The Days of Exclusive Partnerships Should Come to an End

Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • HP’s planned acquisition of Aruba highlights the perils of relying on a single partner to fill a gap in a product line.
  • IT vendors should leverage the software-defined movement to foster diversity and robustness in their partnering plans.

Last week, HP pulled the rug out from under Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Brocade, Dell, Juniper, and apparently Arista (considering Jayshree Ullal was keynoting Aruba’s Atmosphere Event) by announcing its intent to acquire Aruba Networks. I won’t say I anticipated the acquisition, but I’m not surprised by it either. Aruba is a very strong WLAN competitor with both APs and location analytics, mobility, and security software.

A big part of Aruba’s competitive advantage over companies such as Cisco as well as the rest of the pure-play WLAN vendors (e.g., Aerohive, Meru, and Ruckus) was its ability to partner with a number of network vendors and foster integration between the product lines. If the Aruba acquisition is completed, HP gets a well-respected WLAN vendor and the engineering talent behind it, which will fit well with HP’s hardware and software products. Disrupting many of its competitors is a bonus.

Here’s the lesson for IT vendors: Explicit or implicit exclusive partnerships leave your company vulnerable to competitive acquisition. Diversify or be disrupted.

The obvious lesson with HP’s attempt to acquire Aruba is that Aruba’s reseller and OEM partners are left with either continuing the relationship with a competitor or finding a new partner, retooling all the integration plans, still providing support to existing Aruba customers, and trying to transition existing customers to a new WLAN product line. That’s a significant organization and financial burden that extends all the way down to the channel.

The less obvious lesson is that adopting a more diverse partnering strategy with multiple WLAN vendors – or any technology vendors – opens opportunities to a larger, richer, and more diverse set of customers and means that opportunities may arise where a LAN vendor can replace a competitor at a customer already using a partner’s WLAN. To take advantage of a diverse set of partners, IT vendors need to adopt a software-first strategy.

IT is moving to software-driven everything. You can see it in the data center and campus LAN, where use cases such as server virtualization, policy-driven networking, and network analytics and the integration between them are all done in software via network APIs. Many IT equipment vendors – Arista, Cisco, F5, and HP are in the lead here, but others are catching up – are making their integration APIs and documentation available to anyone, including competitors, which could foster integration across many more products than ever before and create opportunities for smaller vendors to participate in larger ecosystems. If a partner gets acquired by a competitor, there are still a number of integrated partners to fall back on.

But, for that to work, IT vendors – particularly those with small market share – need to stop relying on exclusive partnerships and leverage the power of software-driven strategies where third-party products are a building block to be integrated and leveraged in meaningful ways.

What do you think?

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