Keerti Melkote: IoT Is Prompting Enterprise Networking’s ‘Next Big Transformation’


No industry is immune to digital transformation. But the network is paying the price for that all-important business evolution, according to Keerti Melkote, Aruba's founder, senior vice president and general manager.

"We have seen the era of fixed networking, mobile, and we are now living in the era of cloud. The next big transformation that is happening now, for real, is IoT. But what does this mean for our networks that we love, deploy and scale within the enterprise?" Melkote asked an audience of channel partners and customers at Aruba Atmosphere 2019.

More than 14 million new connected devices are being added to networks every day, Aruba estimated. Businesses are trying to differentiate themselves by embracing the "experience economy," but those new demands are having a major impact on the enterprise network, Melkote said.

[Related: Aruba ClearPass, Access Point Updates Tear Down IoT Security, Connectivity Barriers]

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The so-called experience economy, meaning that businesses are creating memorable events for their customers, is causing businesses to adopt technology in a whole new way, Melkote told CRN in an interview.

"It was fundamentally about productivity, giving [employees] compute and tools to be productive on the network, like email or ERP systems, but today, technology is at the forefront of the customer experience," he said. "[Technology] is directly tied to revenue, so now we are in the line of fire, so to speak. You can't have any downtime."

Businesses can't be left behind. Technology investments have started to shift from a productivity-first mentality to that of a proactive strategy, Melkote said. Still, many IT processes are manual and the new network demands aren't leaving IT teams with a lot of extra time.

Not only do customers have to grapple with more devices from employees and end customers, but now they are faced with connected devices, too, said Shannon Champion, senior solutions architect for Pier Group, a Jasper, Ind.-based solution provider focused on serving customers in the education and research verticals.

"We did things right originally, but things change and need to scale. There's more complexity when you have to worry about the light switch on the wall," Champion said. "When you're worried about your customer's experience, you don’t have time to verify every light switch on the wall that might be trying to connect to your network."

At Atmosphere 2019, Aruba unveiled ClearPass Device Insight, a cloud-based platform that uses artificial intelligence to automatically discover and pull up a more in-depth profile of each connected device, including details such as its manufacturer, the applications it's using, and its location across any wireless or wired network with more visibility than ClearPass was offering in previous versions. It's a welcome solution for channel partners, Champion said.

Champion believes that the IoT opportunity is "ridiculously large" for partners. "IoT is incredibly awesome, but also scary," he said. "[Customers] don't think about security, and it can create a big problem."

Optiv, a security-focused solution provider based in Denver, sees IoT security in particular as a major pain point for customers right now.

"You don't know what you don't know, and if you don't know what's on the network, you can't protect it," said Bill Buckalew, vice president of partner sales. "The likelihood that customers know everything that's on their networks right now is very small."

AI will strengthen networks to withstand new issues like IoT security, Buckalew said. "We'll take all the help we can get," he added.

Specifically, AI can give users the visibility they need to determine whether a connected device has moved or is seeking access it doesn’t need, such as a security camera in an outdoor area of a school, for example, Pier Group's Champion said. AI will also give partners the power to make data useful, he added.

Melkote said that AI's role is to automate many manual processes so that IT can focus on scaling the business. "Frankly, we are at the stage now where the tech has emerged enough so that AI can be used to predict failure and identify new behaviors and new patterns in the business that [IT] can take advantage of that didn’t exist before," he said.

As networks scale to support cloud and IoT applications, networks of today won't stand the test of time, Melkote said. There's still more work to be done on the automation side, he said.

Aruba is working on technology that can help partners process data and automate the detection of problems, said Aruba CTO Partha Narasimhan.

"Right now, the manual processes are still very reactive. Automating the detection of anomalies that point to problems that need to be responded to is the first step, and where we're at," Narasimhan said.

Tools like NetInsight, Aruba's network performance monitoring offering, is taking the next step by helping users identify what the root cause of the problem may be so they can remedy the situation ahead of time, he said.

"There are certain tasks that are being done with human energy today that are very compatible with automation," Narasimhan said.

That in a nutshell, Melkote said, is the Aruba promise for partners and end customers.

"That is what we are building, and that is what we are going to enable to all of you."