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Cisco Meraki Systems Manager Review

Cisco Meraki Systems Manager Review
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Cisco Meraki mobile device management software is strong for both large organizations and small bussesses (or branch offices).

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockFor many of Tom's IT Pro readers, the mobile device management product most likely to fit their needs is Cisco Meraki Systems Manager. Meraki was recently highlighted in an article on one company's journey to select Meraki for its mobile device management needs.

Acquired by Cisco for $1.2 billion in 2012, Meraki has two unique business lines: wireless LAN and security management. Much of the Meraki business is still based on hardware, as evidenced firsthand by controls of network devices in Systems Manager (in addition to our focus on smartphones, tablets and PC's).

The irony is that VMware AirWatch started in a very similar fashion (as Wandering Wi-Fi). But as AirWatch shifted away from Wi-Fi to address enterprise device management needs (and continues to do so today), Meraki stayed true to its roots. The device management offering is strong for both large organizations and small businesses (or branch offices).

MORE: Why Small Businesses Must Regulate Mobile Devices

Meraki Systems Manager is a solution based in the public cloud, with scalability on par to AirWatch and IBM MaaS360. Still, a relatively lesser known player, Meraki has grown to support millions of devices managed globally (specific numbers are difficult to get from all of the providers).

Much of Cisco's value proposition revolves around "standards." While this is a double-edge sword, it limits how far Meraki can stray from the device management core.

It's probably not fair to directly compare Meraki to the larger players (IBM, Microsoft, AirWatch, MobileIron and Citrix). But it is a compelling offering which casts a broad net in the device management market.

With gaps in purchase justification and use cases for EMM tools, selling mobile application management and mobile content management is difficult to quantify. This is where Cisco Meraki shines, in which Cisco focuses on the 80 percent of buyer needs around device management, and not necessarily the "advanced" or "added value" use cases which probably interest only 5 to 10 percent of buyers at large enterprises.

Verdict

For organizations with complex mobility needs, application management, field service and complex use cases, Meraki is probably not the right solution. Ditto for organizations who lack a strong relationship with or have concerns with Cisco as a whole.

However, Meraki is like the "Dropbox" or "Okta" of device management – that is, the users' choice when advanced enterprise features aren't required. It's incredibly easy to use, has a phenomenal user interface, and is minimally intrusive. It can also be used in conjunction with other solutions, notably to monitor consultant or contingent workforce smartphones and tablets. It doesn't have the ability to tap into Internet of Things or printers – yet – but this would be a natural extension.

But the competitive tension within Cisco will always permeate. For organizations looking to evaluate Meraki, it's nearly impossible to find any signs of it on the traditional Cisco web properties. Going down the path of "mobility" results in links to Access points, Wireless LAN controllers, Dynamic policy control, Highly secure mobility, Cisco Catalyst Multi-gigabit Switching and Wireless services. Even digging into "Small Business Technology" routes to an antiquated-looking site.

Functionally speaking, there are also some shortcomings in application wrapping, which isn't a focus area of Meraki.