One Year Later: Aruba 8400 Grabbing Share From Cisco In Core Network Battle, Making IoT Gains


A little over a year after Aruba launched its first ever core switch – the 8400 – the company is doubling down on its initial share gains with additional investments aimed at driving product advances and channel sales momentum.

"We are doubling down on the early growth," said Michael Dickman, vice president of switching at Aruba, in an interview with CRN, speaking about the Aruba product line that has launched a new era of network automation and Internet of Things applications. "We are going to ramp customers and revenue even faster in year two. We are going to be coming out with new hardware to expand our reach and new software releases with traditional switching features and exciting innovations that are new to the world and first to market, as well as investments to scale the channel with a lot of support from the Aruba field. Year two we are expecting to be the year of significant ramp [for the 8400]."

[Related: Aruba 8400 Product Chief On Beating Cisco On An 'Industry 4.0' Blockbuster Deal]

The year two ramp comes with Aruba gaining three points of U.S. revenue market share through the second quarter of this year in the Ethernet switching market since launching the 8400 last year, according to the 650 Group, a Silicon Valley networking market research firm. During the same period, networking market share leader Cisco lost more than three points of share in U.S. revenue in the Ethernet switching market, according to the 650 Group.

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"In switching, a point of share is a big deal," said Alan Weckel, founder and analyst for the 650 Group. "Three points of share is impressive. From a U.S. campus networking point of view, I don’t think this has ever happened."

Weckel said HPE Aruba deserves a lot of credit for making inroads into the intensely competitive switching market dominated by Cisco. "Aruba is moving up market into larger and larger enterprises," he said. "They are winning larger multi-million dollar deals with switching and wireless LAN, moving more into Cisco's wheelhouse. They are also gaining share from other companies with a consolidation in play amongst the other companies out there."

Aruba's core switch has broadened the company's appeal in the channel, said Weckel. "The channel is looking for a vendor that offers switching, wireless LAN and simple management, and Aruba has all three of those plus security and identity services," said Weckel. "That makes it easier for the channel to engage with a customer and easier for the channel to remain sticky with a customer."

Steve Shaffer, founder and CEO of Zunesis, Denver, Co., one of the top IoT solution providers in the country, said he has seen strong traction with the 8400 switches this year.

"We are pretty high on the 8400," he told CRN. "We have had some significant sales in the second half of this year, and we expect that business to double next year. There's no doubt about it. The 8400 is a meaty, capable platform that we expect to continue to do well as additional capabilities and functionality are added to it. I am really happy with how aggressively Aruba is moving on R&D and product development side. 2019 is going to be a pretty exciting year."

Benjamin Jackson, a network sales engineer for Frontrunner Network Systems, a Rochester, N.Y.-based HPE Aruba Platinum partner, said Aruba has made network switching "cool" with the 8400 line, paired with the robust OS-CX operating system software.

"Seeing customers get excited about a new switch that has come out is a good feeling," said Jackson describing the reaction customers have to the eye-opening network automation possibilities with the Aruba software. "We have customers that want this switch because of the possibilities. I personally want to put it in as many deals as I can because I want customers to experience the switch."

Experiencing the 8400 means seeing how quickly the product line helps automatically resolve network issues, said Jackson. "My customers really like the analytical capabilities with the 8400," he said. "The root cause analysis that the platform gives you is the biggest reason customers want it."

That's just the beginning though. The real power of the 8400 comes from the new wave of IoT applications that it is driving into businesses of all kinds.

Aruba is pushing forward with software that enables customers to automate and manage the core network. Customers that have been beaten down by core network troubleshooting are blown away by the 8400 and OS-CX, said Jackson. That's because the 8400 has transformed what was a rather listless speed-and-feed discussion into a strategic business outcome-based decision.

"It's exciting to see customers come up after a presentation exclaiming, 'This is cool. I want this,'" said Jackson. "Before this it was 'I need more 10-Gig ports or my core switch is end of life.' Now they want to know how they can make this happen."

For Frontrunner itself, the 8400 has opened the door to bigger enterprise networking deals that it was simply never able to go after, said Jackson. "These are deals that we would not have won without this product," he said. "We've had an exciting first year with the 8400."

This summer, Frontrunner closed out a higher education deal for two 8400s and a separate sale of an 8320 fixed campus core switch to a K-12 school system, said Jackson. The higher education customer was looking for a sharper focus on core networking possibilities as an alternative to Cisco. On the K-12 deal, the customer was looking at implementing a fiber aggregation switch and looked at the 8320 because of the software strength of Aruba.

