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Meraki Ups The Cloud-Based Networking Ante

Mainstream network players and those chasing them are out to erase the lines between wireless and wired networking. As the network edge gets redefined and the cloud makes its presence felt in LAN and WLAN spaces, announcements like Meraki's latest update are getting to be more commonplace--and exciting. With a number of interesting product updates to share, Meraki is starting 2012 with a bang.

As mentioned before in this blog, I am a single-site Meraki customer. Though my main wired and wireless networks are built on Cisco gear, last year I opted to run with Meraki in one of my overseas locations for a campus deployment that features site-to-site VPN back to our main campus, routing and 35 access points in a framework that is all-Meraki except for the handful of Cisco edge switches that handle Layer 2 duties. The Meraki deployment has been rock-solid and reliable, but soon will be even better.

Meraki has just announced new hardware and features that bode well for existing and prospective customers, and for the industry in general as a sign of things to come. In my own little corner of the Meraki cloud-managed world, I manage wired and wireless networks via a common dashboard on the Web. Though this has been effective, I have found areas where Meraki could do better by its customers. One of these minor pain points is in managing my site-to-site VPN, as the current UI is pretty sparse on relevant information for this important function. Thankfully, the latest incarnation of the Meraki cloud-based management system rectifies this with two-click site-to-site VPN configuration and welcome details on each tunnel's latency and status.

Even bigger to me, no-extra-cost WAN acceleration has come to the Meraki MX series. Legacy customers like me who use the MX 50 or 70 will see modest gains in WAN acceleration after our free and automatic code upgrade, but customers who get in on the latest MX hardware series also get the benefit of increased processing, memory and a 1-Tbyte hard disk cache for what Meraki estimates to be "up to 197 times improved" WAN transfer times. As enterprises like mine continue to globalize, squeezing the most from site-connecting over-the-Internet WAN links is of paramount importance. That you get WAN optimization as part of the MX purchase without additional licensing is huge.

Also part of the latest release, Meraki is introducing its new cloud-managed Layer 2/3 switches with Power over Ethernet. In my own current deployment, I can manage my Meraki MX appliances (routing, security, DHCP, traffic classification and control, guest access, etc.) and wireless APs, but not my Cisco switches through my cloud-based dashboard. When I rolled out my environment, Meraki did not offer an edge switch. The new MS series switch comes in branch and campus network flavors, and other than not having redundant and field-replaceable fans and power supplies (hint to Meraki), it seems to have good feature parity with the big expensive competitors and some nice trouble-shooting value-adds not typically found in other switching products. The beauty here is that wired and wireless users alike are identified, classified, controlled and supported through the same administrative dashboard, regardless of whether they use a patch cable or wireless adapter to connect.

Given that wireless networking is fast coming to equaling or even surpass Ethernet in terms of criticality for user access across different business networks, it's not surprising that vendors are moving into even deeper "whole solution managed under single pain of glass" waters. Meraki may not be the biggest fish in the networking pond, but I can speak first-hand about its effectiveness at providing a turn-key, cloud-managed solution that makes managing a network easy. (And, in my case, it's a network on another continent that tightly integrates with my main network.) I'm tickled that a good thing is getting even better with Meraki's latest announcements, and am hopeful that others in the networking space are working on similar strategies.

Gone should be the days of thinking of wired and wireless networking as unique spaces, and needing racks full of appliances to gain VPN and enterprise-class security capabilities. Meraki has proven that for the right environments, a tremendous amount can be done with minimal box requirements, and that installation and management don't need a team of IT pros to accomplish. Here's hoping we see more of the same from the competition.

Disclaimer: I am a single-site Meraki customer.