Aruba Channel Leaders Look to Scale Partner Ecosystem

The company wants its partners to match its own ambitions.

T.C. Doyle, Senior Director of Content

April 3, 2019

5 Min Read
Increasing Graph, growth

ARUBA ATMOSPHERE — As networking vendor Aruba expands its product and services portfolio, its channel leaders are taking steps to expand the size of the networking vendor’s partner ecosystem. Throughout 2019, for example, they expect to add as many as 1,000 channel partners who sell to SMB solutions to end customers.

That’s just the beginning. In addition to more SMB resellers, the company is looking to recruit partners that have relationships with chief security officers (CSOs) and chief information security officers (CISCOs). Aruba, which built its business with the help of regional VARs, is also looking to more partners with vertical market expertise in health care and other fields, and partners who possess capabilities that the company’s existing 6,000  in North America don’t bring to market.

For insights on how the Aruba channel is evolving, Channel Futures turned to Donna Grothjan, vice president of worldwide channels, and Jim Harold, vice president of North American channels ,at Aruba. In an interview at the company’s Atmosphere 2019 event in Las Vegas, the two discussed ecosystem expansion, channel trends and growing pains.

Our conversation began with partner expansion. While not wanting to flood its channel with me-too partners that will only compete with existing partners, Aruba recognizes its need to broaden its capabilities as it broadens its portfolio.


Aruba’s Donna Grothjan

“Our portfolio has broadened, obviously,” says Grothjan. “So that’s led to some internal conversations around specific technologies, verticals and other markets.”

Take security. While Aruba has not traditionally thought of itself as a security company, the Santa Clara, California, company nonetheless produces a great deal of security technology. (There’s a firewall in almost every networking product it delivers, after all.) To attract more security partners, the company created a security specialization. The move did indeed attract partners that previously didn’t have a networking relationship with Aruba. It also helped existing partners differentiate themselves from others in the Aruba ecosystem.

Another reason for new recruitment? Channel mergers, says Harold.

“We’ve seen some consolidation, so we always have to look at expansion,” says Harold. “We are also investing more around some of the global systems integrators … But I think overall our coverage in the enterprise is pretty solid. Our [current] partners are looking for ways of further penetrate existing accounts. So we track that, and have done well. But the other trend we are starting to see is some Cisco-only partners start to come into our camp.”

Why? Two reasons, Harold says. Many Cisco partners have to come to realize that they can only grow so far with the San Jose market leader, while others are finding customers who prefer to work in open environments and thus demand vendors that “play nice with others” when it comes to open APIs and product interoperability.

Another reason why Aruba needs additional partners? Its existing enterprise partners don’t or can’t go down-market and pursue opportunities in the midmarket customer space.

“We invested significantly in an inside sales team, which has doubled in size in two years, that is producing leads,” says Grothjan. “But we discovered that our larger partners have no interest in pursuing them.”

They’d love the new business, of course, but can’t afford go after smaller deals that don’t fit with their business model or that dilute their focus.

When it comes to the broad channel as a whole, Harold see more traditional partners looking to get into …

… managed services and SaaS sales. They struggle with cash flow and other challenges, which is why Aruba has stepped up with enhancements to its MSP program.

Another channel trend Harold has noticed is the growth in IoT practices. This includes companies as large as Insight Enterprises and as small as startups. These companies are particularly drawn to the company’s new ClearPass Device Insight technology, which helps customers better understand what is attached to their corporate network and how they can monitor and/or limit the behavior of IoT devices.


Aruba’s Jim Harold

“Our partners are finding that business people are not always checking with their IT departments when they put an IoT thermostat on their network or some new inventory management tool,” says Harold. “Partners are ideally positioned to help CIOs better understand their risk, not just sell equipment.”

In addition to new opportunities and market trends, Grothjan and Harold addressed some of the growing pains the company has endured of late. One big one is renewals, acknowledged on stage by the company’s president and its senior vice president of worldwide sales.

Ask anyone in the Aruba channel about the problem and you’ll likely get an eye roll; yes, Aruba has largely fixed the problem, which stemmed from a data migration that occurred after HPE and Aruba merged, but some issues linger.

The data migration didnt go as well as it could have, which resulted in a “deficit of data.” When it came to renewal customers, the customer database lacked critical information, which created a mountain of headaches for partners, customers and Aruba alike.

To its credit, Aruba took great pains to fix the effort. It’s still “playing catch-up,” concedes Grothjan, but the problem has been significantly reduced.

That’s not just according to Aruba, but partners, too. Take Shannon Champion, a veteran network architect at Pier Group in Jasper, Indiana. Pier Group is an education specialist that has built some of the most sophisticated networks used at higher-ed research universities today. An Aruba channel Ambassador, Champion worked with Aruba long before its acquisition by HPE.

While he has some choice words about the data migration, Champion is solidly behind Aruba for the long haul.

“This is a vendor partner that does what it says. And it truly goes above and beyond,” Champion says.

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About the Author(s)

T.C. Doyle

Senior Director of Content, Informa

T.C. Doyle, is the Senior Content Director of Channel brands at Channel Futures, and is responsible for the editorial direction of A veteran technology writer, editor and video storyteller who has covered the IT industry for more than two decades, he was previously the Executive Editor at Channel Partners, and the Editor@Large with Cisco, where he traveled the world in search of stories that captured the social and technological transformations occurring in the economies of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. A frequent speaker at IT industry events and trade shows, he resides in Park City, Utah.

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