Aruba scoffs at new Cisco mobility markitecture

Aruba vs. Cisco
Yours truly was fortunate to exchange email messages between Aruba and Cisco in an exciting fencing match between the two, regarding the announcement of the new Cisco Mobile Vision. In the email correspondence published below: Aruba scoffs at the Cisco announcement calling it markitecture. Cisco lunges back with how the Aruba argument completely misses the boat and even calls into question Aruba's financial results. Aruba counter-ripostes that the boat missed was actually the one Cisco failed to catch five years ago when Aruba was formed - namely that customers want mobile applications and that Aruba grew 24% year-over-year in a tough economic climate. Cisco derobement parry sifts through the rhetoric stating that Aruba financial results are not exactly the mark of a nimble, cutting edge company with the right approach. Aruba counter-parry, it’s no wonder that Cisco wishes to divert the discussion away from technical prowess in mobility solutions to unrelated matters like Aruba’s stock price (up 9.82% as of market close on June 13). Cisco parting thrust, we’ll close our participation in this debate by pointing out that market performance is the most important metric of them all. Aruba would love to divert attention from their recent performance, as all of the technical claims in the world mean little without the market vote. Aruba touché, wired networks are Cisco’s cash-cow and you should always expect them to add ports for seasoning regardless of what WLAN recipe they cook up.

Aruba scoffs: Brad, Here are some comments about Cisco’s new markitecture. People move and networks must follow them - that’s the reality of the modern enterprise. On that point both Aruba and Cisco agree. How mobility is achieved, and at what cost, is where we diverge.

With this announcement Cisco has at long last accepted that the networking architecture they’ve been peddling for years actually hindered mobility, and they’ve undertaken a total revamp to address the issue. Their customers should brace themselves for the cost associated with this “upgrade” because it won’t come for free. Cisco’s new markitecture requires yet another hardware appliance, as well as new licensed software modules, to work with their existing stack of hardware. All to accomplish what Aruba’s Multi-Service Mobility Controller and vendor-neutral AirWave Wireless Management Suite have done for five years – securely deliver networks and services that follow users wherever they roam.

One justification for the new architecture and new appliance is Cisco’s claim that controllers aren’t capable of processing and disseminating the information required by mobility applications. That statement is certainly true of Cisco’s own products. However, Aruba’s Multi-Service Mobility Controllers not only scale to 80Gbps on the data plane, but also include a multi-core processor for scaling the control plane surfaces. Therefore, for the same services, we provide a more integrated solution than Cisco. That, incidentally, is specifically why the devices are called Multi-Service controllers.

One need only look at the size and scope of Aruba’s secure mobility deployments to see that Cisco is playing catch-up. A similar situation occurred in December 2007 when Cisco realized that their vaunted port-centric security and NAC were inadequate for mobile users. What did they do? They adopted Aruba’s user-centric, identity-based security model.

In terms of supporting a mobility eco-system, Aruba’s platforms exchange information with other partner applications over industry-standard protocols. In contrast, Cisco announced the creation of a new proprietary information exchange protocol the objective of which appears to be to lock third party vendors into their new architecture.

Cisco lunges back: Hi Brad – here is our response to the email you were sent… A nice try, but this response misses the mark, big time...

1. Aruba has no ability to unify networks, they are Wi-Fi only – and mobility is about a consistent experience across wired and wireless (all types).
2. Aruba has no open architecture for application development, thus requiring any partner to engage with specialized development that results in a drain on engineering and IT resources.
3. Services delivery has nothing to do with data rate throughput, but rather is all about CPU power and storage ability.
4. Aruba has no ecosystem of mobility partners to truly enable the applications that enterprises really care about.

In summary, throwing big numbers (80 Gbps, or in this case, 16 Gbps if one decides to secure their wireless data) as an argument against our approach with Cisco Motion completely misses the boat. Wireless is deployed not for wireless’ sake, but for the applications. We believe that building applications that run WITH the network -- not just over them -- requires an evolved architectural approach. As for catching up, take a look at Aruba’s recent financial results. Flat to down over the past three quarters. Losing market share, losing market credibility and losing this particular argument. In the spirit of the summer movie season... We have spoken, and the critics overwhelmingly agree: John Cox - Network World: "Its significance is that it's a product that is really separating the network and services layers, and it's open," says Ellen Daley - vice president at Forrester Research. "This means [software] developers, and groups within Cisco, can leverage or use network resources more easily." "The combination of service programs plus the API is an attempt to link existing context and security infrastructures with an emerging idea of enterprise-wide mobility," says Maribel Lopez - CEO of Lopez Research LLC, a technology research firm. "I think of this [announcement] as bridging together disparate islands first," she says. "First you need to connect and enhance existing applications, then once you have that bridge, you can offer new services."

Michael Morisy - "It's a whole new way of looking at provisioning applications on networks," said Craig Mathias - principal analyst with the Farpoint group. He said that Cisco is trying to take components once handled at the application level and bake them deeper into the network itself in order to provide better contextual information and make it more widely accessible to third-party developers.

MobileTechNews: "I think their statement of direction about where they are headed with mobile computing is crucial for their customers," says Ken Dulaney - vice president of mobile computing for technology research company Gartner. "While there's a lot more to do, it's a very good first move by Cisco."

