Meraki MS Switches Review

Pushing out policies from a single location is an easy way of leveraging utilities and resources

What is our primary use case?

When I'm advising customers on solutions I have to know what they need. If they are happy using a cloud management platform and they are looking at running more than a single line of business, then having the web portal with Meraki is a simple solution. It provides a single-pane-of-glass in terms of management. It is easy to switch between the wireless, the security, and controlling the switching if they own all of those different technologies provided by Meraki. With other vendor brands, you might find that the operating cost would potentially increase due to them having to manage different platforms.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature for us are the APIs. Development there has been very exciting and now we can actually drill down to client levels. What that means is that when I look at the portal I can drill down to the users that are logged on to the network and see what they are using the network for. It is very valuable to us and the client to have that ease of use and the capability of providing high-level service and service quality on the switches. It is a nice and easy way of leveraging utility and resources by pushing out policies from a single location to wherever my Meraki devices may be.

If I was an IT manager and I had sites globally, Meraki would be a perfect fit. I could reach the devices that are overseas without me or anyone else having to touch them. It is very much like zero-touch deployment, which is fantastic. An obvious bonus is that this capability is still backed by Meraki R&D with talented teams to support it. When changes and new features come out, I don't have to worry about doing software upgrades on devices because it's all done in the cloud. They just load it up and on you go. Of course, many other things are happening with Meraki and other developments that they are working on with Cisco. The whole story will come out in the resolution of what they choose to do on the security side of things and what capabilities you can gain by using Cisco and Meraki together.

What needs improvement?

A complaint that I might have about the services is the compliance risk response. If I or our clients put too many devices on a network, threatening emails get triggered by Meraki saying that we are out of compliance. It can put unnecessary fear into the customer of the product that their services will be curtailed or that they will have to pay escalated fees. The customer in turn then pushes the problem on to the reseller — us — which can create an awkward situation. We are seen as a less-trusted advisor because what we provided was poorly planned. I think there is a major problem with warning clients in that way. I've started hearing customers wishing that they had not gotten into a subscription just because of that policy. It is all well good having a subscription policy but making customers edgy is making some consider switching away from Meraki. Losing customers due to the means of enforcement of the subscription service is pretty ill-advised.

I think one of the things that Meraki started to develop and then held back on is unified communications. Meraki started beating the drum about using Meraki for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and then they suddenly stopped it. It would be nice to actually see that coming to the market, especially in the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa). With Cisco's acquisitions such as Broadsoft, Meraki could potentially invest in that technology, so they would be able to provide a voice platform backed by Cisco. It could be an excellent situation and fulfill their promises at the same time.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've been using this switching solution since Cisco purchased Meraki about six years ago.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

There's been a couple of challenges with the stability of the solution. For example, a year ago some of the software products that were going into the switches were not functioning as expected. You cannot really fault the product for that exactly. They are nine out of ten in terms of stability. You turn them on, they work, they get along with other components, and they keep working.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Meraki is scalable but it's only seen as a stackable switch solution. The one thing is the mid-market where obviously Meraki has traditionally had most of their focus on. So, when you buy switches and you want to scale, you have to have them in switch stacks. What Meraki hasn't done — and missed a bit of an opportunity in my opinion — is they've not really developed a low form factor switching solution in the form of a chassis switch. I think that could open up a massive opportunity for Meraki in terms of being seen as more of an enterprise solution.

As far as our own scaling we have seen their numbers grow in terms of selling their solutions whereas we've seen other lines of business that decline. So, I'd say that we've definitely seen exponential growth in sales of Meraki as a solution. More and more customers whom I talk to get to the point of serious consideration and go through the finer processes of discovering what Meraki is all about. People who choose it seem to like it so much that they stick to it. I think the only time I've really seen a compelling reason for not going with Meraki is that the security with regards to firewalls is still Meraki solutions. They really don't quite compete with Cisco and their ASA (Adaptive Security Appliance) technology.

In any case, we do continue to have plans to scale our usage of this solution for us and our customers.

How are customer service and technical support?

I have not been in contact with Meraki support directly. I do know that there are lots of different ways to actually reach out to support people. Meraki now sells different levels of supports so that you can choose a level that will fit your needs. Obviously, as partners, I've got all the contact details. There is also the Make a Wish feature within the portal that we can use to ask for a special request. They seem to be switched on in terms of what they do and how they do it. All the technicians seem young and very knowledgeable in terms of their areas of expertise.

How was the initial setup?

The installation is straightforward. There are some simple rules of a sort that you have to use. And, of course, Meraki does make it easy. If the opportunity that an end-user is working on is large enough, then there may be a reason to look into training courses that Meraki offers. They offer these in order to help customers in terms of adopting, managing, and expanding their use of the technology. 

A lot of configuration can be done on the cloud before actually having the switches go live. When the switches go live and the license has been activated, then you actually push the configurations on to the switches. From that point of view, I think it is just a great mentality that Meraki has got now around using the portal.

What about the implementation team?

Of course, as partners, we do our own implementations. Our clients often need assistance from our side or from integrators for the deployments. A lot of the time our position with clients is more advisory. The customers know what they know. What they don't know and understand is what they haven't seen before. Some customers like to just dive in and try and work it out for themselves. I've seen clients on the other end of the spectrum where they need help in terms of redoing IP addressing schemes. What they need is some assistance with regards to making sure that it is all configured correctly and doing testing as they are doing the migration from one type of switch to another type of switch. The depth of our involvement all depends on the customer's skills. But even being trained as a Cisco CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) doesn't necessarily mean you are going to be able to get straight to doing a Meraki installation.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

As a reseller, evaluating options is somewhat built into the business structure. I deal with Meraki, Aruba, and Cisco around enterprise networking, security, voice, and wireless.

What other advice do I have?

My experience with Meraki goes back to the MS-1 series. That's when I first took the original Meraki training course and got the CMNA (Certified Meraki Networking Associate) certification. We got to play on the newest series of switches around at that time. Those have already gone past their lifecycle. We participate in ongoing training now and continue to get a look at the latest versions of the Meraki switches and get to know early on what is happening in terms of new development. The product is now becoming more of a hybrid with Cisco and other vendor products rather than just purely focusing on Meraki as a stand-alone solution.

If I have any advice for people considering the product, it is to jump on board and don't look back. If you're after a platform that is completely cloud compatible, a solution that will allow you to manage it from anywhere you need to be, then it's definitely a step in the right direction going forward. Meraki seems to cover most things. It takes away the need for CLI (Command-line Interface) which is obviously an aging technology that people were using a decade ago. Now it is a web-based interface and it is available on many different devices. You can now take management anywhere you go. How you push it out affects what you can do with it. Visibility and control are fantastic from Meraki.

On a scale from one to ten where one is the worst and ten is the best, I would rate Meraki switches as an eight out of ten. How good it serves a purpose depends on the use case. For different use cases and different scenarios, I'd give it a different rating. For example, if it is deployed for a data center, then I would rate Meraki very low because the product is not designed to be a data center switch. If I'm using it for total visibility in terms of applications and controls and what is happening on a network, then I rate it very high. For that, I'd give it as much as a 10. Its rating is all about the use case.

**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
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