Aruba Isn’t A Wireless Company (Any More)

Remember when Aruba was a wireless company? I know it sounds like something that happened 40 years ago but the idea that Aruba only really made wireless access points and some campus switches to support them isn’t as old as you think. The company, now known as HPE Aruba Networking (née Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company), makes more than just Wi-Fi gear. Yet the perception of the industry is that they’re still a wireless company looking to compete with the largest parts of the market.

Branching Out of Office

This year’s Aruba Atmopshere showed me that Aruba is trying to do more than just campus wireless. The industry has shifted away from just providing edge connectivity and is now focused on a holistic lineup of products that are user-focused. You don’t need to go much further than the technical keynote on the second day of the conference to see that. Or the Networking Field Day Experience videos linked above.

Do you know what Aruba wanted to showcase?

  • Campus Switches
  • Data Center Switches
  • Private 5G/LTE
  • IoT
  • Cloud-Enabled Management

You know what wasn’t on that list? Access points. For a “wireless” company that’s a pretty glaring omission, right? I think it’s actually a brilliant way to help people understand that HPE Aruba Networking is a growing part of the wider HPE business dedicated to connectivity.

It’s been discussed over the years that the HPE acquisition of Aruba was a “reverse acquisition”. That basically means that HPE gave Aruba control over their campus (and later data center) networking portfolio and let them run with it. It was successful and really helped highlight the needs that HPE had in that space. No one was talking about the dominance of Procurve switches. HPE was even reselling Arista gear at the time for the high end customers. Aruba not only was able to right the ship but help it grow over time and adopt home-grown offerings.

When you think of companies like Juniper and Cisco, do you see them as single product vendors? Juniper makes more than just service provider routers. Cisco makes more than just switches. They have distinct lines of business that provide offerings across the spectrum. They both sell firewalls and access points. They both have software divisions. Cisco sells servers and unified communications gear on top of everything else they do. There’s more to both of them than meets the eye.

Aruba needed to shed the wireless moniker in order to grow into a more competitive market segment. When you’re known as a single product vendor you tend to be left out of conversations. Would you call Palo Alto for switches or wireless? No, because they’re a firewall or SASE company. Yes, they make more than those products but they have a niche, as opposed to more diverse companies. I’m not saying Palo Alto isn’t diverse, just that they define their market segment pretty effectively. So much so that people don’t even call application firewalls by that name any longer. They’re “Palo Altos”, giving the company the same generic trademark distinction as Kleenex and Velcro.

User Face-to-Face

Aruba needs to develop the product lines that help get users connected. Wireless is an easy layup for them now so where do they expand? Switches are a logical extension so the CX lines were developed and continue to do well. The expansion into private LTE and security also help significantly, which are bolstered by their recent acquisitions.

Security is an easy one to figure out. Aruba has gone from SD-Branch, focused on people working in remote offices, to add on true SD-WAN functionality with the Silver Peak purchase, to now offering SSE with Axis Security being folded in to the mix. SSE is a growing market segment because the services offered are what users consume. SASE works great if you’re working from home all the time. In the middle of the pandemic that was a given. People had home offices and did their work there.

But now that restrictions are relaxed and people aren’t going into the office all the time. This hybrid work model means no hardware to do the inspection. Since SSE is not focused on hardware it’s a great fit for a mobile hybrid workforce. If you remember how much Aruba was touting the BYOD wireless-only office trend back in 2016 and 2017 you can see how SSE would have been a wonderful fit back then if it had existed. Given how the concept of a wireless-only BYOD office was realized through not having an office I’d say SSE is a perfect fit for the modern state of the enterprise.

Private 5G is a bit more complicated. Why would Aruba embrace a technology that effectively competes with its core business? I’d say that’s because they need to understand the impact that private cellular will have on their business. People aren’t dumping Wi-Fi and moving en masse to CBRS. We’ve reached a point where we’re considering what the requirements for private LTE deployments need to look like and where the real value lies for them. If you have a challenging RF environment and have devices capable of taking SIM cards it makes a lot of sense. Aruba having a native way of providing that kind of connectivity for users that are looking to offer it is also a huge win. It’s also important to note that Aruba wants to make sure it has complete control over the process, so what better way than acquiring a mature company that can integrate into their product lines?

Tom’s Take

I can’t take full credit for this idea. Avril Salter pointed it out during a briefing and I thought it was a wonderful point. Aruba isn’t a wireless company now because they’ve grown to become a true networking company. They offer more than just APs and devices that power them. There have a full line of products that address the needs of a modern user. The name change isn’t just a branding exercise. It represents a shift in the way people need to see the company. Growing beyond what you used to be isn’t a bad thing. It’s a sign of maturity.