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Aruba's latest switching hardware and software unifies network management and analytics across the data center and campus. The approach to modern networking is similar to the one that underpins rival Cisco's initial success with enterprises upgrading campus infrastructure.
Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, launched this week its most significant upgrade to the two-year-old ArubaOS-CX (AOS-CX) network operating system. With the NOS improvements, Aruba unveiled two series of switches, the stackable CX 6300 and the modular CX 6400. Together, the hardware covers access, aggregation and core uses.
The latest releases arrive a year after HPE transferred management of its data center networking group to Aruba. The latter company is also responsible for HPE's FlexNetwork line of switches and software.
The new CX hardware is key to taking AOS-CX to the campus, where companies can take advantage of the software's advanced features. As modular hardware, the 6400 can act as an aggregation or core switch, while the 6300 drives the access layer of the network where traffic comes from wired or wireless mobile or IoT devices.
For the data center, Aruba has the 8400 switch series that also run AOS-CX. The hardware marked Aruba's entry into the data center market, where it has to build credibility.
"Many non-Aruba customers and some Aruba campus customers are likely to take a wait-and-see posture," said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC.
Nevertheless, having one NOS powering all the switches does make it possible to manage them with the Aruba software that runs on top of AOS-CX. Available software includes products for network management, analytics and access control.
For the wired and wireless LAN, Aruba has ClearPass, which lets organizations set access policies for groups of IoT and mobile devices; and Central, a cloud-based management console. For the data center, Aruba has HPE SimpliVity, which provides automated switch configurations during deployment of Aruba and HPE switches.
New features in the latest version of ArubaOS-CX include Dynamic Segmentation that lets enterprises assign polices to wired client devices based on port or user role. Other enhancements include support for an Ethernet VPN over VXLAN for data center connectivity.
Also, within the new 10.4 version of AOS-CX, Aruba integrated the Network Analytics Engine (NAE) with Aruba's NetEdit software for orchestration of multiple switch configurations. NAE is a framework built into AOS-CX that lets enterprises monitor, troubleshoot and collect network data through the use of scripting agents.
Aruba vs. Cisco
How well Aruba's unification strategy for networking can compete with Cisco's remains to be seen. The latter company has had significant success with the Catalyst 9000 campus switching line introduced in 2017 with Cisco's DNA Center management console. Some organizations use the DNA product in data center networking.
In the first quarter of 2019, Cisco's success with the Catalyst 9000 boosted its revenue share of the campus switching market by 5 points, according to the research firm Dell'Oro Group. During the same quarter, the combined revenue of the other vendors, which included HPE, declined.
In September, Gartner listed Cisco and Aruba as the leaders in the research firm's Magic Quadrant for Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure.
Competition is fierce in the campus infrastructure market because enterprises are just starting to upgrade networks. Driving the current upgrade cycle is the switch to Wi-Fi 6 -- the next-generation wireless standard that can support more devices than the present technology.
Wi-Fi 6 lets enterprises add to their networks IoT devices ranging from IP telephones and surveillance cameras to medical devices and handheld computers. The latter is used in warehouses and on the factory floor.
That transition will drive companies to deploy aggregation and access switches with faster port speeds and PoE ports to power wired IoT gear.
Enterprises skeptical of cross-domain networking
Aruba, Cisco and other networking vendors pushing a unified campus and data center haven't convinced many enterprises to head in that direction, IDC analyst Brandon Butler said. Adopting that cross-domain technology would require significant changes in current operations, which typically have separate IT teams responsible for the campus and the data center.
IDC has not spoken to many enterprises that have centralized management across domains, Butler said. "This idea that you're going to have a single pane of glass across the data center and the campus and out to the edge, I just don't know if the industry is quite there yet."
Meanwhile, Aruba's focus on its CX portfolio has left some industry observers wondering whether it would diminish the development of FlexNetwork switches and software.
However, Michael Dickman, VP of Aruba product line management, said the company plans to fully support its FlexNetwork architecture "in parallel" with the CX portfolio.