Aruba's New Cloud Networking Controller To Challenge Cisco Meraki

Solution providers and analysts are saying Aruba's recently launched series of cloud services controllers for wireless networks managed from the cloud will cut into Cisco Meraki Wi-Fi market share.

On the heels of the news that Hewlett-Packard will likely acquire Aruba sometime this summer, Aruba launched on March 4 its new 7000 series cloud services controllers that integrate multiple networking management capabilities into a single, compact cloud services platform, said Ozer Dondurmacioglu, Aruba's senior director of product marketing in an interview with CRN.

"This is a pretty big deal. It represents a new platform that allows distributed enterprises to enjoy converged networking that is managed through the cloud, and it also represents Aruba making a statement that they will be more than just a [wireless local area network] vendor," said Nolan Greene, a research analyst on network infrastructure for the research firm IDC. "I do think the 7000 series is a viable competitor to Meraki and their recently announced 'cloud-managed IT' initiatives -- it was wise for Aruba to quickly follow Meraki ... Some will want an alternative to Cisco, and Aruba is, thus, a strategic entrant to this market."

[Related: The Big Picture: 5 Viewpoints On HP's Acquisition of Aruba Networks]

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Dondurmacioglu said the 7000 series is geared to branch office networks bringing the "complicated patchwork" of branch appliances and access servers into a single platform that integrates wide area network (WAN) optimization capabilities with a wireless controller that can be managed remotely.

Mark Allen, director of technology and business development for the Torrance, Calif.-based solution provider and Aruba partner VectorUSA, said it was the right timing to launch the product and further validates why HP wants to acquire Aruba.

"With competitors like Cisco Meraki, cloud enterprise customers with branch offices must decide on the Cisco enterprise solution or the Meraki cloud-based solution if they want a single platform with a single pane of glass management as the two solutions are separate," said Allen. "The advantage of the Aruba 7000 series is not that the controller will utilize the same operating system that runs the enterprise or campus, but Aruba also leverages the same [access points] for the cloud as they do the enterprise."

Cisco declined to comment in regards to this story.

"This will be attractive to channel partners because it opens the door for them to a different customer profile that not only cares about wired and wireless networking access, but also cares about WAN services, branch networking -- one appliance that does it all," said Dondurmacioglu. "It's also really, really quick to install. I can deploy your branch offices in 20 days instead of two months."

Greene said it includes many of the same innovations as Cisco's cloud-managed offerings, such as cloud-managed firewall for distributed locations, WAN optimization and other cloud-based WAN management capabilities, as well as integrating wired and wireless management.

The 7000 series also directly integrates with Palo Alto Networks firewalls and Microsoft Lync mobile unified communications.

Andre Kindness, principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research, said he "definitely" sees Aruba's controllers competing with Cisco and that they will be a big boost to the channel.

"I'm getting a lot of calls from clients needing this type of solution, and there really isn't another solution in the market that is exactly the same," said Kindness. "Aruba, Cisco and Fortinet have distinctly different approaches with little overlap. Aruba combines WAN and a wireless controller -- which manages multiple APs -- into a single package. Cisco offers only a single AP in the router, but the router has its own built-in security solution. A customer doesn’t have to turn to a third party, such as Palo Alto."

Allen said the new controllers will allow his team to reach companies that find it cost-prohibitive to take on additional WAN optimization costs at branch offices.

"[We] will be able to show clients a single appliance that will reduce the costs of having security, optimization and management," said Allen.

Dondurmacioglu said the controllers are starting the foundation of creating a software-defined wireless network and is an ideal product for partners.

"Those partners who are thinking in the future, investing five years down the road ... this is a platform that is needed," said Dondurmacioglu.