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Cisco and Meraki partners interviewed by CRN this week said it's way too early to call Cisco's eye-popping $1.2 billion acquisition of Meraki a win for the channel, let alone for Cisco.
The move may give Cisco a new weapon in the fight for midmarket customers craving cloud-managed networking, but there's ample concern Cisco will botch the channel execution if it isn't clear on integration and partnering plans, they said.
"Cisco wants to be in the cloud business, but do they want to enable their partners to make money on that, too -- that's a question," said Jamie Aiello, director of operations and business development for Annese & Associates, a Herkimer, N.Y.-based solution provider. "We're very anxious to see what's going to happen here because Meraki is a competitive solution. Is it in direct competition to what we're doing with Cisco already?"
"We love Meraki: the products, direction, innovation, all of that," said Jim Watt, president and CEO of Dynamic Solutions Group, a Palm Harbor, Fla.-based solution provider and Meraki partner. "If they let it operate kind of like the way Linksys operates, it will be good. But if Meraki's innovation gets stifled or their selling motion gets lost in the complexities of Cisco, all bets are off."
Rob Soderbery, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Enterprise Networking Group, told CRN on Sunday and reiterated during an analyst call on Monday that the acquisition helps Cisco go after a $5 billion total addressable market (TAM) for midmarket customers craving these types of networking solutions. Meraki's cloud-managed networking solution -- a single-pane-of-glass management platform for wireless access points, Ethernet switches and security appliances -- also gives Cisco another inroad to cloud services, pegged by Gartner as a $177 billion global market by 2015.
Cisco's plan for the time being is to leave Meraki alone and let it operate with its current management structure, re-branded as Cisco's Cloud Networking Group and reporting into Sujai Hajela, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Wireless Networking Business unit. In an FAQ posted to Meraki's main site Monday, Meraki representatives said that current customer license and support agreements won't change, and Meraki customers won't have to do things like buy Cisco SMARTnet or be charged for updates and systems management tools that were already free.
"The great news is that Cisco loved Meraki the way it was, and we're all committed to preserving what made Meraki special and to delivering more of the products and services our customers love," wrote Meraki in the FAQ. "The Meraki team will continue to build and support our products, with a continued emphasis on customer experience and innovation."
Soderbery said that Cisco won't be taking bits and pieces of the Meraki platform for use with Cisco products, but Cisco will look to leverage some of Meraki's capabilities -- including its cloud-based management platform -- across its broader portfolio. The Meraki FAQ added that "after the acquisition closes, we will look into longer-term opportunities to broaden Meraki's cloud management technology."
Soon after the transaction was announced, however, several Meraki partners gave thumbs-down to the deal.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is very unfortunate," said the owner of a regional solution provider and Meraki partner, who asked that his name not be used. "Meraki is a best-in-class and low-cost option for a lot of the K-12 school districts and local businesses we've had for many years. They're just a better fit. We were a Cisco partner a long time ago and got out of our Cisco relationship for all the reasons Meraki is a good fit. I'm going to have to take a long look now at whether to preserve the good run we've had [with Meraki]."