Aruba President: Mobile First Platform Is A Partner Recurring Revenue Game Changer Vs. Cisco Meraki's 'No Differentiation' Model

Aruba President Dominic Orr told CRN that the company's new Mobile First Platform is set to power a recurring revenue wireless platform as a service revolution in the channel versus what he called rival Cisco Meraki's locked down, "no differentiation" model.

Aruba, in fact, is moving aggressively to exploit its longtime open Application Programming Interface (APIs) and multi-vendor underpinning to get partners to build out their own branded wireless-as-a-service platform leveraging the Mobile First Platform with custom software development and third party application tie ins.

"The difference is Meraki cannot be changed – it's a service - and the service provider is Cisco," said Orr speaking about the Mobile First Platform channel offensive. "So if you're a VAR and you adopt that approach, you are a reseller of Cisco services and you have no differentiation then the other 9,999 VARs that sell the same services. You cannot pre-configure, you cannot add anything. Now at Aruba, we believe that most VARs that want to offer recurring managed network services. They want that differentiation."

[Related: Cisco Mounting White-Label Meraki Offensive Aimed At Driving Recurring Revenues]

Sponsored post

It is that "differentiation" that has Advantel Networks, a San Jose, Calif. based Aruba partner, ranked No. 271 on the CRN Solution Provider 500 list, betting big on the Aruba Mobile First platform.

Chris Atha, senior vice president of Advantel Networks, says the company is seizing on Aruba's software prowess and leveraging the Aruba APIs to drive its own healthcare based wireless platform as a service under its own brand.

"The Aruba API's are a big piece of our strategy to innovate and differentiate ourselves in the system integrator/VAR world," he said. "We are going after the healthcare vertical. There are real specific use cases where we are looking at tying Epic (healthcare software), nurse mobility and call systems and middleware in a wireless, secure IoT environment. We are working on stitching it all together into an end-to-end solution. Long term in healthcare we want to own that intellectual property. This is how an integrator or a VAR is going to transform themselves. We are going at this full force."

Advantel is already out of the software gate with strong expertise in ClearPass policy manager software proving to be a big differentiator versus Cisco Identity Service Engine (ISE), said Atha.

Avantel's Aruba business, in fact, was up double digits in 2016 with record ClearPass software installations. "The engineering services around ClearPass have surged," Atha said with three dedicated engineers doing ClearPass installs around the clock. "We have a backlog of ClearPass deals."

Aruba, for its part, says it already has 120 third party application running under ClearPass, including security applications such as Palo Alto Networks, Juniper Networks, CheckPoint, IBM Security, and Microsoft Security for wired and wireless applications. That security integration, partners says, is a major differentiator for Aruba versus Cisco which is integrating and selling its own security solutions.

There are also 30 vendors building custom mobile applications using Aruba's Meridian software development kit or Aruba Beacons including system integrator Accenture.

The Aruba ClearPass and Merdian API offensive comes in the midst of an Internet of Things applications arms race with companies like Aruba and Cisco driving at a breakneck pace to get the best and brightest partners to deliver next generation IoT applications.

Cisco, for its part, says it is also aggressively pursuing the IoT market with an open API platform for Meraki with a highly profitable white label managed services strategy for partners that is taking hold. There are 1,900 partners globally using the Cisco Meraki custom branding, 10,000 global integrations using Meraki APIs and a 600 member strong Meraki developer community.

Ghazal Asif, director of global channel sales for Cisco Meraki, told CRN that Cisco, which previously only had several APIs for service providers, has made it a top priority to make the platform "open, programmable and extensible" for partners and service providers.

Partners, for their part, say the biggest difference between the Aruba API model and the Cisco API model is the extent of the programmability of the Aruba platform. To prove the point, Aruba has even built a demo of ClearPass with ClearPass Extensions - a set of micro services - querying Amazon's popular Alexa home virtual assistant for Aruba wireless network stats.

John Barker, CEO and co-founder of Versatile Communications, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider and top Aruba partner, said Aruba is ahead of Cisco in driving API adoption by partners and developers and for multivendor network environments in the internet of things era.

"Aruba's ability to support multivendor networks and wireless networks is working," said Barker. "ClearPass is being sold into Cisco environments because they clearly do a better job in terms of security and management than traditional Cisco platforms have done to date. I don't think there's any question that Aruba is ahead of the game in terms of capabilities versus Cisco."

Barker sees a growing community of partners and developers stepping up to build "best of breed" internet of things applications with Aruba with extensive multivendor support, third party integration and customization.

"A lot of nifty apps are going to come out to support Aruba's platform whereas it's been a bit closed over in the Cisco space," Barker said. "You're going to be able to build a much better portfolio of solutions for customers. Aruba is leading the charge in terms of understanding where the Internet of Things is going, where applications are going and the fact that all this intelligence really needs to be at the edge,"

Barker, in fact, said he's investing heavily in Aruba software as part of an as-a-service strategy which he predicts will drive a 30 percent sales growth in his Aruba business in 2017.

"We're putting some very focused sales initiatives around what we think are the opportunities in the wireless-as-a-service with Aruba," said Barker, whose Aruba's business was up 20 percent in 2016. "We've been testing a lot of that [Mobile First Platform] and trying to put a lot of our offerings together … and that includes Meridian."

The Aruba advantage has already helped Versatile win significant deals in the stadium market. "We're deploying an Aruba wireless managed solution with Meridian [inside stadiums] for delivering location services, point of sale services, some pieces around applications that will support those venues as well," said Barker. "We see that as a massive growth area and opportunity. So we're specifically targeting that stadium space with Aruba in 2017."

