If you’re in the tech industry, it never seems like there’s any downtime. That was the case today all thanks to my friend Greg Ferro (@etherealmind). I was having breakfast when this suddenly scrolled up on my Twitter feed:
Looks like Cisco will announce intention to buy Meraki this week. Guess they needed a cloud WiFI controller.—
EtherealMind (@etherealmind) November 18, 2012
EDIT: As noted in the comments below, Brandon Bennett (@brandonrbennett) found a copy of the page in Google’s Webcache. The company in the linked page says “Madras”, but the rest of the info is all about Meraki. I’m thinking Madras is just a placeholder.
For the moment, I’m going to assume that this is a legitimate link that is really going to point to something soon. I’m not going to assume Cisco has a habit of creating “Cisco announces intent to acquire X Company” pages out of habit, like this famous Dana Carvey SNL video. In that case, the biggest question now becomes…
I’ll admit, I was shaking my head for a bit on this one. Cisco doesn’t buy companies because of hardware technology. They’ve got R&D labs that can replicate pretty much anything under the sun given enough time. Cisco instead usually purchases for innovative software platforms. They originally bought Airespace for the controller architecture and managment software that originally became WCS. The silicon isn’t as important, since Cisco makes their own.
Meraki doesn’t really make anything innovative from a hardware front. Their APs use reference architecture. Their switch and firewall offerings are also pretty standard fare with basic 10/100/1000 connectivity and are likely based on Broadcom reference designs as well. What exactly draws in a large buyer like Cisco? What is unique among all those products?
Cisco’s Got Its Head In The Clouds
The single thing that is similar across the whole Meraki line is the software. I talked a bit about it in my Wireless Field Day 2 post on Meraki. Their single management platform allows them to manage switches, firewalls, and wireless in one single application. You can see all the critical information that your switches are pumping out and program them accordingly. The demo I saw at WFD2 was isolating a hungry user downloading too much data with a combination of user identification and pushing an ACL down to that user limiting their bandwidth for certain kinds of traffic without totally locking that person out of the network. That’s the kind of thing that Cisco is looking for.
With the announcement of onePK, Cisco really wants to show off what they can do when they start plugging APIs into their switches and routers. But simply opening an API doesn’t do anything. You’ve got to have some kind of software program to collect data from the API and then push instructions back down to it to accomplish a goal. And if you can decentralize that control to somewhere in the cloud, you’ve got a recipe for the marketing people to salivate over. For now, I thought that would be some kind of application borne out of the Cisco Prime family.
If the Meraki acquisition comes to fruition, Meraki’s platform will likely be rebranded as a member of the Cisco Prime family and used for this purpose. It will likely be positioned initially towards the SMB and medium enterprise customers. In fact, I’ve got three or four use cases for this management software on Cisco hardware today with my customers. This would do a great job of replacing some of the terrible management platforms I’ve seen in the past, like Cisco Configuration Assisstant (CCA) and the unmentioned product Cisco was pitching as a hands-off way to manage sub 50-node networks. By allowing the Meraki management software to capture data from Cisco devices, you can have a proven portal to manage your switches and APs. Add in the ability to manage other SMB devices, such as a UC 500 or a small 800-series router and you’ve got a smooth package you can sell to your customers for a yearly fee. Ah ha! Recurring, cloud based income! That’s just icing on the cake.
Ruckus just had their IPO. It was time for a shake up in the upstart wireless market. Meraki was the target that most people had in mind. I’d been asked by several traditional networking vendors recently who I thought was going to be the next wireless company to be acquired, and every time my money landed on Meraki. They have a good software platform that helps them manage inexpensive devices. All their engineering goes into the software. By moving away from pure wireless products, they’ve raised their profile with their competitors. I never seriously expected Meraki to dethrone Cisco or Brocade with their switch offerings. Instead, I saw the Meraki switches and firewalls as an add-on offering to compliment their wireless deployments. You could have a whole small office running Meraki wireless, wired, and security deployments. Getting the ability to manage all those devices easily from one web-based application must have appealed to someone at Cisco M&A. I remember from my last visit to the Meraki offices that their name is an untranslatable word from Greek that means “to do something with intense passion.” It also can mean “to have a place at the table.” It does appear that Meraki found a place at a very big table indeed.