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Annese & Associates is unique among Cisco wireless partners because it had already designed a multitenant wireless solution in concert with Cisco's wireless business unit.
"We saw that they had multitenancy for the wireless controllers on the road map, but we did that using some routing and other things before it was inherent in the operating system," Annese's Aiello explained. "One of the reasons we did that, quite frankly, was because we felt some pressure in the markets like K-12 from Meraki. We had customers coming to us and saying, 'Hey, Meraki is coming to me, and the cost per AP is about $30 and they have this cloud management, and I can't justify spending more on Cisco and SMARTnet and the licensing.'"
Aiello said Annese is concerned Cisco will now be competing with the service his company offers. He's also curious to know whether Cisco will sell Meraki similar to the way it markets other cloud-based platforms, like WebEx and Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS).
"Would they create another cloud infrastructure type of partner level specific to wireless?" Aiello asked. "We need to hear pretty quickly how this is going to make sense for Cisco partners. When they acquired WebEx, it was a long time -- 18 months, I think -- before it got on the Global Price List and you knew who to deal with inside Cisco. So this is going to take some time."
Andrew Yacynowych, CEO of Genesis Solutions Group, a Toronto-based solution provider and Meraki integrator, said the ball is in Cisco's court to protect the Meraki partner base. A lot of Meraki partners will leave Cisco behind pretty quickly if there's any inclination that won't happen, he said.
"It'll make things easier from an exposure and market viability perspective," he said. "We don't have to explain the Meraki story; we can use the Cisco brand. But we are concerned that once that Cisco machine takes possession over Meraki, how will the distribution change and will there be co-marketing? I have no objection to the deal, but if it's going to be difficult to do business, we will have to find someone else."
Gary Berzack, COO and CTO of eTribeca, a New York-based solution provider, said Meraki offers Cisco some interesting new technology options.
"Meraki can work in the carrier market, for example," he said. "The only other player of significance there for the channel, if you take away other folks like Bel-Air, is Ruckus, and Ruckus has been building that division. So there's an opportunity to embed the Meraki technology into Cisco."
Berzack agreed, however, that Cisco has to quickly sort out which partners it wants attacking what markets with which SMB and midmarket networking options.
"Cisco has been struggling with the sub-$600 access point market for a while, and they've come out with so many different solutions that are not homogenous," Berzack said. "Is a Cisco/Meraki a serious player by 2014 in this market for cloud networking, which is definitely there? Yes. But boy, a bunch of people will be making hay until then. So is Cisco going to allow their partners to make a proper cloud play? They've got a real challenge about what to do with customers who say you want me to spend $100,000 on this wireless installation or $35,000 on that one. I don't want to have that conversation. It's unfair to us."
"The Meraki culture is so much different than Cisco's -- a very different energy," said Dynamic Solutions Group's Watt. "We've been able to get the access we need at Meraki, and as for customers, if they let us tell the story and hear about who Meraki's investors are, we have no problem selling it. When you sell other vendors, it's a hodgepodge of stuff. Meraki you can sell to a Girl Scout camp, or an apartment building, or a corporate office or a store chain, and say, you can manage it from a single pane of glass from anywhere. Those systems have been out there; they're just expensive, so what Meraki's done to bring that to the SMB market is so great."
As for the decision to sell to Cisco, Meraki got a great price, VARs agreed, and will also avoid the shaky IPO climate -- one that made for a disappointing debut for hotshot wireless company Ruckus last week.
"It was a brilliant move for them," said Genesis' Yacynowych. "I imagine they made them an offer they couldn't refuse. No one faults them on that."