Meraki: The bolt on Cloud that wasn’t

When Cisco acquired Meraki last year, there was much confusion. Being ‘down in the trenches’ I struggled as much as the next guy trying to wrap my head around the acquisition and I believe I have a good handle on it. Others not so much. I regularly consult with customers that are just as confused today as they were last year. Cloud is such an over used buzz word and so many vendors are trying to jump on the buzzword bandwagon de jour that it’s easy to get lost admist the jargon and solutions, much less the technical merits or differences in the platforms. I’m here to offer some advice on the strategy and perhaps a perspective on the acquisition that you haven’t yet considered. First some advice:

Don’t purchase Meraki Access Points. You read that right. Don’t do it. Also, don’t purchase Meraki switches. For that matter, don’t buy the Meraki firewall either. If you purchase a Meraki Access Point, a Meraki switch, or a Meraki firewall, you’re not buying an Access Point, you’re not buying a switch, you’re not buying a firewall. You’re buying ‘The Cloud’. When you consider purchasing infrastructure equipment that is ‘Cloud Enabled’, this should be a purchase that lines up with your organizations Cloud Strategy first and foremost. Don’t have a Cloud Strategy? Don’t be so sure. There are a few questions to ask yourself before you jump to that conclusion. Does your organization use DropBox? Office 365? Webex or Goto Meeting? Google Mail? All of these are examples of Cloud Applications. If you use these, someone, somewhere in your organization has made the determination to embrace services from ‘The Cloud’. Understand this strategy. Understand what this enables. Understand what this means to your data and where your data lives. Then (and only then) should you consider purchasing ‘Cloud Managed Infrastructure devices’.

Let’s be frank about it, there’s nothing special about the hardware in a Meraki Access Point. There’s nothing special about the hardware in a Meraki Switch, nothing special about the hardware in a Meraki firewall. When you purchase Meraki equipment, this gear is purpose built to be Cloud Managed with features driven by that Cloud Management. When you make a Meraki purchase, purchase an end-to-end Cloud-enabled infrastructure. If it’s right for one component, it’s right for all of them. If it’s not right for all of them, it’s not right for any of them.

Now some perspective. Everyone is talking about Cloud. Everyone wants in on the Cloud action. Everyone is ‘bolting on’ Cloud to their existing products in some fashion or another. When Cisco purchased Meraki, they made a decision to not ‘bolt on’. They decided to pick the one organization that understood Cloud from bottom to top and embrace that strategy despite the fact that there was some hardware overlap. The Meraki acquisition wasn’t about Access Points, switches, or firewalls. It was about finding the one organization that was never built for ‘on premises’ management and this shines through in every aspect of their products. Others tout ‘free protocols’, ‘cloud provisioning’, or a variety of other nonsense but at the end of the day, these are bolt-on solutions that are all afterthoughts. I would encourage you to revisit the Meraki product portfolio but when you do, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my existing Cloud Applications?
  • How do I rely on ‘the Cloud’ today?
  • Do I want to leverage that existing strategy in my infrastructure?
  • Do I want a solution that is built from the ground up around ‘the Cloud’ with a no-compromises featureset or do I want to deal with someone bolting on features to their existing ‘heavy gear’?

Then go buy a Meraki AP.

5 Responses to Meraki: The bolt on Cloud that wasn’t

  1. wirednot says:

    Hi Sam- I’m mostly agreeing with your take that Meraki is built from the ground up to be a complete cloud-managed network solution. But as someone who just put in my 11th Meraki site, I do have to find a bit of fault with “there’s nothing special about the Meraki firewall” which I’m guessing is what you’re calling the MX Series of appliances. I have come to favor the MX head and shoulders above the Cisco ASA for site to site VPN. Some of my branch sites have Meraki MXs extending my LAN to the branch, with my Cisco thin APs on the other side as if they were on campus. Works way better (for me) than the HREAP/Flexconnect paradigm for a number of reasons. Then I have other sites, like this one where I do Meraki MX to Cisco switches to Meraki APs. Why? Again, the MX extends campus LAN. Cisco switches are dual power supply/fan (Meraki doesn’t have), and we manage them along with our other 1000+ Cisco switches, and the Meraki APs have a slew of benefits specific to the site. My points- I love the MX, and for us, Meraki is a Swiss Army Knife of functionality that we can apply in different ways to our odd far-flung sites in a number of different site specific configurations. Some are all Meraki, some a mix of Cisco and Meraki depending on the oddities of the site. But whether you subscribe to the in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound philosophy or do what I do and mix brands when it makes sense for you, I agree that Meraki is at the front of the pack for Cloud networking. (Aerohive runs a close second for me.)

    • scwifi says:

      Your assessment is of course spot on. I wasn’t calling the MX appliances ‘nothing special’ – just the hardware in them. 🙂 Certainly there are feature differences between the two solutions, but I was highlighting the fact that a) the hardware itself isn’t anything special and b) there are features that the rapid deployment that Cloud enables are really what differentiate the solutions – first and foremost. There will always be feature discrepancies and of course once you’ve understood the pros and cons of Cloud, then it’s up to you to determine if the feature set matches your need. Most people do it the other way around.

  2. Nick Lowe says:

    I am not convinced, in the binary sense, that Meraki are front of the pack here. Their GUI is definitely awesome, granted, but I am not keen on network infrastructure that itself takes a dependency on the cloud / a working Internet connection to function fully. For network infrastructure that is physical, tangible and on site and so much else depends on, I can only be happy using the cloud for configuration, oversight and historical auditing purposes but no more. Do others feel differently?

    • Nick Lowe says:

      I should, of course, qualify that it is issues like channel selection not functioning in response to interference conditions, service unavailability to clients where Meraki’s RADIUS service is used, LDAP/AD integration failing, and perhaps most importantly being beholden to paying a continual subscription for the network to stay live. Additionally, if you require L3 roaming, you get single points of failure in the network as I believe it is not performed in a distributed, highly available way.
      I suppose, playing devil’s advocate with myself, that these are not important for many people, especially not in smaller deployments.

      • scwifi says:

        I don’t disagree on either point in particular here – I was highlight the fact that most people make this decision backwards. It’s more about what Cloud management enables and brings to the table. Once you understand that, then you can determine if the solutions features are right for you.

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