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The Doyle Report: How Aruba Can Help Improve the Dreaded Conference Call, Student Security and Asset Tracking

We reflect on the biggest takeaways from Aruba Atmosphere 2018.

Simplified meeting access. Improved student security. Better asset management.

These are just a few of the things that came up in conversations at Aruba’s 2018 Atmosphere customer and partner summit, which wrapped this week in Las Vegas. What follows are some outtakes from several interviews.

First up: Aruba CTO Partha Narasimhan. From there, I'll move on to some insights on outfitting restrooms – yes restrooms – from Zones vice president Tony Balistrieri. Finally, let’s get a channel update from Donna Grothjan, vice president of channels at Aruba.

Rethinking Spaces

At Atmosphere, Narasimhan challenged attendees to rethink the world around them. To him, physical spaces are the new digital frontier. Take office space.

Why, Aruba wonders, should you have to dial into a team call in a conference using dedicated equipment when you already have a one-click-to-connect meeting invite on your mobile device? At the event, Aruba demonstrated a smart-office solution that it built using software and APIs from Amazon, Microsoft, Zoom and Aruba itself. The solution demonstrated how a typical office worker could find a vacant conference room, navigate his or her way to it, and then seamlessly transfer a Zoom call from a mobile device to a conference room audio setup. The solution also demonstrated how Amazon’s Alexa could be enlisted to dial into a conference call.

No fumbling with access codes, no trying to connect audio tools or plugging in wires. It was office-worker magic.

To make all this work, Aruba leveraged key building blocks for smart spaces, including indoor locators, smart rooms and desks, mobile apps, IoT automation, identity and policy management, enterprise calendars, voice controls and web conferencing.

As the company brings wireless and wired-network management together, it is learning some new things that challenge long-held beliefs. Take the idea that a hardwired connection is inherently more secure than a wireless one. Turns out that’s not always true, especially when you leverage the latest wireless technology available.

“We’re learning new things all the time,” Narasimhan told me in an interview. Take assumptions about network design, deployment and management. At Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where the San Francisco 49ers football team plays, 90 percent of the traffic that runs on the Aruba wireless fan network is video being uploaded to the cloud. When Aruba first help design the network, the company assumed most traffic would be downstream.

Partha Narasimhan

Who would have thought fans would be more interested in uploading video of themselves at the game and tailgating than downloading replays or watching highlights of the men on the field?

Talk about rethinking spaces.

Connected Restrooms? A (Sad) Sign of the Times

Atmosphere attracts a wide variety of partners. Some are exactly the kind of network integration partners you’d expect to see; others are a bit of a surprise.

Take Zones, the $2 billion direct market response (DMR) fulfillment company based in Auburn, Washington. Though Zones made its name supplying corporations laptops, printers, cables, surge protectors and more, the company has since moved upmarket. In November 2016, Zones bought nfrastructure, a Clifton Park, New York, technology services and consulting company. nfrastructure helped jump-start Zones into the world of managed services, business consulting and more. With the acquisition done and integration fully completed, Zones relaunched nfrastructure in March 2018 as the company’s upscale services arm.

Today, the combined entities focus on the data center, mobility, unified communications, cloud, security and Internet of Things (IoT).

Here at Atmosphere, I met with Tony Balistrieri, vice president of corporate field sales, to talk about his company’s move into networking.

Though Aruba accounts for less than 5 percent the company’s business, it’s an important player in the Zones portfolio, especially when it comes to one of the fastest growing parts of the company’s business: networking. Aruba is seen by customers as a little ahead of the technology curve, Balistrieri says, and by Zones as a reliable, trustworthy partner.

While Aruba has not yet attracted a flood of new customers to Zones, it has helped the company get much closer to the ones it already has. For these accounts, Zones is putting Aruba wireless gear in everywhere. Think industrial settings, corporate campuses and schools. One customer even inquired about putting access points in restrooms. When asked why, the customer sighed and said, “With all the school shootings, we are thinking about all the ways to keep people connected and safe.”

Wi-Fi in a bathroom? That’s a (sad) sign of the times.

Transforming IT from a Cost Center Into a Business Generator

When HPE and Aruba came together, there was very little partner overlap. So in fiscal 2017, the combined companies launched Partner Ready for Networking. The goal was to bring all networking partners into one channel program to simplify administration, management, promotions, branding and more.

Fast-forward to today. Aruba now is trying to connect its best security partners to its own security sales team so they can jointly promote ClearPass and IntroSpect together. To help make that easier, Aruba has introduced a security specialization and competency for its channel partners. This will provide partners extra training and support so they may better sell security technology from Aruba.

Today, the Aruba channel is a mix of old and new. There are legacy HPE networking partners, Aruba loyalists and new networking partners. Some are pure resellers, others pure managed services providers. Interestingly, more than half of Aruba’s partner sales are generated from what the company calls specialized partners that sell both legacy HPE wired and Aruba wireless solutions.

“That’s a big deal to us considering where we were a year ago,” says Grothjan.

When it looks at its growing channel, Aruba sees a need for more managed-services capabilities. To help existing partners who struggle shifting their finances to be able to offer managed services, Aruba has enlisted HPE Financial Services to build programs that offer financial assistance. These programs offer leasing options to partners that are similar to ones extended to end customers. To date, only 100 or so partners have expressed interest the programs, which were launched a year ago. As the market evolves, however, Grothjan expects interest to grow.

Partners are also looking to Aruba for more marketing support, especially when it comes to selling into vertical markets.

“Today, the expectation among consumers is that Wi-Fi is everywhere and should be available always,” says Grothjan. “So we are working with our partners to help their customers drive more business or improve end-customer satisfaction.

This includes everything from helping retailers drive more foot traffic into their stores to helping hospitality providers offset the revenue they have lost from selling in-room entertainment via the sale of fast internet access. (Everyone wants their Netflix!)

Grothjan described one real-world example of how Aruba and a partner are helping one large health-care provider prevent the loss of wheelchairs. Really.

After learning that Aruba’s location-based services could keep track of physical assets, the health-care provider’s medical director became excited. Each year, he explained, the care facility loses hundreds of thousands of dollars on lost or stolen wheelchairs. They disappear when patients leave the hospital, he explained.

When learning that simple beacons and sensors and software could reduce shrinkage, Aruba and the partner won the deal.

Reducing wheelchair theft? It’s not exactly something that fits on a product spec sheet, but it is one of the reasons why Aruba and its partners are rolling these days.

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