Gartner: HPE-Aruba Surpasses Cisco For First Time In Critical Capabilities Networking Report

Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, has dethroned Cisco for the first time ever in Gartner's 2017 Critical Capabilities for Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure report, which scores vendors on a variety of networking capabilities in multiple enterprise use cases.

In a clean sweep, Gartner gave HPE-Aruba the highest score in each of six network use cases. In the 2016 version of the report -- which featured five use cases, some of which changed from year to year -- HPE-Aruba placed first in only one category, with Cisco topping the other four.

"Aruba is the top-ranked vendor for all use cases," Gartner said in this year's report, which was published Nov. 3, citing Aruba's AirWave network management technology and ClearPass secure network access control technology as "some of the most complete solutions in the market."

[Related: Here's Who Made Gartner's 2017 Critical Capabilities Vendor Scorecard For Wired And Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure]

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Gartner pointed to the breadth of Cisco's portfolio of wired switching and WLAN products as the reason the vendor ranked in the top half of the scores in five of the six use cases, according to the report.

Overall, the market dynamics that come into play when wooing enterprise customers are shifting, Gartner said.

"Enterprises have moved beyond basic connectivity and now use network service applications and deployment flexibility to differentiate access networking vendors," according to the report.

Among HPE-Aruba's most significant victories is the Unified Wired and WLAN Access category, with a score of 4.04, followed by Cisco at 3.83. Gartner said this represents the first time in the four editions of this research that HPE-Aruba has scored higher than Cisco in that category.

In the same category in 2016, Cisco led with a score of 4.1, followed by HPE-Aruba at 4.08. The analyst firm noted that some of the definitions used in the research may have changed from one year to the next, affecting vendor scores

Raymond Tuchman, CEO of Experis Technology Group, a Potomac, Md., HPE partner, said HPE-Aruba's win in the Gartner Critical Capabilities report is just one more sign of the increasing momentum for Aruba's wireless and wired portfolio in accounts that were at one time Cisco-only.

"This is a huge deal for Aruba," said Tuchman. "This is the highest independent corporate IT market research firm saying HPE-Aruba has a better solution than Cisco in wired and wireless networking. This is important for customers to know. We're going to definitely cite it."

The six categories Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Aruba won include Unified Wired and WLAN Access, Wired-Only Refresh/New Build, WLAN-Only Refresh/New Build, Performance Stringent Applications, Multivendor Networking Environment and Remote Branch Office With Corporate Headquarters. Gartner's Critical Capabilities research differs from its popular Magic Quadrant research by focusing on product and services capabilities, rather than a vendor's position, vision and execution in the market.

When reached for comment, networking market share-leader Cisco said that the products and services scored in Gartner's 2017 Critical Capabilities report reflect what was generally available as of April and that it has since launched its "next-generation" Intuitive Network platform and revealed plans to have a single-pane-of-glass management capability for Cisco Meraki and its traditional on-premise offerings through new integration with DNA Center.

Aruba did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

HPE-Aruba bested San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco in the category of Remote Branch Office with Corporate Headquarters, capturing the top score of 4.01, followed by Cisco at 3.81. In 2016, Cisco led the pack with a score of 4.1 in the similar category of SME and/or Remote Branch Office, followed by HPE-Aruba with 4.08.

HPE-Aruba received the highest score of 3.97 in the category of Performance Stringent Applications, followed by Cisco at 3.79.

For Wired-Only Refresh/New Build, HPE-Aruba scored 3.96. Cisco placed fourth with a score of 3.76, behind New H3C at 3.8 and Extreme Networks at 3.77.

In the category of WLAN-Only Refresh/New Build, HPE's top score of 4.06 was followed by startup Mist Systems at No. 2 with 3.89. Cisco placed fifth in that category with a score of 3.66, behind No. 3 Aerohive (3.84) and Extreme Networks (3.77).

In Gartner's Multivendor Networking Environment evaluation, HPE-Aruba led with a score of 3.91, followed by Extreme Networks at 3.6. Cisco placed 11th in that category with a score of 3.18, making it the only product segment in which it fell outside the top 5.

Experis' Tuchman said he's seeing first-hand the strength of HPE-Aruba's portfolio vs. Cisco in enterprise accounts.

In the last several months, Tuchman said Experis has won a $500,000 deal in an Aruba-Vs.-Cisco bakeoff with a national association, as well as a $300,000 Aruba-Vs.-Cisco bakeoff with a consulting company. In both those deals, Aruba software, particularly ClearPass security software, was a critical differentiator, as was the high price of Cisco's SMARTnet maintenance, said Tuchman.

"We are starting to see clients entertaining Aruba that in the past were Cisco only accounts," said Tuchman. "Customers feel that Cisco is just overly expensive for what you get."

The $500,000 deal was with a national association that replaced existing Cisco network switches with the Aruba 3810 48port POE switch, said Tuchman. Aruba's Zero Touch Provisioning software for branch offices was major factor in that deal, said Tuchman.

The $300,000 deal – which Experis closed at the end of September – was for the Aruba 3180 switch and 30 Aruba wireless access points, said Tuchman. That customer was put off by the high cost of Cisco SMARTnet maintenance, said Tuchman. "They bought a spare switch as a replacement instead of maintenance," he said.

Experis' Aruba sales were up 40 percent in the 2017 fiscal year, said Tuchman. He expects his Aruba sales to be up a whopping 200 percent this year. "We are starting from a small number, but we are seeing great momentum," he said.

Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, No. 119 on the 2017 CRN Solution Provider 500, said the Gartner report is a "testament" to the Aruba software innovation business model in contrast to the "stagnant" Cisco market-leading networking position.

"When you have validation from an organization like Gartner as to what Aruba is accomplishing, it makes corporate customers much more likely to adopt the cutting-edge technology versus staying with the status quo," he said.

"Aruba has done a very good job capitalizing on the weaknesses that Cisco has in both their wired and wireless networking products," said Venero.

Future Tech is in the process of doubling down on Aruba with a strategy to bring the Aruba portfolio aggressively into Fortune 1000 accounts.

One key factor in the Aruba Vs. Cisco battle is the high cost of Cisco's SMARTnet maintenance, said Venero.

"Many companies are not happy with the cost structure of Cisco and the way they make customers buy SMARTNet to be compliant or current," he said. "With Aruba, you buy the product and you are done. There is no maintenance fee. That is key for companies looking for cost savings to drive innovation."