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Why Aruba's promise not to change after HP buyout may be true

Both Aruba Networks CEO Dominick Orr and HP CEO Meg Whitman insist that nothing is going to change for Aruba's partners and customers.

Last Monday, HP made a big splash when it announced a definitive agreement to acquire Aruba Networks. Coincidentally, that Monday was the same day that Aruba's annual customer and partner conference, Atmosphere, kicked off in Las Vegas.

Although Aruba had some interesting announcements at the show, such as its new branch office product, most of the buzz at the show was about what HP's takeover meant to Aruba's channel partners and customers. As I pointed out in my previous post, HP's track record has been underwhelming when it comes to acquisitions, so anyone associated with Aruba was well-justified in their concern.

It's been about a week since the show ended, and I've had a number of conversations with resellers, customers, and competitive vendors regarding the implications of HP/Aruba. There is a tremendous amount of speculation and scuttlebutt regarding what might happen once the deal closes. Mark Haranas from CRN wrote this article regarding both Xirrus and Aerohive having competitive programs to poach channel partners from Arbua.

Based on my conversations with the management team at Aruba Networks, I believe any concern is unwarranted at this point, and jumping ship might be a bit short-sighted. During his keynote, CEO Dominic Orr stated emphatically, "we will not change!" He then went on to call out specifics, such as the focus on helping customers transition to the all-wireless workplace, the way Aruba deals with channel partners, and the customer-centric nature of the company. He reiterated the statement that they will not change over and over again.

Now, one could assume that Orr was just grandstanding in front of the large Atmosphere audience and saying the thing he needs to say. However, during his keynote, the company did bring HP CEO Meg Whitman in via video from Barcelona, where she was attending Mobile World Congress. Whitman also reiterated what Dominic Orr said, confirming that although Aruba will indeed be run as a division inside HP, it will also have the autonomy to do the things it needs to do to have continued success.

I understand it's easy to look back at HP acquisitions in the past and be skeptical. In the new Battlestar Galactica, Leoben and Caprica Six would quote from the scrolls of Pythia that "all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again," meaning destiny is predetermined. Normally, I would agree with this sentiment, but this is a different HP with a different leadership team and a different goal. If you look back when Whitman was running eBay, she acquired PayPal and let it run as an autonomous entity inside the company. Perhaps this has happened before, but for historical context we should look at Whitman's history, not HP's.

This integration of HP Procurve into Aruba should be a boon for Aruba, its channel and, most importantly, the customers of both companies. Aruba has a proven track record of innovation and should be able to parlay the combined products and make the shift to a true portfolio company. While the vision is to build an "all-wireless" business, the fact is there still needs to be a rock-solid wired network to aggregate the wireless traffic on. Given that Wi-Fi speeds are breaking the Gig-E barrier, Aruba should be able to develop a differentiated story that leverages the combined strengths of HP Networking and Aruba.  

If you're a current customer or channel partner of Aruba and you're concerned about the integration, I would at least take a wait-and-see approach and believe what both Orr and Whitman are saying – Aruba won't change, so there's much more upside potential than downside risk.

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