Ed Meyercord knew that Extreme Networks needed to bulk up its wireless LAN capabilities. The company was built on switches for data center and campus networks, and it extended its reach into the wireless networking field in 2013 with its $180 million acquisition of Enterasys Networks.
However, the WLAN space is among the fastest growing segments of the larger networking market, and although Cisco Systems has remained the top vendor, other companies were rapidly adding to their portfolios. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) in 2015 bought Aruba Networks, while Brocade this year spent $1.2 billion for WiFi equipment provider Ruckus Wireless.
Meyercord, who took over as Extreme’s president and CEO in 2015, knew his company needed to expand what it was doing in the wireless networking space. The question was whether to build the technology in-house or follow the leads of HPE and Brocade and buy a company. In the end, Meyercord opted to buy, announcing this month that Extreme was spending $55 million to acquire the WLAN business of Zebra Technologies, a unit Zebra itself inherited two years ago when it bought Motorola Solutions for $3.45 billion.
The deal will be a boon for Extreme, said Meyercord, who took that message to customers, partners, analysts and journalists during an event last week at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
“The acquisition of the wireless LAN business from Zebra … strengthens Extreme’s position in the marketplace and heightens Extreme Networks as a brand,” the CEO told eWEEK.
The deal is expected to close next month. Once it does, having Zebra’s wireless business in the fold will vault Extreme into the No. 4 position in global market share—trailing the likes of Cisco and HPE’s Aruba unit—and No. 3 in its combined target areas. It also expands Extreme’s capabilities, he said. Until now, among the company’s strengths had been providing wireless connectivity in confined, highly dense environments such as sports stadiums. Zebra’s technology is more aimed at less dense, more distributed situations, such as multiple hotel franchises.
There will be other impacts as well. Not only will the company acquire products to fill out its wireless portfolio, but it also will become a player in two new verticals: retail and transportation. That will add to the five markets that Extreme already targets: education, health care, manufacturing, government and hospitality, including sports stadiums. Extreme provides the WiFi connectivity at the Patriots’ stadium.
In addition, Extreme will inherit many of Zebra’s wireless customers, many of them big, well-known companies including DuPont, Coca-Cola, FedEx, UPS, Amtrak and Holiday Inn. Getting access to such blue chip companies has the Extreme sales force excited, Meyercord said.
“In effect, it’s like having a hunting license for the big names,” he said.
Among the Zebra technologies Extreme will gain will be the WiNG wireless operating system, NSight for advanced network troubleshooting, wireless access points, AirDefense intrusion and detection technologies and managed services. They will mesh well with Extreme products, including the company’s ExtremeAnalytics data analytics technology.
“This clearly establishes Extreme as a leader in wireless LAN,” Meyercord said.
Extreme CEO: Zebra Deal Will Grow Vendor’s WLAN Business
Revenue in the global WLAN market in the second quarter jumped 6.7 percent over the same period in 2015, and the enterprise segment of the space increased 9.4 percent, the strongest growth in two years, according to IDC analysts. Fueling the growth has been refresh cycles and companies spending money on digital transformation efforts, they said in a report earlier this month.
“Recognizing the critical role that WLAN plays in IT’s mobility and digital initiatives, enterprises are committing to WLAN upgrades and refreshes,” Nolan Greene, senior research analyst for network infrastructure at IDC, said in a statement. “Even as global economic indicators are mixed, IDC believes that enterprises will continue to invest in robust WLAN infrastructure in order to compete effectively in the digital economy.”
Meyercord said he and Zebra CEO Anders Gustafsson first discussed the possibility of Extreme buying Zebra’s WLAN unit about a year ago, but it wasn’t until recent months that negotiations accelerated. Throughout the process, Gustafsson reiterated that his primary concern in selling the unit was ensuring that any buyer would continue to make customers its priority, Meyercord said.
The sale will be good for both companies, according to Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research. Zebra is able to shed a unit that didn’t always fit in well with its other businesses, while Extreme gets more wireless technologies to sell.
“Extreme has been trying to grow its WiFi business,” Kerravala told eWEEK, noting other vendors—including Cisco, HPE/Aruba and Brocade/Ruckus—also are building out their portfolios.
The challenge now is execution after the sale is complete, he said. There is some product overlap that will have to be dealt with, but if Extreme can successfully integrate the Zebra business into its own, the deal will benefit the networking vendor.