Ruckus Networks President Whiting On IoT, SD-WAN And The Channel's Role In The Firm's Growth

Ian Whiting is doubling down on channel enablement as he sets his sights on competing with market share leaders Cisco and HPE Aruba.

Focus On Growth

Ian Whiting, the new president of Ruckus Networks, says the uncertainty that surrounded the company as it went through a lengthy and uneven series of mergers and acquisitions is behind it, and he's ready to focus on growth.

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That growth, he said in an interview with CRN, will be ignited by partners and fueled by emerging technologies like IoT, next generation Wi-Fi, the intelligent edge and perhaps even SD-WAN.

Encouraged by strong Q1 results and a positive outlook for Q2, Whiting is doubling down on channel enablement, as well as investments in Ruckus' own sales and marketing operation as he sets his sights on competing with market share leaders Cisco and HPE Aruba.

Whiting takes the Ruckus presidency as former President Dan Rabinovitsj steps away to pursue another opportunity in the tech industry, the company said. Whiting joined Ruckus in 2015 as chief commercial officer, and had a front-row seat as the company was acquired by Brocade in mid-2016.

Broadcom then acquired Brocade and agreed to sell Ruckus to Arris. Those plans were much delayed, however, and the Broadcom-Brocade deal didn't close until mid-November of last year.

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

How do you see the market for intelligent edge technologies developing over the next couple of years?

We're banking on it taking off in a big way. We see that happening at an accelerated rate. As an industry, we're recognizing that the edge of the network is becoming a very strategic place. Everybody these days is expecting every application they use to be enabled on a mobile device whether you're at work, at play, or just generally living your life, apps need to be available with zero, or minimal latency wherever you are. That's putting pressure on what's happening at the edge of the network, and the edge of the network is very often the access point. IoT is adding even more edge computing pressure. What we call an access point today is becoming a gateway now, buffering an awful lot of useless information from clogging the hooks into the cloud. It's also a way to process very important information that ultimately feeds into big data and analytics engines used to make smart decisions.

What impact do you think 802.11ax Wi-Fi will have on networks and the networking market?

That's going to provide support for an unprecedented amount of density at the edge. The Wi-Fi network will be able to support a massive amount of data and uses. Again, it's a great opportunity for our partners. It's going to require somewhat of a significant upgrade in the switching infrastructure at the edge of the network. The fact that we now supply a whole range of multi-gig switching products under our ICX brand goes hand-in-glove with that upgrade that's happening on the Wi-Fi level. It's a huge opportunity for our channel partners.

Are there any plans for Ruckus to get into the SD-WAN market?

It's one of the pieces of the puzzle that we don't address today. A lot of the connectivity we talked about is the local area network. There are big challenges in the wide area network as well around efficiency, performance, cost. You can look at that and say that's a logical extension of what we do today, so could we do something there? Yes. We have partnerships already. It's the same with security. Our strategy has been to have very robust APIs so our partners can take best-of-breed firewalls, or WAN acceleration technologies and build a solution with Ruckus Wi-Fi and switching. Today, that's our preferred way of doing things, but if you look at our company, we're opening up the aperture a bit with things like IoT and what we're doing around LTE, those would lead you to believe that we think we can play a bigger role and offer a broader solution. We do see an opportunity in SD-WAN, whether it's organic, or inorganic, and the timeline is not something we can talk about or have any particular plans around.

How do you see partners playing in Ruckus' IoT initiatives?

We're really looking to enable our partners to take advantage of what we're doing around IoT. We're showcasing a whole suite of IoT services based on the idea that you can leverage the Ruckus wireless network as the backhaul for all of these super-interesting IoT services. A good example is a solution we've developed with Assa Abloy, who happen to be the world's largest supplier of door locks. Think about large apartment buildings, student housing, hotels. They have a keyless entry solution and we've now demonstrated that you don't have to build a special network to support that solution and be able to walk up to your hotel room door with your iPhone and it can unlock the door. It knows when you've left. It knows when you've left the door unlocked, etc. That's a real value-added solution that partners can take to the hospitality industry. We're pushing really heavily on training and enablement for our partners to take advantage of that suite of IoT services that we've created and enabled through our partnerships with companies like Assa Abloy.

Where do partners play in IoT when it comes to solutions like the door locks, or security cameras, etc.?

All of it takes a partner to implement, to integrate. These are things the channel likes because there's budget for these things. It requires some level of specialization or competency that really distinguishes our really good channel partners from others. That should ultimately translate to profitable business. We need to get the channel to embrace those ideas for us to grow.

As you come into the new role, what do you want partners to know about changes you might be making, or not making, in Ruckus' go-to-market strategy?

