Cisco has announced their intent to buy Meraki. Meraki provides wired/wireless LAN and security products all managed via the cloud. What does “managed via the cloud” mean? It means that the management server is in the cloud, rather than in the enterprise data center (see figure).
The benefit of such an approach is ease of installation and management. I’ve used the Meraki product for several years and I can definitely see a design tradeoff: ease-of-use versus enterprise-feature-richness. That is not to say that the Meraki solution does not have very nice features. It does. But, it does not have all the features seen in the products targeted at the large enterprise. For instance, the spectrum management capabilities only monitor the 2.4 GHz band and the AP must be placed into a monitor only mode (see figure). The point to remember is that the solution was designed to be simple to use and operate. If it had all the bells and whistles of a large enterprise wireless management system then it would also be burdened with all of that complexity.
Cisco talks about Meraki having an “agile model”. What does that mean? There are two perspectives here; agile sales and agile engineering. From a sales perspective, a Meraki deployment has much less complexity than a typical large enterprise deployment so it is much easier to sell and support using inside sales and channel sales. Meraki sales have quickly scaled up to a bookings run rate of $100M, and is sold in over 130 countries.
From an engineering point of view, the Meraki cloud management system allows the company to quickly deploy new software to 100’s of customers (1000’s of devices) overnight. The Meraki products (wireless access points, switches, etc.) can communicate directly with the cloud management system. So, the products can tell engineering when there is a problem. This is a software developer’s dream because the model provides very fast feedback. This model enables the engineering team to beta test and deploy new features more quickly than a traditional model where humans have to do the beta software installation and then provide feedback to the vendor.
Lastly, the Meraki Systems Manager feature, while not a Mobile Device Management (MDM) product (as Cisco states in their press release), provides the ability the monitor, wipe, and reset Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android devices. Systems Manager provides a way for mid-market customers to have some visibility and control over mobile endpoints, without having to purchase a full MDM solution.
San Francisco based Meraki will form the Cisco Cloud Networking Group, report to Sujai Hajela, and will remain focused on the mid-market.