Aruba Ups Ante In IoT Battle Against Cisco With New Asset Tracking Integrated Solution

Aruba Networks is stepping up its Internet of Things (IoT) offensive against network rival Cisco with a location-based asset tracking solution fully integrated into its wireless platform.

Partners say the solution establishes a new benchmark for ease of use, functionality and price performance for a fully integrated wireless asset tracking solution.

"Rather than having different systems or different software packages or applications doing it, the ability to have it all integrated becomes kind of game-changer for health care, financial institutions, manufacturing for sure, retail – a plethora of different business segments," said Al Chien, chief sales officer of Dasher Technologies, a Campbell, Calif.-based HPE Platinum and Aruba partner. "It was designed specifically for Aruba, it's not a bolt-on. It makes it that much easier to use and is less clunky."

[Related: Partners: AT&T Acquisition Of Brocade's Software A 'Monumental Shift' From Cisco, Juniper]

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Aruba's asset tracking solution was unveiled at HPE Discover in Las Vegas today and is available immediately. It includes new Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tags, an asset tag configuration application, advancements in the ArubaOS software and new features for the Aruba Meridian AppMaker.

"It's the first full asset tracking solution from a networking vendor -- nobody else is offering this," said Trent Fierro, director of software marketing for Aruba.

The new asset tracking solution is cheaper and simpler than Cisco's asset management offering, said Fierro. The solution is integrated into Aruba's wireless infrastructure eliminating the need for a separate network.

"Cisco has a [asset tracking solution] they're doing with [networking startup] Mist. So from the perspective of a channel partner, I have to learn Mist. I have to carry Mist. I have to have IT teams dedicated to learning Mist. I got a networking team dedicated to learning Cisco Wi-Fi, now I gotta go learn Mist," said Fierro.

Mist's BLE technology integrates with Cisco's WLAN products. Last year, the startup announced a strategic investment from Cisco aimed to help boost Mist's advancement in its virtual BLE beacon and wireless machine learning technology.

Fierro said Aruba made a comparison between its new solution versus the Cisco-Mist solution regarding the total cost of a 100,000 square-feet building deployment over two years. Aruba's solution was 92 percent cheaper than Cisco's, according to Fierro.

"So at 100,000 square-feet, we said that's about $9,000 including the beacons. Then when we did a comparison against the Cisco model and we came in about 92 percent cheaper over two years," said Fierro. "Cisco doesn't have tags. You basically go out and buy a Bluetooth-based tag from somebody else … You have to deploy a whole secondary network in order to do basic asset tracking."

Organizations can track assets – from chairs to IV pumps -- using either a map-based mobile app or by integrating with existing tracking solutions.

Fierro said the solution offers a "huge cost advantage" by not having to install a secondary network along with a $40 price point per tag. He also said the solution is so simple to deploy and manage that even untrained IT staff could handle it.

"If I'm buying a RFID-type tag, some go for $100, ours are roughly $40," said Fierro. "Then [a customer] would also have to put in a secondary network, which means someone has to map it and buy it – there's a lot of different people in the process."

The solution includes new software that enables Aruba BLE access points and sensors to act as asset tags, creating a sensory network. Additionally, Aruba's configuration app makes set-up and ongoing management of tags simple, while all the data is automatically saved in a central cloud database, according to Aruba.

The new tags, around the size of a quarter, are designed to meet harsh environmental requirements and come with multiple attachment options. The solution also includes new features for the Meridian AppMaker, such as a new SDK and API's for third-party integration, allowing customers to create their own tracking app for iOS or Andriod.

James Aldridge, vice president of Technology at Matrix Integration, a Jasper, Ind.-based Aruba partner, said Aruba's asset tracking solution creates "a very powerful organizational and operation tool" that can lower overall costs.

"I've used several asset tracking systems over the years. There are other systems out there that can create the same goal, but getting to the goal line and having better visibility and better impact – to not only your capital budget, but your operational budget – is huge," said Aldridge. "I think it's a better product than what I've seen out there in the market today."

Aruba's new solution is targeting verticals including health care and retail, as well as other areas like casinos and warehouses.

"With us you get beacons, tags, you get Meridian cloud-based software, APs that are already enabled with BLE -- all it takes is a simple OS upgrade for the APs to be asset tracking ready -- and we give you a configuration software app, and we provide an SDK and an API so that you can go work with other vendors when you are ready," said Fierro. "It's a no brainer. It's an easy thing to do. All [partners] have to do is deploy the asset component, and away they go."

Keerti Melkote, senior vice president, general manager and co-founder of Aruba Networks, said the asset tracking solution is another example of Aruba's software superiority.

"We are innovating on the application and software side by bringing new things like asset tracking which historically have not been offered by infrastructure companies," he said. "These have been very, very siloed organizations with asset tracking solutions for specific verticals. I feel the market is ripe for innovation with location based services – adding an asset tracking layer for hospitals, for retailers, that allows them to really bring the network to life in terms of business value."

Melkote said it is critical for solution providers to be focused squarely on applications that add business value. "For partners that is very important: migrating above the lower levels of the stack to the upper layers of the stack where the business decisions get made," he said.