Cisco Beefs Up Meraki With New Cloud-Based Management, Now Pitching It To Enterprises

At its Cisco Live conference in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Cisco Systems showed off all the work it has been doing to remake Meraki from an SMB-focused technology into one that's capable of managing enterprise networks.

When Cisco acquired Meraki in 2012 for $1.2 billion, it was known as a Wi-Fi vendor that focused on SMB and midmarket customers. Now, Cisco has expanded it to include centralized monitoring and management for switching, wireless, location analytics and Intelligent WAN/routing.

Cisco, San Jose, Calif., calls this offering "Cloud-Managed IT," and the idea is to make the network as easy to operate as your iPhone, Robert Soderbery, senior vice president of enterprise solutions, said in a blog post.

[Related: Cisco, HP Take Big Leads In Cloud Infrastructure Equipment, Says New Report]

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In a separate blog post, Bruce Klein, senior vice president of Cisco's Worldwide Partner Organization, said Cisco has been steadily remaking Meraki into a technology that's flexible enough for large organizations.

"With more than 20 hardware product updates and more than 40 software releases in two years, we are not only seeing Meraki succeed in the midmarket, but in the enterprise space as well," said Klein in the blog post. "Our customers are not only deploying Meraki for Wi-Fi but as a broader network, security and mobility management solution."

Brian Ortbals, director of advanced technologies at World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based Cisco partner, told CRN he's been seeing a "fairly significant" uptick in Meraki business over the past several months.

WWT has many large enterprise customers, and Meraki's technology has proven flexible enough to meet their needs -- especially organizations with lots of branch offices, Ortbals said.

"Meraki is more than just an SMB play," Ortbals said. "Cisco has added its own capabilities and features to the Meraki architecture, making the platform even more suitable for enterprises."

Cisco is positioning Meraki as cloud-managed wireless infrastructure, meaning the Meraki access points can be deployed, configured and managed entirely through the cloud.

Cloud-Managed IT also includes integrated intrusion detection and prevention technology via Snort from Sourcefire, which Cisco acquired in 2013 for $2.7 billion, said Peter Atkin, vice president of Meraki channel sales at Cisco, in a recent interview with CRN.

"Sourcefire is best-in-class security software … so we have that software integrated into the Meraki security appliance," Atkin said.

Cisco also has new mission-critical switch features to address evolving customer needs around redundancy, high reliability and campus connectivity. Its Meraki MS320 and MS420 switches feature Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol, ensuring that if a Meraki switch goes offline, a backup switch will immediately take over its gateway responsibilities.

Since the acquisition, Meraki has expanded to encompass wireless access points, Ethernet switches, security appliances and enterprise mobility management, Atkin said.

"We’ve moved from just sort of a wireless play to a full cloud-managed enterprise platform," Atkin said. "It was a great platform to start with, and we have just continuously added more features and more hardware to it to make it even better."

NEXT: Cisco Adds Software Features

Cisco also has added software features to its Cloud-Managed IT offering to make network management easier for IT administrators, Atkin said.

"For customers that have 500 or 5,000 branches, we make it very easy to manage and deploy those networks -- things like network templates, the ability to clone settings, label different parts of your network with custom tags so you can sort and search in anyway you want to slice it," said Atkin.

Cisco has been working on ways to open up numerous APIs to allow enterprise customers to use the technology with their existing systems, according to Atkin.

For example, Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) can be used with the Meraki Dashboard to provide external authentication of users, which lets enterprises use their existing authentication system.

"It makes it much easier for them to take this Meraki portfolio and integrate into whatever IT system they have," said Atkin.

Atkin said partners can increase their revenue and profitability with Meraki by product sales through hardware and cloud management licenses, as well as ongoing value added services -- such as end-user help desk or troubleshooting, remote monitoring and managed services.

"It's a product that's very easy to sell," said Atkin of Meraki. "There's a very visual interface to it, so you can do demos and pre-trials that really accelerate the sales cycle for a partner. It's becoming easier and faster to sell."

Meraki also enables partners to generate recurring revenue, Atkin said.

"Partners can grow revenue by tapping into all these customers who are moving to cloud-based applications, they also want to move to a cloud networking platform," said Atkin. "It's opening up a new customer base. In large enterprises, we're seeing a lot of partners access a much broader footprint within that customer base because of the uptick in cloud networking."