HPE Aruba lays out strategy for partners and customers at Atmosphere event

HPE CEO and HPE Aruba leader Phil Mottram outlined how Aruba fits into HPE’s broader unified cloud experience focus, and detailed how Aruba is positioning itself going forward.

Phil Mottram, HPE Aruba Networking EVP and GM (L) and Antonio Neri, HPE CEO (R) onstage

LAS VEGAS – HPE Aruba launched their Atmosphere 23 customer event here on Tuesday, the 20th such event for the company, with most of them coming before HPE acquired Aruba in 2015. HPE CEO Antonio Neri and Phil Mottram, HPE Aruba Networking EVP and GM, discussed Aruba’s strategy within both the context of HPE strategy overall, and the trends within the industry generally.

“This is part of our Journey to One – one platform, one experience, one way to deliver unified cloud experience, whether it’s opex or capex,” Neri told the audience, which is approximately 4300 this year. “Off-prem can manage the same way. We give you that control plane where you can do that. It all feeds into this architecture as one integrated experience.”

Agility is a major theme of the event, complete with an opening act of acrobats vaulting around, both on film and live on the stage, and Mottram said that Aruba’s strategic initiatives are highly agility focused.

“In the last 12 months, Aruba has changed a lot, with emphasis on agility and being nimble in the market,” he stated. “The company’s strategy with the Journey to One is to have all of our product areas contained in the one GreenLake Platform.”

Aruba has been strongly identified with the products and services they have in their kitbag. The association is strongest with their original offering, WiFi Access Points.

“We have been selling these for 20 years, with 27.6 million shipped,” Mottram said. “Our CX switching portfolio, which we introduced in 2017, grew 300% last year. Then, we branched into security, moving into SD-WAN with the Silverpeak acquisition and now have over 2800 customers. Those are the areas we are famous for.”

Mottram then highlighted three areas where they are now driving the portfolio. One is Data Center Networking [DCN], where their CX 10K was announced last year. It applies services at the network access layer edge, where the applications are running.

A second new area of emphasis is Private 5G – Private 5G – Private Cellular Networking.

“We believe that it won’t replace WiFi but it will co-exist with it for certain use cases, which is why we are buying Athonet,” Mottram said.

Security is the third area of focus.

“The network and security are coming together, Mottram noted. “SASE has five elements – two of which come from networking.  SilverPeak has SD-WAN and WAN optimization, while Axis Security, which we just acquired, has the other three: Secure Web Gateway [SWG], CASB, and Zero Trust Network Access [ZTNA].

Acquisitions are a seminal part of this strategy.

“Aruba was my first acquisition in 2015, and since then I have done 35,” Neri said. “They are all targeted acquisitions on original investment. In the last 10 weeks, we did multiple ones relating to security. Buying SD WAN and security go hand in hand, and brings a differentiated approach to SASE.”

Neri called out the recent  statement of intent to acquire Italian private cellular network provider Athonet [the deal has not yet closed] as an example of the strategic value of these acquisitions.

“Athonet is a great asset – not just at the edge but also at the core, in terms of  how impactful it can be in the market,” he said.

“We have actually been around for 18 years,” said Karim El Malki, Chief Strategy  Officer and Co-Founder at Athonet. “We originally started working on Private 3G. Then we did 4G and things took off, and that continued with 5G, and now we are here.”

El Malki noted that while the technology behind Private 5G began with and was initially just used by mobile operators, Athonet’s success came from using it in the enterprise, which included heavy duty public  safety products starting in 2010.

“We were able to employ technology that no one else was using in the enterprise at the time,” he said.

The other recent security acquisition, which has closed, is Axis Security. In addition to fully rounding out the Aruba SASE solution, it also reduces the number of solutions required to do this effectively.

“With our ZTNA, CASB and Secure Gateway, we can give customers networking together with security,” said Dor Knafo, Axis Security’s CEO and co-founder. “Customers want one vendor to deliver all of them. Even if customers go with one vendor, they have many solutions. We unified it all into one single pane of glass.”

“In the future we see customers buying networking and security from one vendor,” Mottram said. He pointed out that this acquisition was the subject of extensive vetting.

“We looked at 30 companies and did technical trials with about 10,” he said. The process took over a year.

Mottram also pointed out that not all the innovation is being acquired.

“With Data Center Networks, we hired over 100 engineers in the last year to build out some features,” he said. “Data Center Networks are close to what we do now anyway. So we can develop products pretty quickly in the space. Acquisitions make more sense for us in newer areas where it can be hard to get good people, which makes it easier and faster to acquire.”

Mottram provided an update to the keynote audience on the state of Aruba’s progress with supply chain issues.

“We were affected last year, and some of our delivery time scales became extended,” he said. “So we redesigned our products to remove products that were constrained, where we could, and tried to find alternative supplier in others. The situation has improved dramatically. There has been a 50% improvement in the timeline for 85%  of our products, and 30% for the rest.”

Mottram also gave a report on their progress on sustainability.

“In 2021, we  processed 3 million network assets from customers, 85% of which we were able to give a second life to,” he indicated.

Looking ahead, Mottram said his goals are comparatively modest.

“We’ve changed a lot in the last year,” he said. “We are investing in new capabilities, and buying new companies. Things feel very different than 12 months ago. We have a good strategy and direction and want to make an impact on the market.”

Next year is not likely to be as heavy on acquisitions as this past year has been.

“We are lucky being part of HPE with good financial resources,” he said. “It means that we are not missing any other investment opportunities. We have a comprehensive portfolio. If HPE found millions in a couch, there aren’t any obvious candidates for us to acquire. If, a year from now, we see customers are using all six of our products and are super happy with them, I’ll be happy.”