Mist CEO Fires Back At Aruba Claims, Talks Cisco Relationship And Network Virtualization Disruption

Mist CEO: Aruba Claim 'Falls Flat'

Aiming to disrupt the wireless enterprise market through machine learning and artificial intelligence, Mist Systems virtualization technology is unmatched in today's market, according to its CEO and co-founder Sujai Hajela.

When Aruba Networks recently said its new asset tracking solution was cheaper and simpler compared to the joint Mist and Cisco solution, Hajela felt the need to speak up.

"Aruba's claims, from my perspective, fall flat because it's a physical beacon they sell," said Hajela, who is a former top executive at Cisco. "Their claim is highly questionable when the world knows that virtualization drives lower total cost of ownership."

Mist was named on CRN's 10 Coolest Networking Startups of 2016. Hajela talks to CRN about Aruba, the startup's partnership with Cisco, newtork virtualization and Mist's channel strategy.

What are your thoughts on Aruba saying its new asset tracking solution? Is 92 percent cheaper and simpler compared to the Mist-Cisco solution?

When a competitor is unable to match you in architecture, unable to match you in offerings, then they start looking at other ways they can try to make a claim. This is a claim from Aruba, and I'm sure they've done the math behind it, but I take a step back. First of all, a lot of this depends on use cases. I take a very simple example: I have a technology which is virtualized versus a technology [that was] physical. The one that has gone towards virtualization [wins] because it fundamentally saves money in the long run. It drives towards a lower total cost of ownership. So Aruba's claims, from my perspective, falls flat because it's a physical beacon they sell. Mist has a virtual beacon.

Why is Mist's virtual beacon better than Aruba's physical beacon?

Where [Aruba] is putting in a beacon in a network, I don’t have to put any physical beacons in. I also don't have to replace any batteries. I also don't have to go and calibrate that network every so often, which an Aruba network has to do.

From our perspective, their claim is highly questionable when the world knows that virtualization drives lower total cost of ownership. Virtualization drives simplified operations, hence, people say what Mist really offers is an enterprise-grade BLE because there is no calibration, there's no batteries, there are no site surveys required and there are no visits required. Our vision is the system learns itself and you never have to go onsite to fix a problem … We are virtual, they are not. We are enterprise-grade, they are not.

Another point Aruba made was that Cisco partners wanting to sell the Cisco-Mist tracking solution needed to learn Mist, which would be a burden. Your thoughts?

We have our machine learning do the learning for you. We are the first example of unsupervised machine learning in the networking industry. There is no learning to be done. The system learns for you, not a channel partner.

Cisco has invested into your startup. Mist's founders are former top Cisco executives. What is Mist's relationship with Cisco?

The relationship with Cisco is straightforward. It is a strategic technology relationship. Cisco I'm sure is seeing the same trends of mobility innovations and how partners need to evolve. Cisco investment in us is fundamentally a strategic technology relationship to fuel this journey on how do we evolve the mobile network and how does Cisco leverage Mist technology to really evolve the mobility space.

How is Mist helping Cisco partner evolve?

Cisco is looking at partners for managed services and that's where we are aligned, in fundamentally evolving the partner base to more and more managed services, and that's where I'm presuming why Cisco is also looking at our technology.

We are fundamentally building our product from the ground up for MSPs.

Why is Mist solutions ideal for MSPs?

People are having a tough time just deploying networks for location [solutions]. We are saying by virtualizing it we can offer location literally as a managed service. Asset tracking as a managed service. People are just trying to deploy these networks – we are not only deploying them, we are making it consumable as-a-service. As we saw more enterprises wanting to consume things as-a-service, we felt this was an amazing opportunity for partners to evolve themselves to an MSP.

Channel partners deploying boxes with services wrapped around it is inefficient.

Why is wrapping services around products inefficient?

Partners try to package a service around boxes. The inefficiency comes in because these wireless networks, which were frankly built 10 years ago, were not designed to be deployed as-a-service. These boxes were not designed for the speed and agility. They're not virtualized. They're not cloud-scaled. When the product has not been designed as-a-service, the cost to deliver the service goes up.

What differentiates Mist solutions?

Based on our virtualization technology and artificial intelligence that drives automation at scale, we designed it from the ground up for an MSP to offer it as a service. [Partners] don't have to worry about the inefficiency around wrapping a service around a box. They start from the ground up with a product that was built to be sold as a service. Our partner offer wireless LAN as-a-service. More partners are looking at location as-a-service and they're having more discussion around assets as-a-service. The partner can drop the operations cost of the network by upwards of 20 [percent] to 30 percent.

How is Mist technology disrupting the wireless market?

We are bringing artificial intelligence to wireless … More and more data coming on to the networks, so the networks have to be fundamentally simplified for operations, not just for deployment.

As we are trying to simplify operations and focus on what we call customer engagement – which is giving a one-on-one personalized experience – our architecture that we built out [required that] everything has to be virtualized. That is where our virtual beacon concept came from that we have a patent on. So our whole technology play is virtualize, virtualize, virtualize.

Why is virtualization so critical today and what are the benefits for channel partners?

It drives simplicity, lowers TCO and drives the ability to start offering things as-a-service. That makes it easier for customer to consume and for partners to deliver … The biggest thing is we're going to bring artificial intelligence to the wireless LAN network with the strong technology tenant of virtualization.

Does Mist have a Partner Program?

We have released a partner program that fundamentally has two flavors to it. One is the standard value added reseller program. The second is the Managed Service Provide program. Two programs across three tiers.

We'll have some announcements regarding our partner program coming out soon.

What's your channel strategy?

Our focus is on margin protection for the partners from a structure perspective. It’s also driven by the partners' ability to offer our solution as a managed service. We're truly helping partners who have been traditional value-added resellers pushing boxes to evolve into an MSP.

We want to make it so a partner never has to go onsite to fix a problem. If I save the partner from having to go to a customer location, they've already saved a lot of money … Our goal is to enable partners to sell new services and form new relationships to a level they have not yet seen.