Meraki's new Enterprise Cloud Controller challenges the standard thin wireless model espoused by Aruba, Cisco, Meru and others by moving controller functions into the cloud. The goal is to reduce the cost of enterprise-class wireless by taking the price of an expensive controller layer out of the equation.
Where typical controllers sit in a company's server room in the form of specialized chassis switch blades or self-contained appliances, Meraki's Cloud Controller requires no space or power. In addition, controllers can be very complicated to set up: The more wireless networks in the air combined with security configurations, frequent code patches, and integration with credential stores, the more time and expertise is required. Meraki strives to simplify via a straightforward configuration GUI and no requirement for customers to maintain the controller itself.
WLAN In The Clouds
Meraki has constructed a wireless system that requires customers to purchase only access points. The controller piece is very much present, but it resides in Meraki's multiple redundant data centers. Access points from Meraki's extensive product line simply plug into your local network, find their way to the Internet for system control, and join the Cloud Controller over an AES-encrypted secure tunnel. All local user and network traffic stays on your network, while the small amount of control traffic required goes to the Cloud Controller. Because network traffic (other than AP control data) stays local to your, Meraki's Cloud Controller model should not raise security concerns. And if the cloud controller should become unreachable for whatever reason, all local functionality hums along nicely.
Meraki provided three MR-14 802.11n access points for testing. I connected two of them in my home office--one using mesh--and the other at my office on Syracuse University, 17 miles away. All three came up quickly and reliably, and found the Cloud Controller by the time I could point my Internet browser to the Dashboard application used for configuration and monitoring. I was able to quickly configure a few WLANs, and within minutes had a secure, 802.1x-based WLAN, an open portal-based visitor WLAN, and a WEP-based WLAN up and functional. Import some floor plans and add a few clients, and viola: Enterprise-class wireless is brought to life without ever physically touching a controller.