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Cloudy, With A Chance Of Networking

After a busy week of talking with Meraki, Aerohive and startup PowerCloud Systems, my head is spinning a bit after hearing about the cloud-oriented trio's advancements into new niches. Wireless providers are venturing into wired networking, a major acquisition has taken place, and one vendor makes commodity-class hardware compete with enterprise-grade components using a new and interesting approach. The cloud is heating up, and the lines between wireless and wired networking are blurring. If these system providers have their way, branch office networks will never be outfitted and managed the same way, and big dollars will be saved by those shopping for new solutions.

Let's start with Aerohive. Moving from the company's core business of cloud-based wireless networking, the Hive Manager concept expands into wired networking with the acquisition of Pareto Networks. Pareto is a respected pioneer in cloud-based networking, and the acquisition gives Aerohive a major leg up toward the goal of providing a total cloud-based solution for small and midsize office environments. With the promise of single-view control of the LAN, WLAN, traffic shaping, firewalls, VPN and almost anything else to do with network connectivity, Aerohive's wider offerings should appeal to organizations with tight IT budgets and staff but a desire for reliable, robust networks. With management and control in the cloud, far-flung customer sites can be managed as one while leveraging commodity ISP connections and even 3G/4G links for resiliency.

Meraki's big news? Like Aerohive, Meraki is now in the cloud-based wired networking market. With one of my favorite Web-based management views and ridiculously attractive pricing options, Meraki's new MX series of routers delivers an all-inclusive feature set that consolidates network services under one hood. With models that support 20Mbps or 150Mbps throughput, the MX appliances are plug-and-play simple to bring to life. Like Aerohive, Meraki promises up to 60 percent cost reductions compared with traditional networking, while pointing out that its systems keep all user traffic local and ensuring that even if cloud control is lost, the network stays up. One management view, one hardware provider for all networking needs from security to DHCP, and no compromising on features as networking as a service becomes more prevalent. This is powerful stuff, and will no doubt challenge pricey and complex branch offerings from the Big Network Guys.

Finally, we have something a bit different from PowerCloud Systems, a Xerox PARC spin-off. Yes, PowerCloud is yet another contender for the growing cloud-based networking environment. But the differentiator is in the form of cloud-enabling firmware that gets baked into commodity-class hardware, as with the D-Link DAP-2555 access point. From humble consumer-grade roots, this access point gets bulked up with the CloudCommand operating system to become enterprise-ready and aimed at SMB customers ready for cost reductions that come from cloud management. The DAP-2555 is just the tip of the iceberg, as PowerCloud prepares to announce partnerships with well-known component makers that will provide compatibility with CloudCommand as an out-of-the box option.

As Aerohive, Meraki and PowerCloud trot out their new offerings, it will be interesting to watch how they are received. Will more players join the all-in-one, cloud-based networking market? How large will these systems be able to scale before cracks are seen? Will projected cost savings be realized, and will claims of feature parity with non-cloud networking systems be proven out? As a networking professional, I feel twinges of alarm that these companies largely want to eliminate the need for my profession. Let's see how they do!