Barely a day goes by without another industry pundit talking up the cloud. Some form of cloud engagement gone from a bold consideration in the early days to virtually a mandatory consideration in any IT strategy today. But, what does a cloud-first mentality actually mean in the context of networking?
A truly cloud-first approach to networking sees every network component anywhere in the organisation (next door, next building, next state or country) all designed to enable easy, centralised management. Why does that matter? It matters because it enables:
One of the driving factors of change in network management is actually more about people than technology. Put simply, there is a competition for talent. It is becoming increasingly difficult for organisations to recruit and retain expert skills in network switching and routing. The labour market is so tight in this regard that ironically network vendors themselves are part of the problem. Candidates with highly specialised network expertise are often quickly snapped up by vendors leaving other organisations stuck with a specialist shortage.
IT teams within organisations are also becoming smaller. With reduced headcount, IT recruitment and retention shifts focus to professionals with strong broad skills rather than the deep and narrow skill focus that used to prevail. That has driven a greater vendor focus on network management capabilities that are easier to install, easier to manage, and far more intuitive out of the box – which is precisely the sweet spot that cloud-first network management enables.
For example, cloud-first networking with Meraki switches and wireless access points enable true zero-touch provisioning – with switches pre-staged and configured entirely from a web browser, and prior to the physical devices arriving. After deployment, the networks benefit from regular, automated firmware updates, so no more late-night manual firmware updates. The Meraki management experience accelerates and simplifies the work of the network engineer.
Network deployments used to be complex, time consuming, command line-driven, difficult to troubleshoot, provided low visibility, and required every device to be individually connected to and configured.
Cloud-enabled networking enables organisations to leapfrog beyond that complexity to a powerful combination of simplicity, reliability and visibility – provided out of the box. Organisations still need an IT team of course, but that leaner, central IT team only needs a fundamental understanding of the underlying technology, not the deep switching/routing expertise of years gone by.
This cloud-first networking approach provides network visibility and management via a single cloud interface. Once you have your cloud-enabled network up and running, you can see the whole network, troubleshoot devices remotely, and use templates to configure whole classes of devices – a far cry from the manual device by device configuration of old. For example, with cloud-enabled network management you can configure dozens or hundreds of ports at once, regardless of the physical location of switches.
Making every network switch, wireless access point and device smarter and connected to the cloud provides a level of visibility that enables deep network insight and smarter network management. For example, the Meraki Dashboard gives visibility into the network users, their devices, and their applications. Armed with rich analytics, administrators can quickly create access control and application usage policies to optimise both end-user experience and network security – like centrally throttling bandwidth or blocking applications with just a few clicks. That means remote troubleshooting capabilities are inherent to the network architecture, so scaling a Meraki network does not mean scaling complexity.
One obvious question then is ‘does that simplicity preclude more sophisticated capabilities like integration?’ Thankfully, the answer is ‘no’. Meraki’s cloud-first approach to networking is built on a heritage of cloud-managed wireless, switching and management – and since the acquisition by Cisco – has evolved into a comprehensive networking offering under a single cloud-based management platform.
The breadth of APIs that the integrated platform provides is a real Meraki strength. Easy to use and comprehensive APIs enable connection to, and integration with, highly programmable cloud-based network architecture. These APIs are free to use and easy to integrate into other applications. This flexibility has engendered a rapidly growing development community and libraries of open source integration code. So, for organisations with generic requirements, Meraki provides powerful simplicity out of the box. For organisations with custom integration needs, for example with DevOps, open APIs make all the difference.
Cloud-first network management enables faster deployment, simplified administration, and richer visibility. None of that is worth it though without strong network performance. Meraki enables granular control over bandwidth, apps, and client devices, and integrated analytics for actionable insights on network performance. The outcome: a reduction in undesirable traffic, better use of bandwidth, improved coverage, and fewer support calls.
High-performance, resilient networks are made possible by cloud-first Meraki switches and wireless access points that help maintain seamless network service. Multigigabit ethernet squeezes more speed out of existing cabling. Switches can be physically stacked via dedicated lightning-fast cabling and cross-stack aggregation to create a resilient connection to the network core using all available bandwidth. IP gateway redundancy or powerful dynamic routing using OSPF further strengthen the network.
Bottom line, the network becomes faster, more reliable and more easily managed. Meraki simplifies day to day operations and puts intuitive, yet powerful, tools in the hands of network administrators.
Data#3 provides design, implementation and management of Meraki networks. Get in touch with a Data#3 solution expert to request a demonstration of the game-changing Meraki Dashboard today. With our help, you can test drive the cloud management platform from your browser to experience the power of cloud-first networking.