Upgrading the Branch Right, Cheap, or Quick – Pick Two: A Tale of ‘Passion and Soul’


There’s has been a lot of buzz about Meraki lately due to the [recent announcement of their probable acquisition by Cisco](http://https://www.techvangelist.net/cisco-snatches-meraki). Prior to that they had been making a lot of headway into the small and mid markets; gaining traction quickly because of their fully integrated solution. The cloud controlled access points, switches, and security appliances coupled with MDM make it an all encompassing solution that is very attractive to the smaller shops with low staff count. That’s exactly why I chose them when I was tasked with refreshing the decade old network at one of our branch sites.

The site getting the equipment had been neglected unintentionally due to the fact that it sat in a strange place within the organization and operated almost entirely independent of the rest of the company. Their multi-server environment was down to one, their WAN connection was a fractional T-1, their switches lacking support and features, and the wireless was a single 802.11b radio. Once given the job, I put together a proposal featuring options with several different vendors and approaches to the solution. Hyper-V or VMware? HP or Dell servers? Cisco or Meraki wireless? Force10, Cisco, or Meraki switches? After crunching the numbers it came down to 2 solutions; Cisco wireless tied back into the HQ systems with 2960s and an ASA or Meraki. Now I’m comfortable deploying a branch office with equipment that requires a bit of hand holding but I’m under the gun for several very large projects at the moment and this needed to be quick, cheap, and right (pick two, right?). After upgrading the primary internet connection, I decided to go out on a limb for the branch (see what I did there?) and went with Meraki because the cost was a slightly lower and the cloud management meant once I got it up and running I could do a quick training session with our help desk team and they would also be able to assist in the management of the site.

We received the equipment quickly and unboxed it into our lab for configuration. I must say, it’s beautiful equipment that matches to sleek and intuitive management interface. 2 switches, 15 APs, and 2 security appliances in all. Plug it all in and viola, it works. I could go on all day about what I love but I’ll only give you the most important thing; I got all three. The setup was simple (quick), the cost was low enough that my boss didn’t gasp when he saw it (cheap), and everything works including the point and click site-to-site connection back to HQ (right). Multiple VLANs are fed into the VMware cluster, secure and guest wireless were setup in minutes, and we’re planning on rolling out port level security and device registration soon enough (public location).

I feel as though I’ve stepped into a parallel universe where CLI doesn’t rule all, the word "cloud" doesn’t make me cringe, and networking equipment works out of the box. My only complaint is the lack of routing protocols and the ability to use anything other than RSTP (PVST might be beneficial in some environments). At our site we implemented BGP and had to stick our old HQ edge router out front to handle that and internally there’s no routing protocols running. Admittedly it isn’t necessary at this site but if it’s going to hit my campus anytime soon, it will need to be there.

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