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Summary

Cisco SD WAN Based on Meraki: Review, Pros, Cons and Marketplace Research Data 

Analyst: Abigail Sturt  Contact: asturt@netify.co.uk 

If you have questions about Cisco Meraki and how their capability is aligned to your needs, email the Netify research team. UK: uk@netify.co.uk North America: northamerica@netify.com

(Please use the UK email for ROW - Rest of the World - questions or enquiries)

Categories: 

  • SD WAN 
  • SASE 

Sub-categories:

  • Cloud Managed Network Security 
  • SD WAN Integrator
  • SD WAN Vendor 
  • SASE Vendor 

Pros:

  • Offer a feature-rich SASE solution backed by significant tried and trusted global expertise - Meraki offered integrated security (including IoT), networking and SD WAN before SASE was recognised.
     
  • Users reviews have noted a high ease of use and deployment, with strong performance and uptime. 

Cons:

  • User reviews often bring up a lack of advanced enterprise features and oversimplification in some layer 7 functions leading to little depth for complex use cases.
     
  • The Cisco Meraki licence must be kept current and up to date to avoid downtime, resulting in less flexibility on costs to usage.
     
  • User reviews show licence fee to be slightly higher than near peer competitors, and may be too much for some SMEs.
     
  • Although Cisco provide SASE, the products are known to be quite fragmented - however Cisco are beginning to consolidate their offering into their Umbrella product suite.
     
  • The Meraki channel is large and well supported, which can make choosing the right partner based on business needs difficult. 

Netify Review:

Cisco Meraki is a good choice for enterprises with numerous branch offices that require granular features - an example may be retail businesses. However, Meraki also cater for smaller businesses with fewer branches, as their SD WAN solution is low cost and easy to deploy compared to other competitors in the market. Meraki have a very large service provider, reseller and integrator partner channel, making them an option for clients looking for managed, co-managed and DIY underlay and overlay services. 

However, caution should be taken when choosing Meraki as a low cost option, as prices can rise due to the addition of licensing. Additionally, due to their huge partner channel, choosing service providers in-line with business needs can be challenging due to the wide array of choice. 

Contents:

  • About Cisco Meraki SD WAN Solutions
  • What is the Cisco Meraki SD WAN solution?
    • Configuration-Based Key Features
    • Security-Based Key Features
    • Performance-Based Key Features
  • What is the Cisco Meraki SASE Security Solution?
  • How does Cisco Meraki Access Cloud Vendors?
  • Does Cisco Meraki Offer WAN Acceleration and Optimisation?
  • How Does Cisco Meraki Support Remote Users?
  • Which Connectivity Underlay Services are Supported?
  • Do Cisco Meraki Manage and Support SD WAN Underlay?
  • What is the Cisco Meraki managed, co-managed and DIY services solution?
  • What Reporting and Management is Available via the Cisco Meraki Portal?
  • What is the Cisco Meraki SLA?

About Cisco Meraki:

Cisco Meraki is an IT firm headquartered in San Francisco, California, USA. Meraki was founded in 2006, and was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2012. Cisco Meraki’s focus is on cloud managed products such as wireless, switching, security, SD WAN, mobile device management, smart cameras and a cloud network platform that are all centrally managed from the web. Cisco Meraki’s MX range of SD WAN appliances feature support for wired WAN connections, 802.11ac wave 2 Wi-Fi and integrated CAT 6 cellular modems. 

What is the Cisco Meraki SD WAN Solution?

Cisco Meraki is a branch office solution designed for small-medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger companies. The company is a popular choice for clients looking to migrate away from expensive MPLS which is achieved by using lower cost leased line DIA and fibre broadband services, deployed via Meraki MX appliances with zero-touch provisioning. 

Configuration-Based Key Features:

  • Multi-Cloud: vMX (a virtualised version of MX) can be deployed in both private and major public clouds (See, How does Cisco Meraki access cloud vendors?).
     
  • Meraki Dashboard: Designed to create hub and spoke or mesh VPN technologies by automatically negotiating VPN routes, key exchange, as well as authentication and encryption protocols, which are enabled for all Meraki MX appliances within an organisation.
     
