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Aruba Networks has been a staple company in wireless LAN since at least its 2007 IPO, but it's taken the vendor years to convince partners it was truly serious about the channel. A history of channel conflict and treating solution providers, as one partner put it, as an "option" for closing deals made for tough sledding in the program on several fronts.
But no longer. As Aruba targets $1 billion on the back of an expanded purview beyond its wireless LAN stronghold -- it's about halfway there now, having reported $517 million in revenue for its fiscal 2012, a climb from $178 million as recently as four years earlier -- it's earned the respect of national channel partners who see it as a compelling alternative to Cisco and as having enabled the channel behind the explosive BYOD trend.
Aruba observers interviewed by CRN over a three-month period said it's also hitting that stride at just the right time, having shored up the No. 2 spot behind Cisco in the wireless LAN market years ago and advancing in areas adjacently important to wireless, such as distributed networking, cloud management and mobile security.
With wireless once again a hot topic thanks to recent events such as Ruckus' IPO and Cisco's $1.2 billion acquisition of Meraki, analysts and solution providers alike agree that Aruba stands to make some of the segment's biggest gains in the coming years -- if its channel story stays consistent and it continues to outgun smaller players attempting to chomp at its market share.
"This is a market for the brave, and Aruba has put almost all of their wood behind the BYOD arrow," said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal at ZK Research. "What I like to think Aruba does is address the post-MDM [mobile device management] problem, in that once you put MDM in and on-board a bunch of devices, then what do you do with unpredictable traffic patterns, location information and other significant challenges."
Aruba's made great use of tuck-in acquisitions such as Amigopod and Avenda, Kerravala said -- technology from which it turned into products such as the Aruba ClearPass access management and mobile device security system.
"That really is the right type of solution for the industry today," Kerravala said. "That's very granular access control -- good security -- so that says a lot about why Aruba has been winning deals. You can build out the wireless network with them for pure connectivity but you also get the security and management."
"Aruba grew up as wireless LAN, but if you look at IT organizations over the last few years, there's not a flush of new resources being put into IT," said Ben Gibson, Aruba's chief marketing officer, in a recent interview with CRN. "There's increasing demand for IT to broaden its specialties. People focused on network management also now have to be up on network architectures and how to mobilize, and also what the security framework is when you have people going from one laptop to two or three different devices. That all changed in the span of just a few years."
Aruba's channel story seems finally to be aligning with its product story. Andy Welsh, director of partner alliances for Accuvant, a Denver-based integrator and top Aruba partner, said Aruba has made channel partnership a priority for its global sales force and that its channel leaders are pushing through more and better programs that provide partners more resources and more profitable returns.
Feedback during Aruba's most recent partner advisory council meeting, held earlier in November, was uniformly positive, Welsh said.
"They've really changed to a channel-centric model instead of this sense of 'channel by convenience,' " Welsh told CRN. "We've always enjoyed the relationship and been a strong partner, but coming out of this last meeting that sense is much greater than from the last two or three."
"Aruba's appeal is that their products just work," said Joe Ambrosole, president of NetConnect, a Staten Island, N.Y.-based solution provider. "It goes in easy, it's price-competitive and it beats any other vendor in that space. They are a good company and they've come up big on the support."
NEXT: Aruba's Three-Year Channel Reboot