Aruba counter-ripostes: Brad, To paraphrase a famous Roman statesman, Cisco in general is quick to believe that which it wishes to be true. We welcome Cisco’s interest in mobility solutions but question why they believe they’ve invented a new category when in fact they’re just late to an ongoing party. It’s also surprising how little Cisco appears to know about a solution that each day makes converts of dissatisfied Cisco customers. Let’s address each point in turn:

1. Aruba is hardly Wi-Fi only – our solutions encompass wired, Wi-Fi, enterprise fixed mobile convergence, and remote access solutions. Our vendor-neutral AirWave Wireless management solution manages Wi-Fi, WiMAX, metro mesh, point-to-point networks from more than 16 vendors – Cisco included. Aruba offers unified mobility solutions that include multiple media, technologies, and vendors - that’s a feat Cisco simply can’t match. Cisco is also not in a position to throw stones about wired and wireless integration: in Gartner’s 2007 Magic Quadrant report analysts Michael J. King and Ken Dulaney caution that “Cisco continues to have split wired and wireless management products; prospects for integration in the coming years are slim.”
2. If Cisco’s point was to highlight that proprietary protocols are anathema to open application development, then we agree with them. Strange, then, that Cisco is developing a proprietary MSE-to-Cisco-only NMSP exchange protocol as their solution. NMSP itself is replacing LOCP, an Airespace proprietary protocol. Aruba uses SNMP for management and an open API layer based on XML and other open standards.
3. Reliable service delivery encompasses a range of factors of which data throughput is one important element. Does Cisco espouse streaming continuous video over a low speed Bell 202 modem? Of course not – a network must be designed for speed. We agree that CPU power is also important, which is why we use multi-core processors and hardware-based encryption accelerators. Storage should be appropriate for the intended application, not an end unto itself. And based on lessons learned from the storage industry, long-term storage should be kept in devices dedicated for this purpose and not in controllers.
4. Aruba has an active and fast growing technology partner program with more than 26 members, including companies such as AeroScout that we share in common with Cisco. Since Cisco is unaware of the program we’ll give them a little help by printing the partner program URL:

The boat that was missed is the one Cisco failed to catch five years ago when Aruba was formed - namely that customers want mobile applications. The quotes from journalists and analysts aren’t vindications of Cisco’s strategy - rather they express relief that Cisco has at long last finally declared the failure of their current architecture with respect to mobility, and created an entirely new design to correct this oversight. Rest assured that this news won’t be as welcome to Cisco’s customers, who will pay dearly for yet another layer of hardware and licensed software to accomplish what Aruba has built into its controllers for years. Aruba’s standard controllers enable role-aware wired / wireless networks AND they integrate with any wired IDS and NAC solution in the market without added cost. If the parting shot about financial stability was intended to be a body blow, Cisco erred again – they looked at the wrong numbers. Aruba grew 24% year over year in a tough economic climate. A quick perusal of our announced design wins shows a vibrant, growing enterprise. Aruba from bondage will deliver Cisco’s customers, to paraphrase Shakespeare, and we’ll do so from the position of a best-in-class supplier with a healthy balance sheet and outstanding support services.

Cisco derobement parry: Hey Brad - happy Saturday to you... Sifting through all of the rhetoric here, we boil this down the following:

1. Customers invest in wireless networks to enable mobility applications. We believe that the network architecture simply must evolve to deliver integration, simplicity and ongoing greater value for customers. Opening up the network platform for open application integration is fundamental to our approach, not only with our wireless portfolio, but across other Cisco offerings. We clearly disagree with Aruba, and do not believe the WLAN controller is the element to open up for the ISV community to develop mobility applications that work with the network. Such an approach does not scale, and inappropriately provides open interfaces to what is a tightly secure network element. Cisco has recognized that an evolved approach is needed in our industry, not just because we figured it out on our own, but because our customers (Cisco customers, Aruba customers alike) constantly push us in this direction. And they do so because they believe we are the only vendor capable of achieving this level of integration to make the entire mobility ecosystem work better. It is worth noting that in the hundreds of discussions with industry analysts and experts leading up to the launch of Cisco Motion, the name Aruba Networks was rarely raised by these experts. Cisco Motion addresses key issues facing mobile devices, the network, the applications, and most importantly, the end users who enjoy the experience, and the IT departments who need a better experience in making it all happen. The debate being offered up here by Aruba is inherently limited to the WLAN "box" level. Again, the "get-it" factor is missing.
2. Market results (and recent ones at that) are the best scorecard on who has the right approach. Aruba's financial performance has slowed to a crawl over the past three quarters. The company's market cap has collapsed, disproportionately so, to the overall market. It's almost certain that you will see this reflected in Aruba's y/y growth rates which will slow significantly -- reflecting the wall the company appears to have hit with its previous-generation, limited approach to enterprise wireless networking. One look at Wall Street projections tells the story. Wall Street analysts expect Aruba's y/y growth to slow to 11 percent this quarter, and to 5 percent in the following. You can hear the tires screeching to a halt. Not exactly the mark of a nimble, cutting edge company with the right approach.

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