Episode 161: Meraki and the Cloud

Meraki (Adjective) - A word that modern Greeks often use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you put "something of yourself" into what you're doing, whatever it may be.

“If it seems to good to be true…”

In this statement lies the central problem to a couple of guys with a career in networking: Meraki does some beautifully complex things…but in a deceivingly simple wrapper.

Meraki originally came on the scene with a new approach to cloud based wireless “as a service” that succeeded on a great many fronts. This success brought not just an acquisition, but subsequent forays into switching, routing and security. These are your core technologies - anyone in business is depending on these in some fashion..and the Meraki Cloud Model is now offering network sophistication in a greatly simplified package.

There is beauty in the simplicity. There is also a model for how and why the cloud matters. Yes there is hardware for every bit of the solution being offered but the true ‘service’ is delivered quite elegantly through the cloud. It enables a great many things in a manner that can make you wonder what you may be missing.

So this is what we do. We go to San Francisco, where it all began…and where these engineers continue to innovate. We peer through the clouds and show you what is going on so you can decide if it is right for you. (Watch the show right now)

Couple of questions we sought in general:

  • Where are the edges for Cisco’s On Premise technologies that offer many of the same features as Meraki?
  • Can you put your trust in something you cannot see?
  • Can you still do some of the more complex things your network demands?
  • Where do they go from here?

One of the bigger challenges right now within Cisco is how to position this technology. It is very complimentary to our core networking line but they remain a distinctly unique choice to make.

Faraz Aladin speaks to the balance between On-Prem and Cloud networking

Faraz Aladin speaks to the balance between On-Prem and Cloud networking

We brought in our friend Faraz Aladin to get the right angles on this and his response basically boiled down to a couple of key points:

  • Cisco is clearly innovating and responding to customer demands.
    • We have a robust On Premises portfolio..literally a multi-billion dollar business.
    • It made sense to offer a Cloud Solution for networking.
    • These options are in-line with our cloud strategy overall
    • On-Prem and Cloud are complimentary options.

Watch the show RIGHT NOW

Meraki Architecture

Katie Lane explains Meraki

Katie Lane explains Meraki

I had a chance to talk to Katie Lane, she is their Product Marketing Lead and since I we had spoken multiple times in the past, I figured she would not mind a few questions about positioning some of the harder, high level questions potential customers tend to ask.  

Couple of key points from this: 

  • Meraki has SLA’s on everything of course.  Important to understand they are for cloud SERVICES availability, not LAN services…which is of course in-line with the industry for cloud services.
  • They are going on 7 years straight now with no downtime. 
  • They would not let us poke around their data centers…which actually makes sense…its not really the point of the service. 
  • The Data Centers are geographically dispersed, co-located in tier-1 SAS70 type II/SSAE16 certified data centers. 
  • There is a very important distinction between DATA traffic and CONTROL traffic
    • They never see data traffic - strictly dealing with control. 
    • The one exception would be for packet sniffing as part of their security services…customer would turn this on themselves however. 

Watch the show RIGHT NOW

Trust in the Cloud

Jimmy Ray explains Trust in Cloud Services

Jimmy Ray explains Trust in Cloud Services

All of this talk about ‘Trust’ and ‘Security’ as it pertains to Cloud Services..we thought it would be good to have Jimmy Ray hop on the whiteboard to share his unique ‘encrypted looking’ handwriting with us….

Couple of thoughts from this: 

  • Hard to imagine a dryer topic than ‘certifications.’ 
    • It's a sure way to avoid long talks at cocktail parties. 
  • Meraki meets some very high certification requirements however and that is a good indicator for their seriousness and your confidence. 
  • SSAE 16 audits…that is the ‘interesting’ name
    • Real name: "Report on management's description of a service organization's system and the suitability of the design and  operating effectiveness of controls"
  • These are an enhancement to SAS 70 controls and are based on ISO ISAE 3402
  • SSAE 16 allows companies to compete Internationally
    • Are a MUST for any company doing finance transaction with a pubic company
    • They are expensive
  • Takes between 1-2 months to complete and are conducted annually
  • All Cisco Meraki data-centers undergo daily penetration testing by an independent third party

Watch the show RIGHT NOW

Terms like “SSAE 16 Certified” or “SSAE 16 Certification” are incorrect. SSAE 16 standard is not a certification, nor does it result in a service organization being certified. The correct representation would be that your organization is compliant with the SSAE 16 standard, is basically your organization has been issued an SSAE 16 Type 1 or Type 2 report for evidentiary matter. Silly of course..but lawyers will be lawyers
— Uncle Jimmy Ray Purser
Raj Krishna uses the Meraki Dashboard to show the depth of detail available

