HP acquiring Aruba to revive flagging enterprise WiFi fortunes


The enterprise WiFi market has been a story of consolidation and landgrab since Cisco acquired Airespace, the biggest of a high profile clutch of start-ups, in 2005. Another of the new companies which rode the corporate WLAN wave in the early years of the century was Aruba, which has remained proudly independent and evolved its offering from access points to a full network platform, which claims it can support a wireless-only workplace, and WLANs optimized in the same way as cellular networks. Now Aruba is being acquired at last, with reports that Hewlett-Packard is paying $2.7 billion.

Amid major restructuring, the larger firm is reviewing all its businesses, and its enterprise networking unit will certainly be under close scrutiny, having reported an 11% year-on-year decline in the most recent fiscal quarter, to $562m. Aruba will boost that performance – in its own quarter to October 31 2014, it reported 29% year-on-year sales growth, to reach $207.8m, and is projected by some analysts to be on track for $1bn in 2017.

Even more importantly, it will bring some interesting technologies, and a high reputation among corporations, to HP, whose WLAN activity is larger than its prey’s, but has shown few signs of innovation in recent years. Aruba would bring it some of the management and cloud-oriented technologies which Cisco, the market leader, acquired when it bought Meraki, as well as experience of very large WiFi deployments in locations such as stadiums.

If Aruba is acquired, it will become part of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, after HP splits in two later this year. This company will be responsible for enterprise services, hardware and software, while HP Inc will have the PC and printer businesses.

A deal could affect Aruba’s existing WLAN alliance with Juniper Networks, which has sometimes itself been rumored as an HP acquisition target. Last year, Juniper announced that Aruba’s enterprise WiFi access points and switch/controllers would be integrated its Juniper’s routers and switches to fill gaps in its wired/wireless portfolio and compete more effectively with Cisco.

Juniper had hoped that its acquisition of another enterprise WLAN player, Trapeze Networks, in 2010, would help it chase the market leader. But Trapeze proved too little too late – it had only 2.2% market share in 2010, and under Juniper’s control has remained stuck in the same place in the league tables, seventh, that it occupied four years ago.

Aruba has been building a range of alliances with switch/router makers such as Alcatel-Lucent and Brocade in recent years, and working in some cases on API-level integration of the products to enable unified management, visibility, policy and security enforcement across wired and wireless infrastructure. Aruba’s platform also offers contextual data on users, devices, apps and location and a heavily mobile-centric approach to network management.

A year ago, Aruba announced its Mobility Defined Networks platform, which claims to be capable of replacing Ethernet cables while also providing the kind of optimization usually associated with cellular networks. It revolves around five software tools designed to boost the vendor’s claims that its WiFi networks can match enterprise wireline systems in terms of performance and security, while enabling mobile hand-off in dense roll-outs.

The five tools unveiled last March were a next generation mobility firewall, which uses deep packet inspection to set granular role-based policies for mobile apps; an interactive unified communications dashboard, for visualizing and controlling unified communications systems like Microsoft Lync over Wi-Fi; ClearPass Exchange , which automates security workflows and integrates with partner products like AirWatch; Auto Sign-On for Wi-Fi and all enabled apps; and AirGroup, which supports screen and media sharing over Apple, DLNA and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) devices.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.