This week Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, announced its President, Dominic Orr, is retiring at the end of the month and turning the helm over to Aruba co-founder and CTO Keerti Melkote.
This ends a 10-year run by Orr, who took over as CEO in 2006. During that time, Aruba has arguably been the technology leader in business Wi-Fi and has been one of the few vendors that have managed to not get trampled by Cisco despite numerous predictions that they would. This should be a smooth transition because in actuality, HPE Aruba has been co-run by both Melkote and Orr, as the company has been planning on Orr’s retirement from some time.
From what I understand, Orr has been mulling retirement since before the HP merger and stayed with the business to oversee the integration into HPE and ensure the business was on a stable foundation.
+ Also on Network World: Aruba flexes some IoT muscle +
When HPE acquired Aruba, there were some questions as to whether Aruba would continue to run itself or if it would get pulled into the larger organization and lose some of the momentum the company had.
At the time, Orr promised that nothing would change with Aruba, and the innovation and competitiveness the company had shown as an independent vendor would remain in place as a division of HP. I’ve been critical of HPE in the past, but to their credit, they not only let Aruba run their own show but also assume responsibility for HP Networking, prompting Orr to claim that Aruba had acquired HP Networking when HP acquired it.
It’s been almost two years since the acquisition, and Aruba’s performance has continued to be strong as the company capitalizes on a world that is becoming increasingly mobile. I certainly don’t expect any disruption as Melkote takes over, as the two have been working hand in hand for years now.
Highlights from Orr’s tenure
As we say farewell to Orr, it’s worth reviewing some of the highlights of his tenure as CEO of Aruba Networks and President of HPE Aruba:
- Initial public offering. One of the landmark events for any company to prove they have arrived is an initial public offering (IPO). Publicly traded companies get far more media coverage than privately held ones, since almost any news can have implications on stock price. Aruba’s IPO was a success, as the company raised $88 million from the event, and the rest was history.
- Acquires AirWave. In 2008, Aruba acquired a small wireless LAN management vendor called AirWave Wireless for $37 million. At the time, the acquisition seemed interesting. It certainly didn’t seem game changing, but it proved to be perhaps the most important piece of the Aruba competitive puzzle. AirWave’s strength was its multi-vendor management capabilities and support for vendors such as Aruba, HP Procurve, 3Com, Motorola and archrival Cisco.
Aruba used AirWave as a “Trojan horse” where it was able to sell the management tool into competitive accounts between upgrade cycles, build a relationship with the customer and then replace the Wi-Fi infrastructure when the customer needs to upgrade to the next technology. This was particularly effective with Cisco where AirWave managed Cisco Wi-Fi better than Cisco’s own tools.
- Strong security focus. With Wi-Fi, I’ve always felt competing on air quality was not sustainable because many proprietary features eventually become standardized ones. For example, Meru was the first vendor to solve the voice-over Wi-Fi problem, but now the ability to maintain calls while roaming between APs is a standard feature.
Aruba used security as a way to differentiate itself from the rest of the many vendors that were in the market at that time. I recall a conversation with a reseller who told me he felt Aruba was more of a security vendor dressed up as a Wi-Fi provider. Security and management provided a way for Aruba to rise above the noise of all the other Wi-Fi vendors and maintain its technology-leading position.
- Hopping on the Lync train. In 2012, Microsoft hit the market hard with its unified communications solution, Lync. Given the popularity of Microsoft Office, Windows, SharePoint and other products, it was a “no brainer” for many businesses to give Lync a shot. Lync voice was a pure, over-the-top solution, making provisioning quality difficult. To help customers, Microsoft released a qualification program, and I believe Aruba was the first official Lync-certified Wi-Fi vendor.
- Launches Clear Pass. Also in 2012, Aruba launched its Clear Pass endpoint software to help customers secure and manage consumer devices in the workplace. We are now entering the Internet of Things era, and Clear Pass will be a foundational component of HPE’s overall strategy in this market, as Clear Pass can help customers get a better handle on the impending explosion of devices.
- Acquires Meridian. In 2013, Aruba plunked down $26 million for Meridian to give it indoor-location capabilities. These capabilities, combined with Aruba beacons, enable businesses to create applications that are uniquely mobile to improve loyalty and overall customer experience. A good customer example is the Orlando Airport, which provides flyers with a feature-rich mobile application and high-quality Wi-Fi.
The last notable accomplishment of Orr’s tenure as CEO was the acquisition by HP of Aruba. As the world becomes more connected, dynamic and distributed, the network—particularly the mobile one—becomes a competitive differentiator. HPE paid handsomely for Aruba but gave it the best Wi-Fi technology and will enable it to compete better as a digital solution provider.
It was certainly a busy 10 years for Dominic Orr, and I wish him all the best as he sails off into retirement. Enjoy this phase of your life. You earned it.