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Take Back Control: Understanding Cisco and Meraki

Blog: Take Back Control: Understanding Cisco and Meraki

Switches receive, process, and forward data packets between destinations in the same network. Switches allow network users to share information within a Local Area Network, or LAN. When it comes to deciding which switches are the best fit for your network, it’s important to understand the benefits vendors bring to the table.

Curvature offers a wide variety of switches from many different OEMs.  More than ever, our customers are relying on Curvature to help them decide between two of the premier Enterprise LAN switch product lines on the market: Cisco Catalyst 9000 series switches and Meraki MS switches.  Each product line has unique strengths as well as specific weaknesses, and Curvature specializes in helping customers choose the best option for them.

In this article, we take a closer look at the most important points to consider as you decide between Cisco and Meraki for your networking needs.

Overview of Cisco and Meraki

Before we do some product comparisons, let’s look at the greater Enterprise networking market and some of the reasons Cisco and Meraki are aligning more, while presenting unique products and opportunities.

Investing in Your IT Infrastructure

For more than 10 years, Cisco switches have been the gold standard in the industry for Enterprise LAN Access, Aggregation and Core switches.  Cisco switches are known for reliability and come packed with features, but customers know the Cisco brand commands high prices, often much higher than similar products from Cisco’s competitors.  However, though the initial cost of the hardware is high, the ongoing operational cost is usually low.  Cisco’s recommended 3-to-5-year product upgrade cycle, featuring ongoing new product releases alongside End-of-Life (EoL) announcements sunsetting older generation equipment, ensures customers are still regularly buying expensive hardware.  Some companies choose to keep older generation equipment in their networks longer, in effect spreading the high hardware purchase costs over more years which translates to lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for their valuable IT infrastructure.

Recurring Revenue Model

In more recent years, leading companies across many industries have sought to please investors by increase annual recurring revenue (ARR) by moving towards a subscription model featuring some up-front costs and additional monthly or yearly subscription.  Leading car brands such as Tesla and BMW have begun charging customers monthly fees for features that might’ve once been included in the overall purchase price of a vehicle, like navigation or even heated seats!  Eager to please investors and grow its recurring revenue business, Cisco hired executives from SaaS companies and doubled down on subscription-based revenue models. This has been a challenge for a company whose customers have been used to purchasing equipment with a 15-, 20- or even 30-year useful life (Catalyst Switches) and are now being offered a pivot to a subscription model.  This model can provide customers greater flexibility and options in deploying and maintaining their network infrastructure but can have the negative effect of limiting future options and ceding more and more control from the CIO to the OEM.

Cisco Licensing Model

Cisco has enjoyed substantial recurring revenue from their maintenance service SMARTnet which, for an annual fee with various price points and SLA tiers, provides hardware replacement and tech support for their entire suite of IT products.  A customer purchasing a Cisco switch can choose to purchase SMARTnet, or choose a different support option such as Third-Party Maintenance (TPM) or self-sparing, purchasing extra hardware to be used in case of failures.  However, many customers trust the quality of the equipment and choose to purchase “hardware only,” making their purchase in effect a “one-time buy.”  A few years ago, to the chagrin of many of its customers, Cisco chose to mandate subscription DNA licensing for the many of its newer generation Catalyst 9000 switches.  This model requires customers to buy annual Cisco DNA licenses with the switch hardware, licensing that is above and beyond the base software features a customer typically requires.  DNA licensing requires an additional appliance to use the features, and many customers don’t want DNA, or even know how it works.  Cisco has since relaxed some of the DNA license purchasing requirements, but many customers are still required to purchase DNA (minimum 3-year subscription) with its hardware.  The combination of consistent SMARTnet recurring revenue with new forays into mandatory DNA subscription licensing has allowed Cisco to announce nearly 10% growth in ARR business from 2021-2022.

Cisco Acquires Meraki

The acquisition of Meraki in 2012 was only one of Cisco’s many acquisitions during the past decade, but has proven to be one of its best investments, one where the younger sibling has given the older sibling many new tools and ideas.  Over the past few years in particular, customers have flocked to Meraki’s simple, intuitive cloud-based management platform, with even large companies abandoning their standard Cisco hardware infrastructure and moving to Meraki.  As a cloud-based product, Meraki consists of hardware and subscription licensing, with an astonishingly flexible and simple method of purchasing and utilizing both the hardware and the annual licenses required to manage and support the devices.   Furthermore, Meraki has upgraded its portal within the past year to allow regular Cisco devices, like 3850 switches, to be added to customers’ cloud portals for management and inventory purposes.  Both product lines are becoming more like each other, with Cisco continuing to grow Meraki’s features and integration to the larger Cisco product line and ecosystem.