  • Hardware Deployment Options: Cisco Meraki SD WAN can be remotely deployed and cloud-managed from an MX hardware appliance, which cater for varying branch sizes, whilst supporting wired WAN connectivity with built-in CAT 6 wireless modems and 802.11ac wave 2 Wi-Fi: 

Hardware

Branch Size

No. Of Clients

No. Of Users

MX64

 

Small

 

50

 

~

MX64W

 

Small

 

50

 

~

MX67

 

Small

 

50

 

~

MX67C

Small

50

~

MX67W

Small

50

~

MX68

Small

50

~

MX68CW

Small

50

~

MX68W

Small

50

~

MX75

Small

~

200

MX100

Medium

500

~

MX85

Medium

250

~

MX95

Medium

500

~

MX105

Medium

~

750

MX84

Medium

200

~

MX250

Large Branch/Campus Concentrator

2,000

~

MX240

Large Branch/Campus Concentrator

10,000

~

Z3

Teleworker

5

~

Z3C

Teleworker

5

~

 

Security-Based Key Features:

Performance-Based Key Features:

  • End-To-End Analytics: Improves end-to-end monitoring and network visibility using the Meraki Insight product (See, What Reporting and Management is Available Via the Cisco Meraki Portal?).
     
  • Performance Indicators: Symbols are used to show the health of applications, providing a visible reference to the performance of each individually. This is based on thresholds which are set by a Meraki Administrator. The indicators show green if a connection is healthy; yellow if it is compromised; and red if there are any major issues.
     
  • Machine-Learned Thresholds: Thresholds for web applications can be adjusted using advanced machine algorithms based on historical data patterns of the network, and performance indicators such as workloads. The product is known as SmartThresholds, and is a tool built directly into the Meraki Smart Insights dashboard (See, What Reporting and Management is Available Via the Cisco Meraki Portal?). 

What is the Cisco Meraki SASE security solution?

Meraki have historically offered integrated security options with SD WAN and today the product has matured into fully featured SD WAN capability with SASE solution deployed from Meraki MX hardware appliances. The solution auto provisions IPsec VPN tunnels between sites, with the Meraki Dashboard able to automatically negotiate encryption and automation protocols as well as VPN routes whilst also allowing clients to monitor network security. There are a number of key features:

  • Cisco Umbrella Security: Provides data loss prevention, remote browser isolation, SaaS tenant restrictions, file type and granular application control. Cisco Umbrella Security also includes a cloud access security broker (CASB) and SSL decryption & inspection. Umbrella allows clients to manage cloud security separately at branch locations, whilst also offering connectivity to a multi-cloud environment (see, How does Cisco Meraki access cloud vendors?). By bundling Umbrella products together, Meraki achieve full SASE capability.
  • Cisco Advanced Malware Protection (AMP): Designed to detect malware and dispose of it efficiently by constantly analysing file activity across the network.
  • Data Loss Prevention: Detects and prevents data breaches by closely monitoring sensitive data.
  • Intrusion Prevention System (IPS): Examines traffic flows to detect weaknesses and breaches within the network.
  • Next Generation Layer 7 Firewall: Blocks or authorises traffic by examining protocol, port and state and filters traffic based on rules set by the user. It is also capable of filtering data packets based on application. 
  • SSL Decryption/Inspection: Traffic scale is decrypted and routed to inspection tools to identify threats inbound to applications.
  • CASB: Cloud-based software that maintains security policies and monitors activity between cloud users and applications.
  • SaaS Tenant Restrictions: Controls access to SaaS cloud applications by specifying which users can access tenants.
  • Granular App Control: Controls which users and/or departments can access certain applications. 
  • File Type Control: Restricts the upload and download of various file types. 
  • Cisco Talos: Cisco’s threat intelligence centre monitors network security and informs the Meraki SASE solution.

How does Cisco Meraki access cloud vendors?

Cisco Meraki uses virtualised MX appliances (vMX) to access cloud vendors. The vMX appliance can be deployed in both private and all major public clouds. The Meraki solution can provision this by providing connectivity from branch sites to vMX appliances in multicloud environments. This provides a secure connection and dynamic path selection to optimise access to mission critical resources. The vMX solution does not use any extra hardware however requires different licenses for each product. Licences are available for 1, 3 and 5 years. The Meraki offering is as follows:

  • vMX (Small): Supports client VPN, 50 VPN tunnels and a 200Mbps VPN throughput. Cloud vendors available are: AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and Alibaba Cloud. Requires Small Enterprise Cloud Management Licence.
  • vMX (Medium): Supports client VPN, 250 VPN tunnels and a 500Mbps VPN throughput. Cloud vendors available are: AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and Alibaba Cloud. Requires Medium Enterprise Cloud Management Licence.
  • vMX (Large): Supports client VPN, 1000 VPN tunnels and 1Gbps VPN throughput. Cloud vendors available are: AWS and Alibaba Cloud. Requires Large Enterprise Cloud Management Licence.

