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Meraki's Latest Cloud Rumblings

Regardless of what strength of cloud Kool-Aid you drink, it’s hard to ignore the progress being made by cloud-based wireless solutions providers as they bulk up and spread wings into the wired side of the network. The original of the species in this realm is Meraki, and its unique offerings get ever more polished with its latest hardware and feature sets.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am newly a Meraki customer. Beyond what the media gets fed, I have a new front-row seat from which to watch and experience Meraki’s evolution. Though my primary WLAN is 3,000 access points strong and built on Cisco’s finest controllers, I have a sizable remote site that proved to be a very good fit for Meraki’s cloud-based feature set. I will be installing some 30-plus Meraki access points and extending my central network via a site-to-site VPN built on Meraki MX-70s to a United Kingdom location in a couple of weeks. I have the topology mocked up in my office and am fast gaining expertise on this interesting hardware set.

A quick summation of my Meraki experience thus far is in order. I’m running with the MR-16 802.11n access point, which isn’t quite the top dog in the product line. I have had a bit of frustration with some aspects of the MX-70 cloud-administered router, but have found Meraki to be incredibly responsive to my “uh, you gotta change this … ” feedback. Though there are still some fairly obvious improvements to be made in the Meraki wired/wireless combo, I’m quite happy with what I have to work with and the company’s commitment to improve what needs improving. Add to this the newly announced features, and I’m mostly digging the new toy.

So what’s new? The first part of the latest Meraki announcement retires the MX-50 cloud-controlled router and replaces it with a physically smaller MX-60. Aimed at small and midsize branches, the MX-60 still packs a complete IT environment into a small package: You get content filtering, Layer 7 traffic shaping, firewalling, site-to-site VPN, NAT, DHCP, rich reporting and monitoring, and more in a single box and managed through one management portal. That’s the hardware side of what’s new.

Meraki is also upping its street credibility as trustworthy enterprise solution with a few different measures. Now, Meraki has partnered with McAfee to conduct running penetration tests of its cloud control environment, and all customers benefit from guaranteed Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance, quarterly audits, a four-nines SLA and each customer’s system magic replicated across three data centers. The Meraki message: You can trust the cloud.

Other refinements just out include a battery of admin account protections, including two-factor authentication that makes slick use of SMS messaging and a decent change management audit log that includes email alerts on config changes. At the same time, Meraki has some work to do on the notion of role-based admin privileges, but I’m sure it’ll get it right in the near future based on my perception of the company's responsiveness. It’s important to remember that feature adds and improvements and code upgrades happen without customer intervention, which is part of the draw of the solution.

Back to the full disclosure thing. Right now I am admittedly a bit high on Meraki. I like what I’ve seen and what its road map looks like. But I have yet to bring my first Meraki site up, and so can't speak with an experienced testimony. I am keeping an open mind about potential success and disappointment as I leave my Cisco comfort zone a little bit to ply the Meraki waters for real after a coming flight to London. In no way does Meraki threaten my Big Cisco Wireless Enterprise WLAN, for a number of reasons. But this is certainly exciting stuff, and if you get the chance to test drive one of the latest cloud wireless (and wired) network solutions, the ride is certainly worth taking.