You had noteworthy stints at Cisco and Force10. Was the role at Aruba equally challenging when you came onboard eighteen months ago?
Kumar: Aruba was a very exciting assignment because it more or less has the market position in terms of mind share of a Cisco. But in terms of country operations, it was something like Force 10, and had to be built up. Aruba has a good connect with partners and customers. Wireless is a lesser understood technology compared to wired LAN, security etc. So, IT managers are keen to listen.
I came in with a three- pronged deliverable agenda. Increasing the footprint in the country was one of the important goals for us. We, more than doubled our headcount, and our revenues have increased more than 100 percent year-on-year. We added a lot more channel partners, including the top players like Wipro, AGC, IBM, and Dimension Data apart from many tier-2 partners. So the last 18 months have been about partner education and customer touch points.
But vendors generally build partnerships with most of these tier-1 players at an early stage…
Kumar: We already had partnerships with some of these players, but the quantum of engagements has increased in the last 18 months. As we grew our team size, the number of transactions with these partners increased. In fact, we are part of the business plan of one of these tier-1 partners and they are very selective in terms of where they position other WLANs. So their primary offering is around Aruba.
If you look at the wireless LAN market, though you are placed second, you are far behind the top player Cisco in terms of market share. Why such a huge gap?
Kumar: In order to understand the market better, we will have to dwell deep into the usage patterns. There are companies who buy couple of access points (APs) and are not really bothered about the management part. Cisco plays in that segment, but Aruba does not. Then, there is the SMB and mid-market which typically buys 30 to 50 APs. It is a very price/performance metrics driven market. The gating criterion is pricing. That’s not our sweet spot, but Cisco again has an offering for this segment. The enterprise-class customers, on the other hand, are looking at exhaustive and feature-rich wireless LAN solutions. These customers are very demanding on security, performance and application awareness. That is the market segment that Aruba plays in, and that is where we are most relevant. And in that segment, if you do a technology versus technology comparison, we will be better placed compared to Cisco. Our focus is to move away from the centralized hardware-centric access controllers and APs to a controller-less architecture.
While that explains the difference in market share, how exactly do you differentiate yourself from players like Cisco?
Kumar: Cisco has been around for almost 15 years in India, but we have had only two and half years of serious operation. Wireless LAN took a big fillip when 802.11n was introduced. Now BYOD makes wireless more relevant for organizations. This is the time when customers are looking at newer vendors. Cisco has been very good at building wired networks. When it comes to wireless, neither Cisco nor anyone else has done anything different in terms of transitioning customers from wired networks to BYOD. That’s where Aruba becomes important today. Aruba will never grow to be a 700 person operation in India; Cisco is. In India, we are focusing on building our partner community. Wireless requires more handholding and therefore you need knowledgeable and committed business partners. And that is the reason why we spent a lot of time enabling partners. If you go out in the market and compare the customer experience on both the channels (Cisco and Aruba), you would get a far better satisfaction rating on the Aruba channel.
Most of the vendors do not seem to have an all-inclusive BYOD story. What’s your strategy for this market?
Kumar: Aruba’s wireless BYOD story is far more feature-rich as compared to anybody else in the industry today. If you look at BYOD, which is partially network intelligence and partially mobile device management (MDM), the network intelligence piece is far more important than MDM. The bigger challenge in BYOD is that, today when one user brings multiple devices,the network has to deliver a seamless experience, without compromising security. This is something that the network has not been doing so far, because it was primarily wired.
So where exactly are you selling BYOD?
Kumar: Wherever good network is being sold today! It will become a way of building access networks. Client profiles have gone wireless and the preferred medium for devices is wireless. BYOD will happen everywhere. It’s just a matter of the first few executions and the rest will follow. First step towards BYOD is matching your access network with the medium on which your client device prefers to connect, which is wireless today. Somehow the mental comfort for an IT manager is that, ‘if I have done my wired network, then I have my basics right’.
The more complex the BYOD, the better we are because of the intelligence that we bring in the access networks. We also have our ClearPass NAC solution and security capabilities to make the story more comprehensive. That makes our solution slightly complex to deliver at times. That’s why we are focused on improving the quality of channel in the market.
BYOD seems to be your single largest focus as of now. Aren’t you putting all your eggs in one basket?
Kumar: BYOD is not a solution set, it is a driver. It is a boundaryless experience, which can start from a humble feature-rich WLAN experience to a role-based access which extends to enterprise mobility. It’s not a small compartment of solution, but something that allows us to position our entire portfolio. BYOD will be the biggest driver for serious wireless LAN implementations. And we have graduated from being a pure play wireless company to an enterprise mobility player to address this growing market.
What is your roadmap for 2013 in India?
Kumar: We will continue to focus on the same areas and work with our partners to enhance their solution skills. There will be a slight restructure that will happen with respect to our GTM. Our volume business will be driven mainly through our VADs, while our solutions partners will work directly with the Aruba team to drive our high-touch business. Education sector still happens to be the largest market for us, apart from enterprise, healthcare and government.
But is education sector a big buyer of BYOD solutions?
Kumar: Students are the most performance hungry gadget users. As a result, the IT decision makers in this segment are the most demanding customers we have. We have at least seven education institutions that have more than 1000 APs in the campus. There clearly is a huge demand for BYOD.
Neither Cisco nor anyone else has done anything different in terms of transitioning customers from wired networks to BYOD.