It really is a case of steady as she goes. I was involved in the definition of the strategy for the Ruckus Networks business as we emerged out of Brocade, joining Arris. We started the year, and we already had a clear view of product strategy, the roadmap and the go-to-market strategy were intended to play out. Step No. 1 for me is make sure we continue on that path. Early signs are that it's paying dividends. We had a stellar Q1. We had a record quarter for our wireless and our wired business. Q2 is still upon us, but the momentum has definitely carried over into Q2. That doesn't necessarily constitute a trend, but it certainly feels like the stability, the forward-looking posture that we have is paying dividends. The team is motivated. We had the first of our three big, annual partner events – Big Dogs – and we were oversubscribed in terms of attendees. The vibe and the mood of the Ruckus channel is very positive.

What's the key for Ruckus' ability to hold partners' attention in a crowded and fast-moving market?

We are, and continue to be, focused on enabling our partners. Everything we do from a go-to-market strategy starts with thinking about how we can make it easy and profitable for our partners to choose Ruckus. They have choices. We know that. We want to be the partner networking company. It's a simple few words, but the word partner comes before networking company, and that's to indicate that when we think about building new products, launching new products, marketing, our capabilities, we think partner first. While you can always improve on that, it really comes down to giving [partners] great technology, creating the kind of environment in terms of market awareness and demand for the products, and enabling them to build a value proposition in the form of some sort of managed service offering.

Is it almost unquestionably important for partners to develop managed service offerings?

The industry is definitely changing at a fairly rapid pace and everyone is looking at how do they generate recurring revenue streams, how do they build a service offering that's sticky and adds value around the core products. Everything we're doing, whether it's the virtual instance of our SmartZone controller that enables our partners to build a comprehensive, scalable platform to deploy wireless networking and adding value around that, or analytics, which is another area where the channel can add tremendous value. They have capabilities around everything from location-based services to a host of different IoT-type services. That's an area where the channel can really make hay and add value beyond just the resell of the products.

How important has it been for Ruckus to maintain a single strategy as it found its way through all the changes of the last couple of years?

I'm a big believer that the strategy shouldn't change very much, if at all. Your plans may change in how you execute. You may have to course correct from time to time, but we've been on this path now of enabling the partner community to take advantage of the core technology and build robust and profitable services for themselves around that. That's definitely something I hope to continue in my new role.

Did partners pull back in response to the uncertainty surrounding the acquisitions Ruckus was involved in? If they did, are they coming out of that now?

Yes, and yes. It's inevitable. Every company that's gone through a period of uncertainty as it relates to acquisitions, mergers, whether you're buying a company or being bought by a company, it does create some pause in the marketplace, and not just within the channel. End users who are making big strategic decisions usually take an extra step. I don't think it affected us in a material way. It was more of a pause than an, 'Okay, we're going to shift allegiance to another brand.' Over the course of 2017 we went through a prolonged period of government approvals for the Broadcom acquisition of Brocade and subsequent divestiture of the three components of Brocade to Arris, Extreme and Broadcom. It took a little longer than we hoped, but the overwhelming feedback we've had from partners indicates that the channel is truly engaged. If it wasn't for the fact that the results for Q1 were strong and we're expecting positive results for Q2, I may not be quite so bullish, but we're feeling really good about the business right now.

Do you have plans for building out your channel-facing sales operation?

We have some aggressive growth goals this year. Our current mode is to grow at twice the market rate, and the compound annual growth rate just in wireless is somewhere between 8- and 10 percent. That does bring with it the need to invest, not just in sales and marketing, but on the product development side and other aspects of our business. There is a fairly significant increase in customer-facing people in the channel, what we call partner account managers and the associated systems engineers and inside account managers that go with that. We have been on a bit of a tear in terms of recruiting because we need the human resources to support the growth ambitions we have. We've been hiring very efficiently and at an accelerated rate through the first part of the year. On the sales side, it's really all about people, and that's customer-facing, channel-facing, demand generation, as well as the program infrastructure to support a large base of partners.

What do you need from partners new and old to support your growth goals?

The No. 1 priority for us now is to show our partners how much stronger the value proposition and the business opportunity is around cross-selling between the wireless portfolio and the switching portfolio. We now have a really compelling lineup of edge switches. Before we were acquired by Brocade, when we were a stand-alone company, 100 percent of our wireless networking gear was sold into an environment where the switching was either Cisco, or HP or someone else. It was an impediment in some deals. We were able to rectify that by bringing the Brocade ICX switching portfolio into the Ruckus stable. That all came with us when we joined Arris. Now, we have to show our partners how compelling it is to sell the end-to-end wired and wireless solution because the deal sizes go up dramatically, and the value proposition increases.

What other Ruckus product families do you think hold significant cross-selling opportunities for partners?

We actually made a significant product announcement this week, which is our SmartZone controller platform. We did a major upgrade to that platform that basically means you can now manage the Ruckus wired and wireless components through one single pane of glass management framework. For our competitors and our channel partners who sell competitors' products, you have to have two or three different views of the wired and wireless pieces of the network to provide management. We've checked a pretty significant box in enabling our partners to do both through one integrated SmartZone OS5 integrated platform. That helps the whole cross-selling initiative we're focusing on.