CapEx and OpEx Considerations

Cisco’s and Meraki’s customers span the globe and across every industry, and they each have different priorities, budgets and strategies.  Some companies may choose to outlay a significant amount of CAPEX investment into their IT infrastructure, while others may favor a higher proportion of OPEX spend.  Many Cisco hardware products do not require additional subscription licensing, and so a higher initial CAPEX expenditure can often be accommodated because of a lower ongoing OPEX.  Additionally, due to the ongoing commoditization of network hardware and competition from other OEMs like Arista, HP/Aruba, and DELL, Cisco has lowered list pricing on many products, although that pricing has crept back up during the pandemic due to the production and supply chain shortages, increasing 10-20% or more on many products, when compared with 2020 list pricing.  Of course, some companies prefer to keep CAPEX expenditures lower while favoring OPEX spend, and this might lead them towards Meraki rather than Cisco products.

Key Similarities and Differences Between Cisco and Meraki Switches

Now that we have an overview of Cisco and Meraki, let’s explore some of the key variations between the two families in more detail.

An Overview of Cisco and Meraki Switches

There are some important similarities and differences between Cisco and Meraki switches. Here is an overview of the two families of switches:

  • Meraki and Cisco have different licensing models
  • The Meraki Cloud Platform allows for easy deployment, hardware configuration and network management
  • Cisco has many more families and models, whereas Meraki has fewer product options
  • There are more customization options when configuring Cisco switches
  • Both families of switches have Layer 3 networking availability
  • Port and power features are quite similar

Licensing Model

For both product lines, customers are required to purchase hardware.  In the past, most Cisco devices did not require additional licensing to function.  These days, some Cisco products do require SMARTnet or additional licensing or maintenance subscriptions to unlock certain features, or provide critical software updates.  Conversely, Meraki generally requires a customer to purchase platform-managed subscription licenses to use and maintain all of the Meraki hardware in their network.  Meraki’s licensing is deployed using their proprietary cloud portal, which is easy to use and allows for simple transfer of licensing between devices, as the network grows and new devices are added, or customers upgrade portions of their network to newer generation devices.

Network Management and Upgrades

Both Cisco and Meraki offer cloud-base network management, but Meraki’s cloud portal seems to be the favorite with customers because of the layout, its simplicity of configuration, intuitive rollout of user and organizational policies, as well as innovative network monitoring and other features.  Generally speaking, Cisco is an excellent choice if you’re prioritizing extra control and are okay with a more manual process of deployment and network management. Cisco devices can be cloud managed, but many companies manage their Cisco devices by hard-wiring into the device and doing configurations and upgrades manually, often one device at a time.  Meraki, meanwhile, is a great option if you want a simplified management experience.

Port and Power Features

Cisco and Meraki switches resemble each other and have many similarities, including the number of ports and their configurations. Cisco has many more product families, and more products within each family, but both Cisco and Meraki offer similar features such as:

  • Switches – Data-only, or Power over Ethernet (PoE) enabled
  • Routers/Firewalls
  • Wireless Access Points (APs)

Cisco typically has more configuration options, such as modular uplink modules and various levels of software licensing and features within a single family.  In contrast, Meraki has several product tiers, usually with fixed physical components and a smaller range of software features and available options in each tier.

Layer 3 Networking

Layer 3 networking is an optional feature that both Cisco and Meraki provide for their switches. Layer 3 is responsible for routing, so switches with this capability are able to process and route both external and internal traffic. With layer 3 networking, you can eliminate a router in the networking stack, which frees up a port and simplifies your network.

Curvature Provides Both Cisco and Meraki Networking Solutions

With Curvature, you gain a trusted partner with expertise in both Cisco and Meraki networking. With our extensive supply chain built on decades of OEM experience, we’re able to source hard-to-find Cisco and Meraki products for our customers at a moment’s notice.

We help you keep your network running with optimal performance by providing you with cost-effective Cisco and Meraki device replacement options. Our networking equipment inventory is well-stocked and always available at our distribution centers around the world (AMER, EMEA, and APAC). This global reach gives you the peace of mind of Next Business Day (NBD) shipments to nearly anywhere in the world. Plus, we provide a limited lifetime warranty on almost all our products.

Do you need a Cisco or Meraki networking product fast? Reach out to Curvature today!

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