine alone. As always, I could completely misrepresent each position and could be completely wrong. I could also be right. Time will tell, and the Internet never forgets, thanks to archives. :)
 
Business View
 
Money. That’s it. Spare me the idealism and desire to do good for the world one widget at a time. Profit-based companies exist to return value to their shareholders, be they public or private. Jobs and philanthropy are a secondary benefit. If you are public, there are a lot of people in expensive suits poring over your books and demanding answers to why you came in at 1 cent below expectations for the quarter. Business is war, make no mistake. Pretty it up with other terms, but the goal is always market domination because that returns the most bang for the buck. Why start a profit-based business if you don’t think you have what it takes to succeed? Nobody wants to work into their 80’s just to pay the rent. We all want to retire and enjoy the fruits of our labor in our twilight years.
 
If, and this is still an “if”, Aruba sells to HP, it is for money. Aruba’s shareholders, and I am one of them, get paid. HP gets a good company with good technology, and thus, they get paid as well. The Aruba portfolio and client list will strengthen HP in the wireless arena. They are already selling Aruba wireless gear today, so it isn’t like Aruba is completely foreign to HP. Of course, so is Dell. Aruba also has semi-partnerships with Brocade and Juniper. As my friend Tom points out:
 


 
From a business perspective, this means that HP can compete a LOT more with Cisco, who teeters around the 50% market share in regards to wireless. If HP can buy Aruba at a decent price, I would say the business folks would be okay with that. Don’t ask me what a decent price is, but my guess is somewhere north of 2 billion USD.
 
Technology View
 
Aruba has good wireless technology. Ignore the silly marketing videos from Aruba and Cisco where they are smashing and drowning access points, and consider that if Aruba’s technology didn’t work, they wouldn’t be the number two player in the enterprise market. There isn’t enough lipstick in the world to put on a pig to give it that kind of market share.
 
If the technology is good, and HP buys Aruba, what is the problem? I submit to you that it is going to be a problem of execution on HP’s side. Take a look at what they are doing in wireless. Does anything stand out? How many HP wireless customers do you know of? I know they are out there. That much is true. What I can tell you is that in the 3 and a half years I have been with my current employer, I have come across one HP wireless install. It was for a school system in the area I live in(Nashville,TN). Just one. I realize that I have not been to every company in the world. I have not seen the networks running thousands of HP wireless access points. I have seen plenty of Aruba and Cisco wireless installs. I’ve come across Aerohive, Ruckus, Ubiquiti, Meraki(pre-Cisco), Extreme, and even SonicWall. In the wild, I have found AirTight, Meru, and Brocade(Motorola), but never HP.
 
Perhaps I am looking in the wrong places though. Your mileage may vary. Perhaps all you see is HP wireless installs. I HAVE seen, and worked on, plenty of HP ProCurve switches. There’s lots of those around. I just haven’t seen much HP wireless out there.
 
Back to the present day HP wireless though. Can you think of anything that sets HP apart in the wireless field? Can you describe them the same way you would Ruckus, Aerohive, or even Meru as it relates to technology that sets them apart?
 
In my mind, their wireless marketing is non-existent. You never see them out there. You never hear about them. Wireless companies with much smaller market share and marketing dollars are out there spreading their message constantly. Whether it is in social media or at technical events, they are out there. Perhaps I am in a bubble though. I fully accept the fact that I may be in a social media bubble as it relates to technology, and all of my peers that I interact with are focused on just a handful of vendors, or in some cases, just one. That is a possibility.
 
Let’s assume I am not in a bubble though. Let’s just assume that my reasoning is sound. When I think of wireless companies, I don’t rank HP in the top 5. That is not a dig on their technology. Not at all. To me, it is a matter of focus. I had the same problem with F5 dipping into the firewall space, and Riverbed dipping into the load balancer space(Sold to Brocade, by the way.). Brand recognition is important. What a company is known for is important, and changing people’s perceptions of that takes time and a whole lot of marketing.
 
When I think about HP buying Aruba, I see nothing but a slow death for Aruba’s product set within the HP machine. I fully expect them to get sucked up into a much larger corporation and get beat down with more corporate bureaucracy. I hope I am wrong though. I don’t think I am the only one who expected Meraki to get sucked up into Cisco and slowly killed off from a corporate culture standpoint. I have been surprised at how long Cisco has let them run as is, but with the Meraki founders leaving Cisco recently, maybe it wasn’t as it seemed.
 
Closing Thoughts
 
If Aruba sells to HP, I hope that they continue to flourish. I hope that they are allowed to keep doing what they do today in terms of customer and partner engagement. I can tell you that Aruba is a good company to partner with from a technical perspective. The local Aruba team my company is engaged with are good folks. There is never a problem with providing whatever hardware we need to be successful. Training has been forthcoming as well. Aruba also has a really visible online and marketing presence.
 
I also hope that HP is serious about succeeding in the wireless arena. I hope that they use the goodwill that Aruba has and make their presence felt in the market. Maybe in a few years, HP will be a name that I hear people mention when considering wireless vendors.
 
I say all of this with consideration of the fact that the overwhelming majority of wireless work I do these days are with Cisco implementations. I’m typing this post in a hotel after finishing another Cisco wireless survey. I like Cisco wireless. It’s a good product. It works. The management piece is a whole different animal. :) I also like Aruba. Maybe a better way to put it is that I like competition. It makes all vendors better. If one vendor dominates a space too much, I think the wireless market as a whole suffers. While I hope that I am wrong with Aruba going off to die in HP, I can’t help but think that Cisco is all too happy to see this acquisition happen, if the rumors are true. Based on the previous years of HP missteps, I can see why this could be a good thing for Cisco.
 
I would love to hear your thoughts. Am I missing anything? Completely wrong?
 

 
Posted in aruba, hp, wireless | 3 Comments