I spent a few days on the sunny Las Vegas strip with the team from Aruba last week at its annual customer event - Atmosphere 19. This year’s attendance recorded almost two thousand attendees and eight hundred partners. Aruba continues to grow and provided some stats to support that, citing over 1Billion switch ports, 15M access ports, 500,000 customers, 90,000 or so Airheads, and over 4000 patents. HPE Aruba is now at three billion in revenues and looking towards future growth that would get them to five billion.
The keynotes reflected Aruba’s mantra of “customer first, customer last” with Keerti Melkote kicking off the event. However, unlike previous years, he did not talk about vision, but rather the growing requirement for IT to deliver positive experiences to their customers (ed. note – I take this to mean both internal and external customers) as organizations embrace digital transformation, adopt cloud services (IaaS and SaaS), initiate IoT initiatives, and begin to distribute computing to the edge. This is not to imply that Aruba is abandoning their foundational principles of secure networking – those concepts are still very much embedded in the Aruba culture. Rather it is a recognition that as the IT environment become more distributed and complex, it is more important to provide ubiquitous connectivity and a positive experience, regardless of which application or device you are connecting to or from what location you connect from. ESG research supports this approach as midmarket and enterprise organizations cite improved security, enhanced customer experiences, and improved business workflows as top justifications for IT purchases.
The rest of the keynotes on day one revolved around the products and solution roadmaps and/or announcements that would help organizations provide the requisite levels of connectivity and experience. Some of the highlights included:
- New access points. Aruba announced the new 530 and 550 APs to support the transition to 802.11ax or (WiFi6). However, these will also include Bluetooth and Zigbee protocols to drive consolidation for short range IoT initiatives. These additional protocols will be useful for location services and electronic door locks (for dorms and hotels) for which you can use your phone as a key. Aruba also announced new high PoE switches 2930M to accompany the new access points.
- ClearPass Device Insight, a new software package designed to find and identify IoT devices on your network. You might be thinking, “that’s nice, but I already know everything that is connected to my network.” That's probably what the IT department said at that casino that got hacked through the fish tank thermometer! Aruba cited a beta customer example that found an abandoned digital sign that had been hacked and was used in a bot net that was sending information to over 100 different countries! It doesn’t take much of a reach to see how this would fit with other Aruba applications as well, such as Aruba’s Meridian technology to help organizations with asset tracking and location services, (note: Meridian is already integrated with ServiceNow CMDB)
- Strong alignment with IoT- In addition to the new protocols and applications, Aruba has been working with Siemens for over three years now on delivering integrated IT/OT solutions into many demanding Industrial, manufacturing environments. I was able to catch a breakout session with Micheal Tennefoss and Siemens to better understand how they were helping to bridge the gap as these organizations modernize their IT and OT systems.
- Progress in the Branch, or to be more specific, the SD-Branch. Kishore Seshadri discussed the progress its SD-Branch solutions have made over the last year, racking up over 150 customers and relationships with ATT to deliver unified wired, wireless, and WAN for remote locations. As the edge continues to grow in importance (see comments above re IoT), the ability to simplify connectivity to the cloud, a company data center, and other branch offices will be important. Wrapping in policies for the wired and wireless environment to ensure optimized performance and security should be attractive to most organizations. Kishore highlighted the fact that this organization would be providing new innovations and improvements on a 6-8 week cycle.
- AOS-CX Update and roadmap. Tom Black highlighted the importance and value of building out a cloud-native OS. Essentially that means that this multi-year project effort now enables Tom’s team to rapidly develop and deploy new functionality very quickly and efficiently. As an example, he cited both the Network Analytics Engine or NAE, a built-in network analyzer and alarm thresholding solution (which only required 14 issues to be escalated to engineering upon rollout – out of 500) and NetEdit a network automation and verification engine.
Day two keynotes provided attendees with an in-depth, and at times humorous, demonstration of the expanding Aruba portfolio. Partha Narasimhan was the emcee for the morning as the team illustrated real life examples of how Aruba solutions could improve connectivity and deliver differentiated experiences in a mock university setting complete with interns and audience participation.
HPE Aruba has made a lot of progress over the past year and its focus on the customer experience should pay dividends in 2019 and beyond. Recent acquisitions (i.e., Cape Networks) and product development (ClearPass Device Insight, AOS-CX) has provided Aruba with a broader product portfolio that can provide incremental value. However, it now needs to do more to demonstrate the value of its combined portfolio to not only its traditional Airhead base, but also extend its relationship to the business leaders. This would include demonstrating thought leadership and the value HPE Aruba can deliver for corporate-wide initiatives related to Digital Transformation, Cloud, IoT and the Intelligent Edge.