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Interview: Aruba's new security offering, changing partner ecosystem

07 Sep 2018

Recently at their APAC partner and user conference, Hewlett Packard-owned network infrastructure provider Aruba announced a stronger focus on user experience and cloud enablement. 

Techday spoke to Aruba Worldwide Channels Vice President Donna Grothjans and APAC regional channels and alliances director George Ni about their new security offering, how this pivot will affect their partners, and what Aruba is doing to continue attracting more partners to the brand.

What does Aruba’s pivot to the experience platform strategy mean for your partners?

I don’t think we’re changing our strategy as much as continuing to evolve it. 

Our strategy when we had a networking channel and a wireless LAN channel was focusing on getting them to cross-sell across the entire portfolio. 

With the drive towards customer experience and enabling experiences, that requires other technology. So when we think about ClearPass, we talked about security analytics, and that’s the reason we have introduced a security specialisation as part of the programme because we want to acknowledge and recognise the partners who have a security practice and so that ultimately enables them to deliver better solutions to drive experiences. 

So we’ll continue to create what we call competencies.

Competencies are where we want to have them focused on a specific technology, and they’re our early adopters.

We just introduced a user and entity behavioural analytics UEBA competency with IntroSpect because it’s a new product in the market for us, so we want to seek out any early adopter partners so we can start working closely with them.

That’s how we go about our strategy of recruiting new partners, getting them as they grow and the products become more mass market, then we move the competencies into our standard programme. 

In some markets like Korea, customers are resisting the change to subscription-based business models as they prefer to buy and own their assets. What is Aruba’s strategy for handling these markets?

We already have subscription-based products in these markets that have been adopted.

For example, ClearPass has the appliance piece, which you have to buy the first time, which is a box.

Then you buy the licenses on top, which have different levels of numbers of users for different packs, and the licenses renewals are annual, or on a three-yearly basis, etc. 

The point is we do have licenses sold as part of a subscription model on top of the appliance.

We also have financing services via HPE Finance, so they can still buy the equipment and then HPE Finance can finance it and either lease it back to the partner or work from a leasing perspective with the customer.

But in that structure, we can create an operational expenditure model for the partner to sell to the customer so if they’re concerned, we just manage it from the finance perspective. 

When did you realise there was a need for security competencies, and why did you pick a UEBA solution as a starting point?

It came from understanding our partner base and the heritage of our partner base, and the need for them to be able to sell and explain the new security solution. 

The perimeter of security is changing. 

In the old days, the attack was from outside to inside, and physical protection was enough to protect the perimeter.

The nature of attacks has become more sophisticated, allowing anybody to steal credentials and get into networks. 

This can be done remotely - in security, we call this land speed valuation.

Land speed valuation is causing network security to be breached within the network, so the traditional way of handling security, with ClearPass using role-based authentication is no longer enough because 80% of these attacks come from compromised credentials.

On top of that, we have IoT devices - by year 2020 there will be 20 billion IoT devices connected with mobile devices and more data moving to the cloud. 

85% of that infrastructure is subject to attack, and even for advanced sophisticated attacks, the gestation period for those attacks have been reduced to 8 weeks.

So the landscape is changing dramatically, so the traditional way of protecting your perimeter no longer works.

So on top ClearPass, where we handle the role-based authentication, we add this layer of UEBA on top, which basically looks at user credentials and its past history, and then looking at the patterns through machine learning capabilities to be able to identify a risk level of a profile. Profiles are assigned a risk score, and if that score is rising, that means this user profile has a tendency to go rogue, and therefore, we will quarantine that profile. 

That’s how we’re able to manage the network and the goal is to preempt the risk from happening. 

The machine learning capability looks at the previous historical data and makes decisions in the event of the risk score being triggered above the threshold, then ClearPass, IntroSpect will work together to trigger that alarm, send it to ClearPass, and ClearPass can then quarantine the user. 

That’s the reason we developed UEBA based on machine learning analytics and also to provide adaptive and proactive response to unforeseeable security risk. 

How is Aruba’s partner ecosystem changing?

Cloud is changing the partner base, so we have many more partners who have built managed services as part of their business models so certainly from a services perspective, we have many more partners. 

The landscape itself, I think we’re seeing evolution happen within a portion of our partner base today.

We’re also seeing partners who are very attracted to Aruba right now based on the technology, the offerings, and partner value proposition. 

So our landscape is changing more from not only the fact that we’ve inherited partners from HPE and from Aruba, but we’re also attracting new partners based on the technology. 

Trend-wise, the managed services offerings, from a security perspective, understanding that today, a lot of the discussions around the network are also happening with the CISOs and CSOs. 

So we want to work with our existing partners and attract new partners that have those types of relationships. 

What do you see as the value propositions of partnering with Aruba? 

From a product perspective, the initial attraction lies with our technology, which has been recognised as leading edge by the Gartner Magic Quadrant. 

From a partner value proposition, if you look at our partner programmes, they’re intended for partners who want to make an investment and lead with Aruba.

We want to make sure they’re rewarded back and given the opportunity to grow within the programme.

It’s not just about the incentives, but t’s also about engagement with our sales teams and engagement with the organisations with events like Aruba Atmosphere. 

As recently as five years ago, our partners were selling hardware.

As we move into a software-led selling model, it requires a lot of competency beyond just generating revenue.

The other element from a value proposition is the Airhead community, where partners are becoming part of the Airhead community, in and of itself, having a community to rely on as opposed to just us as a vendor. 

The community is an engineering technical forum community, consisting of our own sales teams, systems engineering teams as well as customers and partners, so it’s very broad.

It is a mix of end users, customers, and partners.

How does Aruba reward its partners’ investments?

We do this through upfront discounts (because sales representatives are compensated on gross margins), so we want to ensure that they have the right pricing and discounting upfront so that they can have that opportunity to sell. 

We also offer backend incentives so as to help ongoing investments into Aruba and the business and for their own profit.

From a services perspective, we have partner-branded support.

So there’s an opportunity for a partner to sell support under their own brand, so there are margin opportunities that are provided to them to do that.     

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