Raj Krishna uses the Meraki Dashboard to show the depth of detail available

Location Analytics

As an ‘old’ networking guy, we thought it would be good for Jimmy Ray to sit down with someone that could chat in more detailed specifics as to Meraki’s true networking capabilities.  As mentioned earlier, the drawback to their beautiful simplicity is this feeling that we are missing something…that we are somehow ‘less capable’ when things are so elegant. T

Meraki’s Director of Product Manager, Raj Krishna sat down with Jimmy Ray to talk Location Analytics and Routing Protocols. 

Couple of key points from our conversation on and off camera:

  • Meraki is doing some advanced stuff with cloud based location analytics and mobile engagement
  • They can show real-time location statistics to improve customer engagement and loyalty across sites
    • (I can verify that this is built into the AP’s already and is quite easy to do…I have been running this on my home network now since we visited. ..quite remarkable).
    • Data collected by the APs is synced with the cloud and automatically reported in the dashboard
      • Visitor traffic trends
      • Dwell time
      • New vs. repeat visitor loyalty.
  • Meraki is using the Cisco CMX terminology for these services to match up with Cisco’s Connected Mobile Experience messaging and capability. 

We asked about the MAC address randomization challenges that may come up more now with Apple rolling out changes to WiFi probe requests.  

Will this mess up the telemetry? 

Time will tell of course…but in general, 

  •   For mobile devices connecting to the network the CMX value proposition is unchanged. 
  • For unassociated devices, the value proposition of CMX analytics remains focused on providing broad aggregate trends and customers insights as opposed to individual user location or absolute numbers. 
    • Even with MAC randomizing for iOS 8 devices, there is no broad impact on aggregate analysis based on trends and percentages when evaluated over a period of time. 

Bottom line: organizations will still be able to leverage CMX analytics to gain better customer insights and business decisions based on users who opt-in and join their Wi-Fi network.   

Further reading on the Meraki blog.

Routing Protocols

Raj and Jimmy Ray also got into some talk about OSPF and VRRP as an indication of technical maturity.   Raj even opened things up on the dashboard so we could see first hand. 

As for looking forward, I think it was most eye-opening to understand how Meraki is using various API’s as part of a business model that allows for white-listing of services provided by other companies.  The ability for a 3rd party service to do some pretty advanced analytics stuff and not have to worry about infrastructure specifics that Meraki can handle for them is quite good. 

Robb Boyd and Jimmy Ray Purser decide where to go next

Robb Boyd and Jimmy Ray Purser decide where to go next

Meraki is listening to the market and engaging with the open source community to find what tools are most needed moving forward.  One thing that became obvious: Enterprises and Service Providers have their own tools for things like Network Monitoring, ID Management, Ticketing Systems… so how can they make it easier to integrate and not force customers to enter information twice - key theme: How can we be EASY to WORK WITH?

Five areas worth calling out here: 

  1. CMX location analytics API 
    • The API has typically provided very base information…now it is expanding to include more location info (LAT/LONG, X/Y) in real time. Even working on an app that can make this even easier to use going forward. 
  2.  External captive portal
    • Making it simple for corporations or providers to white label their captive portal and provide a seamless experience that can hide Meraki as the service delivery in the background.  Which leads too…
  3. SAML – for seamless sign-on to dashboard via external tools
    • Single sign on is crucial for so many organizations have already built complex databases of user rights…it is not ‘simple’ for them if they have to do unique work in the Meraki dashboard.  They now are making it simple to integrate with Active Directory that speeds the set up AND the tear down of users so you can keep a clean record of user rights.  
  4. Rich service provider tools – like custom branded dashboard
    • Many companies already taking these beta tools and building value from them. Service Providers that can extend this to others as a service or of course large enterprise that want to keep it simple for their users. 
  5. Facebook integration
    • ot just o-auth but check-in to get value back out of your WiFi investment

As you watch the show, I sure hope you can get the feeling for how unique Cisco Meraki is.  Their offices had a very cool vibe…great food, snacks people and a smart, collaborative culture. This has all lead to continued success in what they are still building, growing and expanding. I have been running their switch, firewall and wireless on my network at home for testing and learning….I remain extremely impressed and optimistic for what we will be doing in the future.  This is how you do cloud. 


Our shows can always be found at www.techwisetv.com.  Go directly to this one however and watch it now if you are still reading this.