Enterprise Wireless Goes into the Cloud

With its new Enterprise Wireless LAN system, Meraki today announced its official entry into the enterprise space. Its new enterprise-grade 802.11n solution, which includes the industry’s first cloud-based controller, is built to serve businesses with anywhere from 50-5,000 employees in spaces up to 500,000 square feet. Pricing ranges from $3,000-$75,000, which Meraki says soundly beats competing solutions by at least 50% in every case.

According to a member of Meraki’s public relations team, news of the new product line, which was scheduled to be announced today, leaked out early on Monday when an e-mail was mistakenly sent to “a small number” of existing Meraki customers.

What’s new

The new product line consists of a cloud-based controller, the Meraki Enterprise Cloud Controller, and two new 802.11n wireless access points, the single-radio MR11 (pictured below) and the dual-radio MR14. Meraki says its MR11 is capable of up to 300 Mbps and the MR14 up to 600 Mbps; both are optimized for high-bandwidth content, such as voice and video.

CEO, Sanjit Biswas, says the new release expands the market segment that Meraki can serve. “We’ve focused on large public areas, hotels, and other large, public spaces, and now we have expanded our feature set to serve the enterprise. It’s the same approach, in terms of having intuitive hardware that just plugs in on-site…But there’s a new feature set. Essentially, you can do everything you can do from a traditional hardware enterprise solution, in terms of security, performance, VoIP, RF planning, etc.,” says Biswas. 

The key differentiator is Meraki’s cloud-based approach to wireless networking, which, says Biswas, enables Meraki to offer “a premium-featured Wireless LAN at less than half the cost of solutions from traditional vendors.”

“The Ciscos, Arubas, HPs—all of their solutions—it’s a hardware-central model of putting the controller on-premise. By putting it in the cloud and running it as a service—no one else has an architecture like ours—like a Salesforce.com or a Google Apps model, as opposed to on-premises,” says Biswas. “Cloud computing shook things up in the CRM and enterprise software world, and now we see an even bigger opportunity to do the same in enterprise networking.”

In the cloud

Meraki says that with its Enterprise Cloud Controller—as with all its products—setting up a wireless network, even a large, enterprise-grade one, is as easy as plugging in the access points and watching them self-configure over the Internet. The system is designed with simplicity and ease-of-use in mind.

“An IT professional with any level of expertise can manage a Meraki network thanks to the Cloud Controller’s intuitive, Web-based management tools,” says Biswas. “The APs plug in, self-configure, and connect back to the Cloud Controller, and the interface of the Cloud Controller is all done over the Web. There’s no command line, so you don’t have to learn any proprietary commands.”

The Enterprise Wireless LAN system also features what Meraki says is an industry first: the ability to manage multiple geographically distributed networks from a central location.

“It’s the same technology we’ve been using for years now, it’s just an expansion of the model to the enterprise,” says Biswas. “Mid-sized organizations, most of them have branch offices. Wireless has gone from something you deploy in conference rooms and headquarters to something you deploy in all branch offices, as well. Our system makes it easy for small IT departments to set policies and see what’s going on.”Meraki_MR11_photo_3q.jpg

In a nutshell, Meraki is hoping that it has circumvented both of the biggest traditional barriers to entry for small and mid-sized businesses looking for high-performance, secure, wireless networking solutions: cost and ease of management.

We’ve talked to a lot of our customers and even those that could afford other soultuions would have to spend a lot of time on training. This is an area that has actually held them back. With us, there’s zero configuration. It’s all managed in the cloud, so they’re not needing additional servers and controllers,” says Biswas.

Pre-orders begin today, with shipments starting June 2nd. The Enterprise product line will be unveiled to the public at Interop Las Vegas May 19th-21st at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, where Meraki will also be giving away a few networks to guests.

For more recent Meraki news, read “New Wi-Fi Innovations from Meraki.”

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She has been writing about technology for fifteen years. Follow her on Twitter. Join Wi-Fi Planet on Facebook.

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