Duncan Fisken is very optimistic about the direction Aruba is taking these days. After a turbulent 2008, during which many of his competitors acquired or were bought themselves, the market landscape is now becoming clearer.
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Looking back on a year of rampant consolidation - including Aruba's own acquisition of Airwave at the start of 2008 - and jostling as wireless vendors vied to get their solutions at the front of everyone's mind, Fisken says: "I'm convinced our value proposition will get stronger and stronger."We made a very smart acquisition with the Airwave platform; it gave us a multi-vendor management capability that is now emerging as a very clear differentiator; in this time of ever-increasing consolidation there's no such thing as a homogenous wireless network.
"To be able to say to my customers that we're not going to get rid of our current installed base - that we can manage it and protect their investment - is very important for CIOs. "So, I'm confident our story is right, and analysts remain positive." Fisken believes the real value in a WLAN network is what you run across it, and so says that the wireless VoIP angle has given Aruba a leg-up in terms of industry partners; it currently works with Alcatel-Lucent in an OEM relationship. Having digested Airwave, Aruba is not outwardly in the market for further consolidation any more, but Fisken says that the landscape will continue to change during 2009 and beyond, as companies with interesting looking technological hooks are snapped up. "Right-thinking companies are on the lookout for the right technology," he says. "But with the lack of liquidity in the VC space you're going to see more contracts than consolidation over the next 12 to 24 months. Nobody can pretend the market will be back for two years and the IPO markets are well and truly closed."How long can the smaller guys stay alive in the face of this? I'm certain we will see a lot of partner activity."
In the past, some industry observers have raised the possibility of ground-breaking new technologies being missed as the war chests are locked away during the recession, but Fisken is confident that something truly earth-shattering and disruptive would not be missed."I think our CEO and executive team are very hands-on, they're intelligent and have access to all sorts of market views, so we're in a fantastic position."If there is something out there that would add value to our proposition we'd be out there looking at it."
Re-modelling the channel
In recent months Aruba's EMEA organisation has moved from a rather messy channel model, "characteristic of an opportunistic young company", to a more streamlined set-up. This change included the downsizing of its distribution channel, with several former partners being given the chop.When Fisken originally spoke with MicroScope he was working with Mayflex and React in the UK, but has since added Avnet to the line-up and lost React.
According to Fisken this essentially fulfills Aruba's needs for now. "We have a minimum of two, maximum of three VADs [in each theatre] serving a community of VARs, but our VADs are not logistics warehouses and they must invest significantly in Aruba." When it comes to its reseller community, an increasingly competitive market means Aruba is focusing on helping its dealers compete more in terms of value "rather than a dealer proposition". Like an increasing number of its competitors in the networking space, Aruba also runs a high-level direct-touch sales organisation, with, as Fisken describes: "Very capable sales and presales teams oriented towards end-user customers. We aim to take our channel partners into each opportunity at an early stage and help them articulate our value proposition."WLAN is a complex field, and particularly when you're talking about security it can be hard to articulate," he says. "This is, nevertheless, a slowing market, but there is still a massive opportunity for us; we can turn to questions of return on investment and total cost of ownership. "And not only is there now a close eye on the absolute cost of a solution, but we can also bring the green argument into play and demonstrate real savings."
Aruba's high-touch sales organisation also serves to build closer relationships between the vendor and its end-user customers, and Fisken believes this will be key to winning business in the upturn - which some now say may come sooner than first thought. "I'll listen to my customer's requirements, and if Aruba and its partner can't get to a point where the customer is committed to spend, then we're perfectly happy to cut the path according to width," he says. "If you do right by the customer they will almost always do the right thing by you subsequently," adds Fisken.
Looking towards the future, Fisken says the cost-benefits of a wireless over a wired network infrastructure will begin to become steadily more compelling, particularly when bringing voice features into the enterprise environment, an opinion that his contemporaries are also heavily invested in. "We must continue to invest in research and development to meet these changes, but what is uppermost in my mind is to keep the channel structured in such a way that we can continue to demonstrate our credibility to multinational customers," he concludes.