Cisco Systems are both an AWS Marketplace Seller and Public Sector Partner. They are also Service Validated by AWS for an Amazon Linux 2 Ready Product. Cisco Meraki’s dashboard and vMX software are both available via the Microsoft Azure Marketplace with the Meraki vMX receiving a ‘preferred solution’ rating. 

Does Cisco Meraki offer WAN acceleration and optimisation?

Cisco Meraki can leverage IaaS, SaaS or data centre resources to ensure optimum performance of business critical applications. This is achieved through the use of advanced analysis tools that utilise smart path selection and machine learning to provide end-to-end visibility into the network.  

WAN optimisation features were retired from the MX range of appliances at the end of 2015 after failing to meet quality standards. No improvements were made to the feature and was instead phased out in favour of VPN traffic optimisation as part of their IWAN offering. 

Cisco Meraki’s solution enables WAN acceleration and VPN traffic optimisation through load balancing, active-active autoVPN, flow preferences and traffic shaping rules to improve the network performance.

How does Cisco Meraki support remote users?

Remote workers have various support options available from Meraki. These include: Cisco AnyConnect, Native client VPN and dedicated Wi-Fi enabled teleworking devices. Meraki’s specific teleworking devices are the Z3 and Z3C however the MX appliance is also suitable. Both internet based traffic and site-to-site traffic are secured by cloud security for out of office users, and on premises unified threat management. Meraki further supports remote users by securing networks with Cisco Umbrella Cloud Security and Cisco Talos, to provide high levels of protection anywhere. 

Which connectivity underlay services are supported?

Cisco Meraki supports MPLS, Broadband, Fibre, with 3G/4G LTE cellular failover underlay services. 

Do Cisco Meraki Manage and Support SD WAN Underlay?

Underlay is not managed by Meraki themselves, however some partners in Meraki’s extensive channel may offer management of underlay as well as overlay as a bundle. 

What is the Cisco Meraki managed, co-managed and DIY services solution? 

As a vendor, Meraki do not offer managed, co-managed or DIY services directly. Instead, managed and co-managed services are available to purchase via a channel integrator or service provider; and DIY hardware and licensing is available from a value added reseller (VAR). This can cause issues due to the huge size of the Meraki channel - finding a channel partner that can provide a solution suitable for business needs is difficult. 

What Reporting and Management is Available Via the Cisco Meraki Portal?

Cisco Meraki Insights is a product that is designed to offer clients end-to-end monitoring and network visibility in one space, by analysing web application and WAN link performance. It has the ability to monitor remote and home workers as well as those in the office. It features: 

  • Web Application Performance Monitoring: The health of web applications can be monitored via Meraki Insight, a product designed to allow clients granular network visibility by configuring a Meraki MX appliance. Traffic is aggregated into groups based on it’s associated application and is sent to the Meraki Cloud Controller product for deeper analysis. After this, data is populated into Meraki Insight, creating visibility in the network.
     
  • WAN Performance Monitoring: Designed to monitor ISP uplinks across the network, identifying issues such as ‘poor performance’ or ‘high usage’, keeping track of all primary, secondary and LTE uplinks in one location. Good for SD WAN deployment requiring large networks to be monitored. Data can be viewed from the WAN Health dashboard.
     
  • VoIP Performance Monitoring: Monitoring and analytics are also available for VoIP.

  • Smart Thresholds: Built-in by default tool with the capability to set thresholds for individual applications performance and a machine-learning algorithm that learns what level the network should perform at. 

What is the Cisco Meraki SLA?

As an SD WAN vendor, Cisco Meraki are not required to provide Service Level Agreements. The SLA will be offered by one of the service provider partners that may manage the overlay solution. 

Which service providers, integrators and resellers support Cisco Meraki?

Cisco Meraki is supported by service providers, managed service providers, distributors and partners. The Cisco Meraki Marketplace allows for integrations to be added to an existing solution. 

Additional notes:

Cisco Meraki’s SD WAN offering utilises Automated-VPN IPsec tunnels between sites. The MX range of appliances supports multiple layers of redundancy. This includes: Warm spare failover, through the use of Virtual Routing Redundancy Protocols (VRRP), high data centre availability, allowing for hub and spoke or mesh topologies. Failover is also supported by dual uplink support and 3G/4G cellular connectivity. 

Focus

Proposition Focus

0%
30%
30%
40%
Managed services
SASE security
Portal
SD WAN

Cloud Focus

28.33%
15%
28.33%
28.33%
AWS
Azure
Google Cloud
Alibaba Cloud

Other Focus

33.33%
33.33%
33.33%
Remote users
Simplicity
Complex requirements

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