HPE Aruba Channel Chief Grothjan On New Security Specializations, The Way Forward In An 'Open' Market, And Why 'The Time Is Now' In SD-WAN

HPE Aruba Vice President of Worldwide Channels Donna Grothjan talks with CRN about how she aims to make sure the channel program remains consistent and easy to use even as the company introduces new technologies.

Differing Paths

Donna Grothjan, vice president of worldwide channels at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, says her aim is to make sure the channel program remains consistent and easy to use even as the company introduces new technologies, which it did during its Atmosphere conference last week in Las Vegas.

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The company launched its NetInsight analytics offering, said it planned to acquire Cape Networks, and talked about an upcoming SD-WAN offering slated for this summer. Pulling all of that into a program framework that partners find familiar is top of mind for Grothjan.

Also last week, Grothjan introduced a new security specialization for partners, and Grothjan said that, too, is aimed at keeping the HPE Aruba partner framework consistent.

The efforts tie into the company's drive to remain open and API-focused, as well as able to respond quickly and efficiently to customer demands.

"Based on different customers, you can take different paths with us," Grothjan said of the HPE Aruba partner base. "It's not about rip and replace, it's about what's the opportunity that exists today leading with Aruba. Because of the open architecture, we don't close anybody in or lock anybody out."

What follows is an edited excerpt of Grothjan's conversation with CRN.

What led you to introduce the new security specialization to the program?

Our framework is very consistent. We're looking for early adopters in the partner base. We create a competency, we look for early adopters, and we reward them for those investments. As we look at new technology like NetInsight, we'll look to create more upcoming capability for them to learn. Because we already had the ClearPass competency, we added the UEBA competency, which is really from a security solution perspective where we start to look at our partner base and say, 'OK, who has security practices?' So that's why we announced a security specialization.

How do partners fit into the security specialization?

Those that have a practice now, they become part of our broader go-to-market model now with our security overlay and technical teams. That's been our framework, and every time there's a new technology we'll stay consistent because we need that predictability for partners.

So as long as partners follow the program and earn their competencies, they'll make their way into the security specialization?

Yes, we have a lot of partners that come from heritage networking. ClearPass is an opportunity for them to really bring on – from a guest services perspective, as an example – security into the network. There are other partners that have a security practice, and we want to acknowledge them, and there are different aspects of security they can invest in. This is really to acknowledge that we have partners in our partner base today that have those practices, as well as an opportunity for us to recruit new security partners.

How do you decide how heavily to recruit partners, especially as you introduce new technologies?

It's what's required for coverage. The critical part for us is as we go to market, we rely very heavily on our partners for all the integration aspects and delivery. It's critical as we're going to market in the early stages with the Introspect product, for example, that we have partners that come along with us. It'll be the same thing with NetInsight.

What's the best way for partners to realize growth selling HPE Aruba?

It depends on what path they want to take. Based on different customers, you can take different paths with us. It's not about rip and replace, it's about what's the opportunity that exists today leading with Aruba. Because of the open architecture, we don't close anybody in or lock anybody out -- it's really about where's the opportunity whether it's in policy management, or whether it's a wireless upgrade somebody is looking for. You can enter in many ways as a partner. We have lots of partners who sell across different networking vendors, and we're about demonstrating our value proposition with each aspect of that so that each part of the solution they bring to market, by choice, is really able to benefit the customer.

Do you think multi-vendor, best-of-breed solutions come closer to serving customers more thoroughly than single-vendor solutions?

You do have to look at the customer requirement. When you look at a digital workplace, for example, it might be just going in and granting guest access or having the ability to understand if it's somebody who's coming on as a guest, or at a university, is someone logging on as a student, are they bringing their own devices versus corporate-approved devices? It's really about designing for the customer and their needs. With ClearPass as an example, it's an entryway in because it's seeing what their requirements are, and with all the APIs we have across the platform it's all about easy integration, too. We would say that's the future, the ability to be multi-vendor. Best-of-breed is still a strategy most companies use. If you look at it category by category, we would say we're best-of-breed.

How ready is your partner base, on the whole, for something like IoT? Are they at least interested?

What's really challenging is we talk about mobile-first architecture. It enables IoT solutions, and so if you think about whether our partner base is ready for IoT, the majority of the partner base is ready for IoT because they're selling the solutions today. It now becomes the applications. That's the differentiator. What applications are they either collaborating on with other ISVs or partners to create, or where are they coming in in the life cycle? A lot of partners participate in IoT solutions today, but may not have led them because it may have been led by an application. That's just naturally what our infrastructure and security products enable today, especially Meridian for location-based services. We still have a lot of partners that ask, 'What are you doing around IoT?' The interesting thing is it's really about connecting and protecting all of these unmanaged devices. They realize they're already in the business.

Where are you hoping to drive partners as far as HPE Aruba's digital workplace initiative is concerned?

We always have room for improvement in sharing out all of the developer partners that we do business with that we've already tested for interoperability, and that we bring partners together that may be experts in infrastructure with those that are experts in those applications. What we announced today as far as the smart digital workplace and bringing together real estate companies, furniture companies with enterprise infrastructure, at the end of the day those are just new areas of opportunity for our partners. Take a real estate company like CBRE, their core business is real estate. Not that they don't have IT knowledge, but the more services they offer that are IT-oriented, the more opportunity you have to bring in partners to support those solutions.

Where do you see Aruba fitting into the SD-WAN market, and about the opportunity you see for partners there?

We think there's huge opportunity because, ultimately, technology is changing, and we would say those that have traditionally sold core routers or routing, there's a next-generation technology that they need to look at. Those are adjacent markets to what we're already doing today. It opens up a greater [total addressable market] for HPE Aruba partners to participate in.

Why has the SD-WAN market caught fire now rather than five years ago?

I think software-defined as a whole has continued to evolve. Software-defined networks have been around for a while, but the ability of people to truly take advantage of the market opportunity is here now. It's reality. The time is now.

How has the partner-customer relationship evolved, and how have you guided partners through that?

We spend a lot of time talking to partners about their customer's customer. It's really about what they're doing to design the experience for the customer's customer. Yesterday, the focus would have been on the retail store, but really today, we're focused on the retail store's customer walking in. Same thing for health care. It's about the patients. Same thing for hospitality. It's about the guests in the hotel. For us, the solutions we're bringing to market, the software and applications we're making available is all about the customer's customer. We work with partners with how to generate new revenue streams based on those new experiences.

What do partners need to focus on when it comes to ensuring a good experience for their customer's customer?

A lot of the conversation is around what verticals are you playing in? The capability of bringing something to their customer's customer is all vertically based. It's really important that they start to think about that. They can carve out a practice in every vertical, but what is that solution they're bringing that can lend itself to that particular vertical? Those are the conversations that are happening today.