Aerohive Gains Partners, And Finally, A Buzz In WLAN Channel

The wireless LAN channel might be a crowded place, but Aerohive sees plenty of opportunity. And with a formal channel program finally established to back up its technology offerings, the four-year-old company hopes 2010 is the year it makes big gains on what for a few years now has been strong buzz.

Tech-wise, that buzz has been around Aerohive's "cooperative control architecture," offering customers the ability to deploy 11n access points (AP) in a controller-less approach that moves moving controller functions into the APs themselves and takes jobs like data forwarding away from a single point of failure.

No controller, Aerohive proudly notes, often means lower price points than some wireless incumbents, and it's what's helping Aerohive push down from its enterprise base into midmarket accounts. It rationalizes cost of AP (the Hive AP 320 model runs $999, as does the AP 340 model), versus total cost of solution, and its customers, Aerohive notes, don't require controllers and support costs for those controllers.

Since emerging in 2007, the company's continued to fatten its portfolio. This June came a free Wi-Fi planning tool -- included in the 3.5 version release of HiveManager -- that allows organizations to determine the number of APs they need based on uploaded maps or an assigned perimeter. Late July brought the latest releases of its Hive operating system and Hive Manager 3.5, its management platform which included new WLAN administration tools and more extensive troubleshooting.

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It's financial position continues to strengthen, too; Aerohive most recently secured a new, $23.5 million round of Series C equity funding in March.

What's lacked until recently, however, is a structured channel program to accommodate and grow its burgeoning base of partners.

In early April, it hired Rob Pollock as director of channel sales for the Americas. Pollock, who previously held channel roles with HP, Tech Data, Secure Computing and Aladdin Knowledge Systems and placed among CRN's Top 25 Channel Executives You Need To Know in 2007, hit the ground running, and during his first two months, spent a lot of his time on the road pounding the pavement with current and prospective channel partners.

"I've been in the channel 25 years and at the beginning of this year I was looking for different opportunities," Pollock said in a recent CRN interview. "I wanted to find a company that had a game-changing product and something that channel partners who had been around for a long time would find interesting and profitable. I knew it was most likely going to be a smaller company, and probably in security or wireless."

The goal isn't thousands or even high hundreds of partners, Pollock said, and not to flood various metropolitan markets with too many Aerohive VARs.

In its recruitment efforts, he said, the company is looking for VARs with wireless backgrounds, infrastructure VARs looking to expand their competencies, and vertically-focused solution providers with strong action in health care and education, particularly K-12.

Pollock said Aerohive is undeterred by a lack of brand recognition and champions the gains its made in an exceptionally crowded market.

"We'll overcome it one appointment and one phone call at a time," he said. "What you want to do is make your partners independent, so they can touch you and use you when they need to, but be successful on their own."

Next: Aerohive Partners Dig The Hive Mentality

Aerohive's recently inaugurated channel program classifies partners in three levels: silver, gold and platinum, each with successively greater product discounts, sometimes as high as 30 percent. The program is still a work in progress but Pollock and his team are working on messaging to partners and finalizing what Pollock calls "rich deal registration with regular partner communications."

Shawn Tsetsilas, director of business development, WLAN, at CSI Wireless, a Manchester, N.H.-based solution provider, said his biggest wins with Aerohive so far have come in the K-12 space. In an interview, he said the vendor's tenacity was what convinced CSI to add Aerohive, and that the organization has been closely aligned with helping CSI win deals -- including six projects that Aerohive brought to CSI during the first two months of their relationship.

"I discounted them at first, because honestly there's only so many [vendors] you can carry and there are only so many technical resources you can provide," Tsetsilas said. "But they're actually our No. 2 player now, Cisco being No. 1. The reason for that is the attention they're able to provide to us, and they saw opportunities that were closeable, with good margins, and they brought them in."

PlanIT Technology Group, a longtime solution provider based in Virginia Beach, Va., added Aerohive within the past year, and its Aerohive successes so far have also been primarily in K-12, said Glenn Webb, PlanIT's director of sales operations.

"I think it's a little too early to say good, bad, or ugly," Webb said of Aerohive's channel program.

But as for the technology?

"It goes in and it works. It's a controller-less solution, goes in, and gets up and running, and done. What management capabilities it has are adequate for what they're [K-12 customers] looking for, and they're happy with what they're getting," he said. "We have a good co-branded go-to-market strategy, and doing some joint funding of some campaigns, and we have seen new opportunities from those initiatives."

Aerohive's next focus should be expanding the types of services it can offer to partners, Tsetsilas suggested.

"We have a NOC and we do monitoring services and everything," he said. "I want to offer Aerohive as-a-service. You don't see that from Cisco or Aruba."

Expanding its direct sales force, too, will increase the attention it can drive to its channel partners, Tsetsilas added.

"You have people that just chase the channel: they come to us and they say, where are the projects, where are the projects," he said. "That's not the case here. The manufacturer has a responsibility to provide marketing air cover, and I'm seeing it from Aerohive."