Getting to Know Cisco Meraki

Posted by Sean Mathias on Dec 1, 2020 10:00:00 AM

As most traditional network vendors are trying to build a cohesive solution through acquisition and integration, Cisco Meraki has had the integrated platform that other vendors are trying to create for quite some time. You owe it to yourself to take the time to get to know Meraki.

Being a CCIE, I learned many of the tricks and obscurities needed to bend network hardware to my will, and I took pride in being able to get different components to work together and address every possible requirement with the addition of some other tweak or protocol. The problem with this approach is that the solutions become relatively complex, and as a result, very fragile. They require significant support and maintenance, which is not ideal.

Some years and many networks and solutions later, I had become a Network Architect and a CCDE, focused more on solutions and outcomes and less on knowing every possible BGP/ISIS/OSPF feature and interaction. The truth of the matter is that many people (certainly all people on the “business” side of the house) don’t care about the infrastructure. They just need it to be in place to support the needs of the business and applications consistently and reliably. Easy to say, but hard to do—or is it?

As many network vendors are trying to transform their products and business to provide functionality— such as SD-WAN and cloud integration—through acquisition, innovation, and integrations, Meraki has been doing this for years, and doing an amazing job at it.

Meraki’s approach has been to build a platform (or ecosystem, really) where each product is exceptional and can be used independently, integrated into a multivendor environment, or be one of several Meraki products in a cohesive stack. There is a little bit of magic that happens each time you expand to include another part of the ecosystem. There is seamless integration and operation, both functionally and operationally, that is unparalleled. Many of the design elements are subtle, but powerful.

Meraki is a cloud-managed platform. This is table stakes in 2020, but consider that they started as cloud-managed prior to Cisco acquiring them in 2012, when most people hadn’t heard about or didn’t understand cloud at all. The reason this is a big deal is that for them to take this design approach, they had to work out a lot of things, and in doing so, a lot of amazing features were created and included out of the box.

These are some of the most notable feature to me—and again, this is functionality that is ready to go with no work required on your part:

  • Zero-touch provisioning (ZTP) – no server setup required
  • Fleet management – devices can be pre-provisioned, or provisioned en masse using templates
  • SD-WAN – three clicks and your sites have an established SD-WAN, management, and integration
  • IDS/AMP/Umbrella – one click (and a license) to enable each; world-class security backed by Cisco Talos
  • Client VPN – again, built in functionality, just enable the feature
  • Corporate Extension – Connect a Meraki AP anywhere and it can join the SD-WAN and provide secure corporate connectivity
  • MDM – Meraki offers integrated MDM functionality that is ready to go, no build required

Looking at that short list, it is obvious to me why companies that use Meraki didn’t miss a beat when they had to transition their staff to working remotely overnight. Everything that is needed is already in place. Just check a few boxes and you’ll be on your way.

I will stop here without even touching on Meraki cameras (if you are using a legacy DVR, you really shouldn’t be doing that to yourself), or APIs, but know that there is so much more than what I have touched on in this blog post.

The most common reasons I hear for not adopting Meraki within an environment are that it is too “simple,” or not “enterprise-grade.” I am sure it is no surprise that I am going to tell you those are false perceptions, and stem from a lack of understanding or familiarity with the platform.

It is a fair point to say that Meraki is simple, but that should not be mistaken to mean simplistic or limited. It is simple to use, and isn’t that a good thing? Here, “simple” means you can go into the cloud management portal and provision a site, selecting the desired features and functionality in an intuitive way. At whatever time the equipment is connected to the network, it will get its marching orders and implement your intent. It’s a lot simpler than copying an existing configuration file from another site, doing a search and replace (hopefully with no errors), getting a console connection to provision it remotely, or staging the hardware in advance and shipping it to a site. So yes, Meraki is simple.

Meraki can scale to thousands of sites (to be sure, there are limits to everything), so scale does not prevent it from being “enterprise-grade.” What I think is typically meant by this is that Meraki does not support some obscure nerd-knobs or protocol, or some low-level networking functions. Going back to earlier comments, often I believe many of these features and implementations are a result of poor design and can be improved or reevaluated to no longer be required.

Meraki has taken a unique approach to focus its efforts on delivering functionality to address most common use cases (90%+), rather than implement every feature and protocol that is needed to cover all corner cases. The goal from a network design perspective should be to factor out those corner cases as each one of those introduces risk and complexity, and very often is not required or appropriate. This results in a predictable and stable network that does what is expected.

The “simplicity” and efficiency of Meraki introduces enormous benefits in terms of operations, allowing network staff to scale significantly more than with a traditional infrastructure. This frees up their time to work with the business higher up the value chain to find opportunities for the network to make a positive impact to the business, rather than spending all of their time mitigating and minimizing the negative impact that it has.



LEARN MORE ABOUT Cisco Meraki

Meraki is the big red EASY button. Do yourself a favor and spend some time really getting to know it and think about how it could transform your environment (and your life). Contact your ConvergeOne National Account Manager or reach out to us below to have a discussion about what your world can look like with Meraki in it.

Contact Us to Learn More About Cisco Meraki

Topics: Cloud, Cisco, Enterprise Networking