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How Aruba Networks is tackling the SME market

Re-imagining its approach could help Aruba Networks capitalize on a Wi-Fi market that appears set for massive growth.

Aruba Networks has arguably been the most successful enterprise-focused wireless network company over the past five years. Cisco may have more share, but much of that is due to Cisco’s massive wired base. At one time, Motorola was on par with Aruba, albeit in different verticals, but that business is but a shell of what it once was and Aruba has continued to steal its share.

As successful as Aruba has been in the enterprise segment, the company has had less success with the SME market, i.e. businesses where the employee count ranged from about 25 to 250. Why, you ask? Well, two big problems: a lack of product built for this segment and no channel to sell the product. In this case, the double negative doesn't create a positive, just a bigger negative.

With respect to product, all the company had for Wi-Fi was a controller-managed solution with a price point meant for large businesses to manage hundreds or even thousands of access points. Over the past year or so, Aruba has rectified the product issue.

The Aruba Central cloud management solution and Instant controllerless access points (APs) are ideally suited for SMEs that want enterprise features like security and performance but don’t like the price points associated with controller-managed solutions. The Instant APs typically bring similar functionality at about 25% to 30% of the cost of enterprise solutions. Aruba recently announced its 200 series APs as a set of entry-level, dual-radio 802.11ac APs that are optimized for medium-density SME environments, and the 210 series for higher-performance needs. If the business grows and has enterprise requirements, the new Instant APs from Aruba can then be migrated to a controller-managed solution, giving the SME some long-term investment protection.

This week, Aruba also announced it was expanding its global channel program to address the SME market. Aruba has done a great job of building an enterprise-focused channel through nationwide and global systems integrators. This has been one of the primary reasons Aruba has continued to gain share in the enterprise segment, but SMEs don’t buy from large SIs. SME’s tend to buy from local and regional value-added resellers (VARs). This has long been the distribution channel into the small and mid-market segments of tech, and success with SMEs depends on building a large base of midmarket-focused resellers.

Aruba expanded its PartnerEdge Program to better address the needs of the channels that serve SMEs. I had an opportunity to discuss this with Aruba’s VP of WorldWide Channels, Karl Soderlund, and he explained how the company has created a wide variety of new programs, promotions, and support to ensure the channel partnerships they pursue are successful.

It’s worth noting that Karl is actually Aruba’s first channel manager with global responsibility. Historically, the company has run each region independently, which was sufficient with a large enterprise customer base, but Karl’s position can bring a level of consistency across the globe to a program that now needs to recruit hundreds of channel partners. Despite the newness of the program, Aruba is having success with it, having already recruited more than 200 SME-focused channel partners since August 1st of this year.

Aruba has augmented the PartnerEdge Program to speed up the onboarding process for SMEs. This includes additional training, promotion, and sales enablement to ensure a quick ramp for the partners. The 90-day onboarding cycle for the new partners includes:

  • Access to the Partner portal as well as mobile application
  • Dedicated support from an inside channel manager and inside sales engineer
  • Demo equipment offers
  • Access to deal registration, rebate, and other financial incentives
  • Preferred pricing and promotions
  • Cloud Wi-Fi training with a 30-day license to Aruba Central
  • Free sales specialist training and certifications
  • Limited number of training vouchers each year to cover certifications necessary to progress within the PartnerEdge program

The SME initiative is key for the continued growth of Aruba. In the Aruba press release the company cites a Dell’Oro forecast that has the SME Wi-Fi market reaching about $1.3 billion in a few years. Dell’Oro is the gold standard when it comes to numbers in the networking space, but I do believe this number could be conservative. The growth of Wi-Fi-enabled consumer devices, beacons, and the Internet of Things could create a significant wave of growth for Wi-Fi in both the enterprise segment and the SME market. The SME market is highly fragmented today, so even mediocre success here could drive meaningful growth.

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