"All I had to do was send a presentation on what you can do with Aruba OS-CX and it was a done deal," said Jackson of the K-12 deal. "The customer knew immediately the other switching products were not going to give them the analytics and the automation. The customer could see immediately the future possibilities."

Those future possibilities have partners like Jackson pumped up about what's possible with the Aruba OS-CX network analytics engine. Aruba is fueling that fire by helping partners and customers write network analytics engine agents. That program– which began three months ago–has already led to the company working with 25 customers in a program that has resulted in 40 agent applications.

That work is being published on the Aruba Solutions Exchange, where partners or customers can pull down those agent applications and use them themselves. "Having that available to customers is invaluable," said Jackson. "Network administrators don’t have time to write their own scripts or agents."

With its open API platform, Aruba is powering a new network automation revolution that is in sharp contrast to the old world proprietary networking paradigm, said Jackson.

"Aruba has opened the door to endless possibilities," he said. "They wanted to have a platform that could do whatever the market needed it to do. What I tell customers is to think about where this can go. You are not stuck with what you get right now. Aruba is already above and beyond competitors, but what's exciting is the potential."

One of the biggest wins going head to head against Cisco is $7 million "Industry 4.0" IoT deal with a large manufacturer that Aruba won just two months ago, said Dickman. "They wanted to do an Industry 4.0 strategy with the network enabling Internet of Things, industrial automation, flexibility and agility," he said. "They have embraced an end-to-end Aruba architecture that embraces a policy model that lets them do the correct policy deployment into the wired network with the same ease we do with wireless

That deal included over 200 core switches- primarily 8320s with about a dozen 8400s - at between 50 to 70 manufacturing facilities. It also includes 4,000 access switches connecting to all of the manufacturing plant equipment– mostly machines, robots and industrial systems. On the software side it includes a couple thousand Aruba Airwave [software] licenses, 100,000 ClearPass end point licenses with 30 ClearPass appliances.

"Cisco was the incumbent," said Dickman. "HPE Aruba didn't have any of the switching in that account prior to this deal."

Cisco, for its part, said its Catalyst 9000 subscription-based switching platform, which was introduced in June, 2017, has been the fastest-ramping product in the company's history.

The Cat9K, as it's commonly called, has won over nearly 10,000 customers since its introduction, illustrating Cisco's influence in the market for products and services related to digital transformation, as well as its partners' traditional strength in the sales trenches, said Cisco.

Cisco said more than 4,000 partners have sold the Catalyst 9000.

Cisco counts on the channel for about 85 percent of its sales across the board from traditional hardware to software and subscription-based products.

"Our goal is to turn the network into a system instead of a collection of products," said Sachin Gupta, senior vice president, product management, enterprise networking at Cisco, in an email statement to CRN. "That's at the heart of our intent-based networking strategy. Unlike our competitors, we're building systems, not boxes; networks not, just switches. And, that's the reason the Catalyst 9000 switch is the fastest ramping product in Cisco's history,"

Kelly Ireland, founder and CEO of Orange, Calif.-based CB Technologies (CBT), an HPE Aruba Platinum partner, said Aruba's IoT strategy and products, including the 8400 core switch, are winning over customers that previously would not have considered a Cisco alternative.

"Customers that 18 months ago would not stand up and back an HPE Aruba solution versus Cisco are now saying yes," said Ireland, whose company was recently honored by CRN as an IoT Innovator for the second consecutive year. "For the first time ever, those customers are putting their jobs on the line to support Aruba. That's a big statement."

Ireland credited Aruba founder and HPE Intelligent Edge President Keerti Melkote with driving breakout innovation and a partner-first culture.

"Keerti is very partner-centric," said Ireland, whose work on a Texmark Refinery of the Future project with HPE Aruba and other partners has attracted national attention with its unique CBT Connected Worker wearable, hands-free compute and analytics capabilities. "He is extremely open to our ideas and creating innovative partnerships with resellers who are going above and beyond to develop innovation using Aruba technologies."

Ireland said she sees the Internet of Things as a "huge" market opportunity with limitless possibilities. "We couldn't be more excited about the opportunity and the Aruba partnership," she said. "Aruba is embracing both IT and OT [operational technology] communities with innovative technology solution partnerships."

HPE for its part has estimated the edge market at $30 billion and the intelligent edge market opportunity at more than $100 billion.

Jackson, for his part, says he has already seen the big impact of the 8400 in year one and is looking forward to an even bigger ramp in year two.

"It's keeping me on my toes because there is so much interest in it," he said. "I have really had to ramp up quickly. The first year was successful, exciting and fruitful. We are looking forward to year two with Aruba taking it to the next level. As long as they keep that edge and excitement, the market is definitely going to respond. It's going to be cool to see how far and where they are going to take this product in the future."