LAS VEGAS—Aruba Networks CEO Dominic Orr faced the challenging task during his keynote on the opening day of the Atmosphere 2015 conference of telling the 5,000 or so users who enthusiastically call themselves “Airheads” why being bought by Hewlett-Packard is a good deal while ensuring them that the attributes they love most about Aruba won’t change.
Orr brought with him a number of talking points, from showing how the business world is going increasingly mobile and how that is driving demand for converged wired and wireless networking architectures, to how being part of HP will give users access to more products and resources, and how he and Keerti Melkote, Aruba’s co-founder and chief strategy and technology officer, will still run the business even after the $2.7 billion deal closes in the next few months.
The two companies announced the acquisition the day before Orr gave his keynote here March 3.
Aruba’s wireless platform will remain open to third-party technologies and will continue to leverage the broad array of partnerships, Orr said. Within HP, he will continue to stress the need for the wireless networking technology to remain open, software-defined and mobility-centric, and users will continue to be able to choose whatever products—from whatever vendors—work best for them.
“Our primary focus is to continue to excel … in this enterprise wireless networking space,” the CEO said. “You have my word that we will not limit your choice of wireless products.”
He also had HP CEO Meg Whitman (pictured) remotely address the crowd from the Mobile World Congress 2015 show in Barcelona, Spain. Whitman—speaking on a massive screen that dwarfed Orr—talked about the excitement the deal was generating among customers and partners at the show across the Atlantic Ocean and how important a role Aruba and its customers will play in boosting the wireless capabilities of HP’s networking business.
“The strategic intent is to allow Aruba to prosper and scale,” she said.
Whitman also hit on a note that Orr and other partners reiterated throughout the keynote: that a combined HP and Aruba represented a significant challenge to networking leader Cisco Systems.
“The market is looking for an alternative to the incumbent,” Whitman said, adding—in response to a question from Orr—that Cisco CEO John Chambers misspoke recently when he said that his company had won the networking battle. “When John says it’s game over, I say it’s game on. Go beat Cisco. We are on the hunt, and they won’t know what hit them.”
The crowd responded enthusiastically, but there was a mixture of feelings about the deal before the keynote, with some users talking about their negative experiences dealing with HP while others said they were excited about what hooking up with the tech giant will mean.
The continuity of leadership will be important in easing users’ minds about the deal, according to Neil MacDonald, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. After the acquisition is complete, Orr and Melkote will lead HP Networking, which should give Aruba users comfort that HP will continue to innovate and scale the Aruba technology, MacDonald told eWEEK.
The Gartner analyst said the deal, which is expected to close by October, works for both vendors. For Aruba, it’s an issue of scale. The 13-year-old company will see its customer base, number of service providers and sales force grow.
“It’s putting the growth [that Aruba has seen to this point] on steroids,” MacDonald said.
HP gets to accelerate its efforts to create a unified wired and wireless networking offering.
“HP has been a growing [vendor] in wired and campus networking,” he said. “What Aruba brings to the table is the wireless component. [The acquisition] makes a great deal of sense.”
Aruba CEO Orr: HP Deal Will Be Good for Company, Users
Orr and partners—including Bob Tinker, MobileIron CEO, and Chad Kinzelberg, senior vice president of business and corporate development at Palo Alto Networks—noted how the business world has transformed over the past several years to a mobile one, due to the rise of smartphones and tablets, as well as the cloud. Orr used a food metaphor to describe the change.
“Wireless, when we started, was there to support wired,” he said. “Now wireless is the burger and wired is the fries. And everyone wants a Happy Meal.” The deal will make HP the top “Happy Meal deliverer.”
He also said Aruba would continue to innovate, pointing to the Aruba 7000 Cloud Services Controllers announced at the Atmosphere show March 3 that collapse multiple networking appliances found in campus networks into a single device.
Also taking the stage was Jayshree Ullal, president and CEO of 10-year-old Arista Networks, who said the shift in the networking business away from hardware and toward software has opened up possibilities for vendors like Aruba and Arista in a market dominated by Cisco.
“You don’t need just large companies” to build networks, Ullal said. “You can bring together a lot of best-in-breed [vendors] to make it happen.”
Toward the end of his keynote, Orr told users that until the deal closes, Aruba and HP would continue to work together in some areas and compete in others. He also said that until then, he wouldn’t be able to talk in any detail about his plans for when he takes over HP Networking. Orr said competitors would try to use the period before the close to raise concerns about the deal in hopes of winning over customers.
In an email sent to media outlets after the deal was announced March 2, David Flynn, CEO of Aruba rival Aerohive Networks, said the HP deal is an opportunity for his company.
“As mobility continues to infiltrate every facet of business and life, reliable wireless connectivity has become a requirement,” Flynn said. “Merging two companies is complicated, and inevitably slows down product development, breaks partnerships and creates headaches for customers. Meanwhile, we’ll keep focusing on innovation, advancing our technology, expanding our ecosystems, and bringing better wireless and better intelligence to our customers.”
After reports about a possible HP-Aruba deal emerged last week, Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley had similar thoughts, noting that Aruba is the second-largest WLAN vendor in the market and that HP already has its own wireless technologies.
“This acquisition will likely have an impact on both vendors’ WiFi product portfolios, which may cause disruptions to existing customers,” Buckley said in an email statement. “Since Aruba also OEMs their products to HP competitors, such as Dell, Brocade and Alcatel-Lucent, this transaction creates as many questions for them as it creates for current HP and Aruba customers.”