Pejman Roshan, head of product management, Aruba Management and Cloud Services, says Aruba's wireless platform and API model has been built from the ground up to let partners control and build customizable experiences for customers. The Aruba model is aimed at providing maximum flexibility on APIs, licensing and customer support, he said.

"Partners in a cloud model are nervous about losing control of the customer relationship, they work hard to build up their customer base," says Roshan. "That is their bread and butter. With our MSP model we have built in partner capabilities from the get go. This isn't an after thought for us. If you want to go forward with our MSP model that includes the entire customer experience from initial sale to rollout to support related issues. They are the interface to the customer. That is a first for cloud networking."

Aruba is rolling out cloud capabilities every several weeks for Aruba MSP partners to build upon, said Roshan. One of the biggest releases came in the Fall with the launch of the Aruba API Gateway - the full set of Aruba APIs, including controllers, access points and switches available in a single API Gateway. "What service providers are doing with it is integrating the information they are collecting from the wireless network with the cellular network so they can provide a custom front end that shows integrated usage information for their customers," said Roshan.

Ultimately, the API gateway is allowing service providers to create custom service levels that run the gamut from wireless to cellular to DSL and other offerings, according to Roshan.

"They can do that differentiated level of service because everything we have in our solution is programmatically available," Roshansaid. "It is not just that there is just an API out there. There is an API with full documentation through this API Gateway. As a developer you click on the API you get a blurb on the supporting code that goes with it and example code. It is designed to be developer friendly making it easy for the service provider. They are loving it! We are really, really excited about it."

Aruba's model provides access to not only the management platform but end devices on the network too. "No channel partner wants to be relegated to just reselling a subscription," he said. "We have built this in for partners from day one. It is a significant part of our R&D effort. For every capability we introduce for the end user we make sure that we have programmability from a development standpoint so a partner can customize it. It has to be simple and easy to use so their engineering staff can look at it and intuitively know what to do."

With Aruba, partners can provide a custom service with full applications and networking integration under a single interface, said Roshan. "I don't know of another vendor that allows that level of flexibility," he said.

At the same time, partners have the option of simply white labeling the Aruba offering and selling it to customers under their own brand, said Roshan. "You have to support the spectrum with full programmability for the really sophisticated partners and very simple MSP turnkey capabilities for the less sophisticated partners that don't want big MSP capabilities," he said.

One of the big differentiators for Aruba is multivendor integration including tight integration ties with security vendors, said Roshan. "Multivendor is a big part of the culture here," he said. "We want to make sure that we are understanding of the fact that not every customer has a homogenous networking deployment. It is part of the DNA of the company to understand and be able to integrate into the customer's network and operate the way they want to operate. That has been a huge competitive advantage for us."

Aruba's Roshan says the time has come for partners to embrace the Aruba APIs to provide a completely customized environment for their customers. "This is the next level of differentiation for channel partners – customizing and integrating specifically to meet their customer's needs," he said. "In order to make that claim they need a product that is programmable. There is a difference of releasing a handful of APIs with a PDF that says here is how you use it and delivering a rich programmable product."

Roshan says the customized tailored solution model is going to be the predominant model for partners in the years ahead."Now is the time for partners to deliver custom, tailored solutions that are business- and digital- centric for their enterprise and small and medium business constituents," he said. "This is where the game is going to be going into 2018 and 2019."

Even some of Cisco's top networking partners privately admit that Aruba has a stronger track record for embracing heterogeneous, multivendor network and security environments than Cisco. They say Meraki was built as more of a turnkey solution for SMB environments and only recently has been put forth as an open API offering.

"Meraki isn't built to be super customized," said a senior executive for a top Meraki partner. "The value proposition is that it gives you everything you need and you're off the ground and running."

Phil Mogavero, vice president of Advanced Technology Group network solutions and regional chief technology officer at El Segundo, Calif.-based PCM, ranked No. 28 on the 2016 CRN Solution Provider 500 list, who partners with Cisco and Aruba, said he sees places for both Aruba and Cisco Meraki.

Cisco Meraki is the "strongest platform" for the SMB market because it is "inexpensive, easy to deploy and cloud managed," said Mogavero.

Cisco's traditional premise-based wireless networking products and Aruba, meanwhile, compete in the midmarket and enterprise market, said Mogavero. "Both of them have a set of features that are competitive with each other – we like both platforms quite a bit," he said.

Mogavero says ClearPass is an "easier" platform to work with than Cisco ISE, but noted that Cisco's traditional wireless networking platform is "highly scalable, very secure and very capable" too.

Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, No. 167 on the 2016 CRN SP500, says Aruba's open API model is changing the networking landscape.

"Cisco doesn't want an open stack," Venero says. "They have always tried to lock down their environment with a model of control. But that is changing. I am happy to see that. Having options out there for customers and partners is vital to driving innovation. Cisco is no longer the only game in town. If Cisco is going to compete in the modern age of collaboration and open API environments they are going to have to change their archaic approach to tightly control the network environment and move towards a more open network environment that will foster Internet of Things growth."

Orr, for his part, who has been competing against Cisco his entire career, says the tide is changing on Cisco's one time invincible position in the networking world.

"Seriously, I walk into places and people say, "I've waited for 10 years, why did it take so long?" Orr told CRN. "Because I am sick of being dictated too to the point that if I have to go build this end-to-end [solution] I only have one choice and get terms dictated to me. Now I have a person who is coming in with an open system and they are really good in multiple things.'"