Wi-fi wars: Battlelines for the branch office

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This article appeared in the September 2015 issue of CRN magazine.

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Wi-fi wars: Battlelines for the branch office
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The wireless clock is ticking. Paul Sadler knows it. The red-hot wi-fi business in the branch office is his to lose.

Sadler has a quarter – maybe two – to churn Aruba resellers to wi-fi vendor Aerohive Networks, distributed in Australia through DNA Connect. In May, HP completed its US$3 billion (A$4 billion) acquisition of upstart wi-fi vendor Aruba, rolling it into HP’s new networking group, HPN.

“For us, the clock is ticking, absolutely,” says Sadler, DNA Connect marketing manager. “Some partners decided that regardless of [Aruba’s] roadmap, they don’t want to be a HP partner. We’re talking and making good progress. Then there’s those [who] want to see what the [HP-Aruba] products will be. That will be the bulk of partners and that’s dependent on when and how HP communicates.”

Sadler says there is a strong correlation between partners who resell Aruba and those who work with Juniper Networks. In fact, Aruba and Juniper struck a strategic alliance in June 2014, which has since been overshadowed by the HP acquisition, and seemingly replaced by a deal between Juniper and Ruckus Wireless. Sadler says Juniper partners are receptive because they aren’t happy about “being forced to be a HP partner” or don’t want to jeopardise their Juniper relationship.

The HP deal gives Aerohive “a seat at the table to explain what you offer”, says Sadler, which includes a 25 percent discount to Aruba partners until 31 December. Aerohive is differentiated because it doesn’t need controllers and is cloud-managed, which makes it ideal for managed service providers, he says.

“We’re looking to capitalise on the disruption going on. We’re laying out the product roadmap to give potential Aerohive partners confidence there’s a strategy and help partners who are transitioning to MSPs or allow existing MSPs add a service stream, which is wi-fi-as-a-service.” 

Changing relationships

Juniper wasn’t the only Aruba partnership possibly affected by the HP buyout. The wireless vendor also had technology agreements with HP competitors including Brocade, Alcatel and Dell that are unlikely to continue. 

Gartner analyst Tim Zimmerman wrote favourably of HP’s Aruba acquisition but noted the prospect of channel conflict especially with Brocade, Juniper and Dell, “by placing them in the uncomfortable position of partnering with their direct competitor”. 

“We expect these vendors to seek out new WLAN partnerships within the next two years, potentially involving Aerohive, Xirrus or Ruckus,” said Zimmerman.

He also advised Aruba customers to hang tight because “we do not anticipate that HP will make fundamental changes to the Aruba product”. 

But Aruba partners that are with Dell, Brocade or Juniper should “consider moving your [wireless network] supply to HP or re-evaluating your vendor”. 

The rash of wi-fi vendor acquisitions has been driven by opportunities in managed services and the need for streamlined remote management of the branch office, says Gartner analyst Bjarne Munch. Kicking off in December 2012, Cisco completed its US$1.2 billion takeover of wi-fi and managed networks vendor Meraki. Last July, security maker Fortinet closed its US$44 million acquisition of Meru Networks.

“It’s the management aspect that’s compelling,” says Munch. “There’s growth in wi-fi but it’s under the umbrella of managed network services… incorporating switches, [network] optimisation and wi-fi. Meraki is trying to simplify branch offices [that] have become very complex with lots of devices [that are] difficult to install and operate, and are costly.”

The opportunity to streamline the branch office coalesces with a change to mobile working, cloud services and faster 802.11ac and .ax wireless protocols that support multi gigabit-a-second speeds.

“We’re looking at a setup where you’re going to replace every network device in the branch office with a single device [and remove branch routers],” says Munch. “The likes of Cisco should be a little bit worried about their router business,” he adds.

Munch says the arrival of the software-defined network accelerates the need to fix the knot of networking and point solutions in the typical branch office. “Getting rid of functions that were sitting in different appliances, put in a simple device that you plug and play in the branch office, is autoconfig and have everything sitting in a cloud server.”

Munch says IBM could be a surprise re-entrant to networking. Big Blue sold its networking division to Cisco in 1999 and was recently rumoured to be shopping its software-defined networking division to Juniper, Dell, Cisco, Fujitsu and HP for US$1 billion. Whether it was serious or a thought bubble, it kept its SDN arm that could be a major player in a US$35 billion-a-year industry by 2020. 

Munch believes IBM is “slowly getting the tools, if they want to get back into” providing networking products and services as part of their systems integration offer. Telcos such as Telstra and BT are also placed to capitalise, he adds. 

That will also bring vendors such as Riverbed, Silver Peak, CloudGenix and Viptela into the acquisition frame, he says. “There will be these low-cost, easy solutions and, if channel partners don’t realise it, then the customers will do it  [for themselves].”

Next: Behind HP's Aruba plans

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