The Surly Admin

Father, husband, IT Pro, cancer survivor

Brave New World – Meraki Network Equipment

I don’t normally hawk equipment on this blog, but I have to rave a bit about Meraki network equipment.  These guys are game changers, so much so that Cisco felt compelled to buy them.  I just hope they don’t screw it up!  This is the future of networking equipment, and the template for every device you own.

Who’s Meraki?

Meraki is a little company started up by a team of MIT graduates, who started work on an open source platform and later changed it to a more traditional business model–to the ire of a lot of open source advocates.  The core of their idea was to manage their devices from a Internet-based platform.  It’s a brilliant idea of having a centralized management platform that users simply sign into and manage their devices.  No more servers to maintain, software to configure from scratch or to keep up to date.  Simply sign into the web site and go.  It was such a great idea–and how did no one think of this sooner?–that Cisco bought them in later 2012.

What truly sets Meraki apart is the web-based management platform.  When you purchase a Meraki device you are given an order number which you enter into the management website, and when you do the device you purchased appears.  You can than begin configuring it the way you want.  The beauty of this is you can do it before you even receive the device!  When you finally receive the device you plug it in, it gets an IP address from your DHCP server and checks in with Meraki.  From there the device is recognized and will download your configuration.  And that’s it.  You have a fully functioning device.  Brilliant.

If you want to give it a try, go to their website and sign up for one of their webinars, and when you complete it they will ship you a free MR12a Wireless Access Point for free.  You owe it to yourself to invest this time and see what they’re about.  The configuration is web-based, as I’ve mentioned, and very well written.  The website is responsive and modern and this is how configuring network devices is supposed to work.

After I got my access points configured, my work needed to purchase 10 more AP’s for a new wireless rollout in a couple of buildings that didn’t have it before.  I purchased the access points but needed to configure them with IP addresses and entries in our Network Policy Server (formerly IAS).  Well, because my devices were already in the management console, complete with MAC addresses I was able to reserve an IP address in DHCP, then configure RADIUS clients in NPS and assign my corporate configuration.  All a week before the devices will actually arrive.

Management Console

And the console itself is done very well.  The amount of information you can get out of it–clients connected, bandwidth used, etc–is really amazing.  And you can get it all without any in-depth training or configuration nightmare.  I configured an advanced wireless setup at Fenway Community Health where we used Extreme Networks access points and their advanced management suite.  Very expensive management hardware.  It took me several days to configure a very basic WiFi network where you could plug new access points into the network and they would just start working–basic configuration, broadcast routing, etc.  It was ugly and frustrating and frankly only worked about 75% of the time.  The other 25% of the time we would end up rebooting, clearing the configuration, rinse and repeat until finally something clicked and it would work again.

The experience with Meraki was completely opposite.  Once I had my configuration set, I simply plugged in another WAP and it just started working.  Again, this is the way things are supposed to work in 2013!

Here are some screen shots of the data gathered:

meraki1

meraki2

meraki3

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Free MDM and Workstation Control

A couple of other features that Meraki has been working on is Mobile Device Management.  At work we looked at the Meraki offering about a year ago and it was pretty weak but they have really come a long way since then!  The new MDM now has much better Apple Profile controls and other features and is almost where it would need to be for us to consider moving to it.  It’s still missing the ability to remotely remove profiles though, which is a critical feature with BYOD since most people don’t care to have you completely wipe their personal iDevice’s when they leave the company!  But considering how far it’s come in the past year I expect they’ll have this feature soon.

They are also working on workstation remote control and monitoring and this is very much in beta right now.  But considering how amazing LogMeIn is, there’s no reason Meraki can’t come up with similar functionality eventually and talk about a comprehensive management suite.  The possibilities are vast.

What’s Not To Like?

To be honest, it’s not perfect.  Meraki devices are on the higher end of the price range and this could be a barrier for small businesses–which is too bad because they seem like they would be primed for this product.  Most SMB’s simply do not have access to this level of management, and to make it this easy would be a dream come true.

What’s worse is you must purchase a “Cloud-Management” license for each device, and then keep that license up to date each year (you can buy a 3 year license too).  For most small businesses this wouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars a year so I don’t think it’s a show-stopper, but certainly something to consider.

In the end, I think this is the future of networking and I encourage you to try that free webinar and check it out for yourself.

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March 25, 2013 - Posted by | Technical | ,

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