CRN Exclusive: HPE's Aruba Networks Is Building A Networking Product Line For SMBs Aimed At Competing With Cisco

Aruba Networks CEO Dominic Orr told CRN that the networking vendor, for the first time, is building a new low-end product line that partners say is sure to take a bite out of Cisco SMB share.

Orr said he plans to leverage the Hewlett Packard Enterprise SMB channel muscle to break into the SMB market early next year.

"We traditionally have not been very focused on SMB, so for us, it is totally a market untapped," said Orr, in an interview with CRN. "Aruba's product is not low-end oriented. Since the [HPE] merger, we have been working on a low-end line of products … We have to tap into the HPE SMB engine which they have."

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Orr said he expects to launch the new low-end SMB product lines for both wireless and switching in early 2017.

Channel partners are bullish on the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor's entrance into the SMB market, saying the new solutions will give them the firepower needed to attack Cisco's market share.

"HPE will definitely help open doors for Aruba to the SMB and help them better compete with Cisco's brand recognition in this space," said Chris Atha, senior vice president of Advantel Networks, a San Jose, Calif.-based Aruba partner, ranked No. 271 on the CRN Solution Provider 500 list.

Atha said partners trying to compete for SMB business with enterprise-grade products is complex, costly and typically doesn't end in a sales win.

"Having purpose-built solutions for the SMB space is very important for us and will help us [build] a more profitable and sticky business," said Atha. "There are only 500, Fortune 500 companies and the majority of our customer base comes from the small and midsize market."

Orr said cloud-based networking management is important for SMB companies and an area where Aruba wants to drive sales through the channel with the company's cloud-based network management and monitoring solution: Aruba Central.

"I do want to enable our channel partners so that they could have the price-point and they will be able to centralize manage a lot of small customers," said Orr. "So the cloud-based management we call Aruba Central, and the low-end product lines for both the switching and wireless component, and then tapping into the HPE SMB engine [is our plan]."

The HPE-Aruba SMB product is targeted squarely in the market segment where Cisco is most vulnerable, said Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, a top HPE partner, No. 167 on the 2016 CRN SP500.

"It's still very difficult to take Cisco out of the core of the network," he said. "There are not a lot of enterprise companies that are willing to create turmoil by pulling out their core networking infrastructure. In the small and medium business market, Cisco is ripe to be taken out with products like Aruba and Force 10. Aruba is going to bring a lot of value for partners playing in that SMB segment."

Cisco declined to comment on this story.

HPE and Aruba had been relatively quiet following HPE's acquisition of Aruba for $3 billion in May of 2015.

At HPE's 2016 Global Partner Conference in Boston in September, the two companies unveiled their first-ever joint partner program, combining the best elements of the Aruba Partner Edge and HPE Partner Ready programs. The new Partner Ready for Networking Program became the company's new networking channel go-to-market strategy.

Additional reporting by Steve Burke.