Cisco Meraki- How to Lose Friends and De-Influence People

Let me start by saying that I think Cisco are a great company and I have huge respect for them. They have some amazing products and services particularly if you can stand some of the eye watering prices. But they make some delicious gear!

But this tale doesn’t start with them, it starts at MIT, where a couple of students founded a company called Meraki- whose speciality is cloud controlled networking. Having visibility to all of your networking devices on a ‘single pane of glass’ is a compelling story, and Meraki does it exceptionally well. As a companion to this they developed ‘Systems Manager’ which is an agent that is installed on most of your network devices and reports back data to the ‘Dashboard’.

It’s a great system, and over time they have added many new features to their hardware, Dashboard, and Systems Manager.

In the early days however they promoted Systems Manager as ‘free, unlimited and forever’ in a bid to get people to use it, and perhaps buy some of their hardware. I created an account, had a look around, and didn’t use it because I didn’t really understand and was suspicious of the ‘free forever’ thing. then I kept hearing about it when drinking sorry meeting with my peers. So I gave it another go, and quickly became hooked. If you want to know how impressive this was in 2013, look here. If you want evidence that it was free, check here. Meraki also had an Enterprise version of Systems Manager, licensed on a per device basis, but my impression was you were basically paying for the support. Over time this changed, and they added new features to the Enterprise version and leaving the Legacy version falling further behind- but it was still free!

Cisco bought Meraki in 2012 for a reported $1.2 billion. Sorry, I don’t know if bits of this story happened before the takeover, some were definitely after!

Then came the first shock- on 24 March 2015 Meraki announced that Legacy would disappear for new signups, and free accounts would be limited to 100 devices. A lot of people were caught by this, and there was considerable confusion in the marketplace. Still, this didn’t affect me too much- all of my networks are under 100 devices and my free account was grandfathered in, so as long as I was careful, I could continue to use the service.

However this recently changed again- Meraki announced that new Systems Manager sign ups are now only trials, and there is no longer any free tier. Again, I’ve been grandfathered in, but discovered when adding a new network that is considered a new account and all of a sudden I started getting nasty emails from Meraki saying I needed to pay licensing for systems manager or the 2 new agents I had deployed would stop working! This is despite the fact that I’m still using Legacy. So either Meraki has stuffed up, or this change in policy has caught out even more people than first thought.

(By the way, as of 27.3.17 this change is not reflected in the document about Systems Manager Licensing)

So what, you say! Suck it up princess, you’ve had it good for years, now it’s time to pay the piper……

Look you’re substantially correct to think that, and overall Meraki have been very generous. In fact one of their strategies is to give dealers and prospects free hardware just for watching webinars. I’ve been the recipient of a couple of free bits of gear, and consequently I’ve bought some myself and recommended it to clients. It isn’t cheap, but it makes my life easier, works well and overall I think is good value.

So why am I having a whinge? Because constantly changing the deal is petty and evil. I relied on Meraki’s promise that my account would be free forever. I had started a long range project that required this.

Now that they have moved the goalposts-
1. I have lost that time investment
2. I now have to look for an alternative because they can’t be trusted
3. I also have to consider that other promises might be broken and perhaps look for other hardware

Cloud managed hardware is no longer rare, several vendors do it, some don’t charge licensing fees and some are even (gasp!) a lot cheaper! I really think that whoever made this silly decision could have done it differently and not made these mistakes. I would assume that the ultimate goal is to get rid of Legacy and have everyone on Enterprise. How about giving away a few Enterprise licenses with hardware? How about offering Legacy customers really enticing pricing to come up to Enterprise? Or schedule the price to start low and rise over a period? What they’ve really done here is paint me into a corner- I can’t go up to Enterprise without paying many thousands of dollars, and I’d have to raise my rates to do that. Legacy works fine and is free, so I based my offering around that.

So, exactly how grumpy am I about this?

Well, I’ve already done training on a competitors products and installed several networks with non Meraki gear. Yes, that grumpy.