Meraki Boosts Cloud-Based WLAN With Traffic Control, Other New Features

Meraki has long been at the tip of the spear in cloud-based wireless networking, delivering feature parity with the industry's top solutions providers while leaving heavyweight controllers out of the picture. Instead of wireless switches that provide the intelligence behind the contemporary wireless network, Meraki hosts this typically expensive and often maintenance-heavy building block in the cloud, greatly simplifying the components needed to pull off a top-notch WLAN.

August 11, 2010

3 Min Read
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Meraki has long been at the tip of the spear in cloud-based wireless networking, delivering feature parity with the industry's top solutions providers while leaving heavyweight controllers out of the picture. Instead of wireless switches that provide the intelligence behind the contemporary wireless network, Meraki hosts this typically expensive and often maintenance-heavy building block in the cloud, greatly simplifying the components needed to pull off a top-notch WLAN.

The beauty of this model is that all firmware upgrades and feature adds are Meraki's problem, saving admins significant time and grief. Another nice bonus to Meraki's approach is that customers benefit from new features added to the Cloud Controller automatically--with no new licensing fees--and the new Traffic Shaper and Auto RF Tools will provide valuable functionality to existing Meraki 802.11n environments, making the competition take note.

It's no secret that an increasing number of business applications have made their way on to the WLAN. But wireless is a shared media, where legitimate traffic contends with recreational bandwidth hogs who can slow down even the best wireless networks. Enter Meraki Traffic Control, the no-cost enforcement function that delivers application, content and user-aware bandwidth control at each access point. The Cloud Controller Dashboard is the point of control and monitoring for Traffic Control, and the powerful new capability fits well with the other dashboard elements. Meraki's Traffic Control is competitive in that it delivers a frequently updated, signature-based traffic classification and control mechanism without the added cost of a Palo Alto or BlueCoat appliance.

This amounts to not only a tremendous cost savings, but it eliminates the complexity of traffic-shaping in distributed environments where a given organization may have wireless in  a number of branch offices or distributed sites all manged by the Cloud Controller. As with any traffic control tool, Meraki's Traffic Control demystifies what traffic types are traversing the network and allows for customized, granular control that preserves bandwidth for priority applications and users.

Also newly announced, Meraki's Auto RF puts a new suite of advanced wireless features into cloud customer's networks, again at no additional cost. Key among these is Spectrum Analysis (think Cisco Clean Air) which quantifies and reports on interference sources. Again, the goal here is that there should be no unknowns in the WLAN. The more you know about what's going on with and in the air, the better the system can auto-adjust and the fewer support calls you'll have. Meraki's Spectrum Analysis runs on all of their 802.11n access points, and like the Cisco 3500 series, it does full-time analysis at no penalty to servicing wireless clients.Though Meraki's reporting is not as deep or granular as Cisco's Clean Air Solution, it is also an order of magnitude less expensive while providing effective insight into RF conditions in the area of each access point. Other pieces of Auto RF include improved radio management (auto power, auto channel), and Client Optimization--what others call "band steering"--that help users who are capable of working in five GHz stay off of the crowded 2.4 GHz side of Meraki's dual-band 802.11n access points.

Finally, Meraki's latest feature release provides a nice toolset for anyone servicing wireless networks. Like the company's popular (and free) WiFi Stumbler tool, Meraki now provides a no-cost heat-mapper tool for planning and support of the WLAN regardless of whose APs are in use (comparable to Ekahau's excellent no-cost Heat Mapper) and a nice wireless stumbler app for the Android platform.

Having used Meraki's Cloud Controller, I can speak to the elegance of doing lightweight, controller-based wireless without the hassle of growing a controller farm as the network expands. Current and potential Meraki customers will certainly benefit from Meraki's latest feature releases, and given that there is no cost to get them, the price is certainly right.

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