Cloud networking is taking off and could help enterprises unify their wireless and wired network operations in new, economical and convenient ways.
For example, startup Meraki has added subscription-based branch-office routing to its existing wireless LAN (WLAN) controller cloud offering. At branch sites, enterprises would install Meraki's new MX50 or MX70 routers. The gear sports the enhanced router services we've come to expect, such as a built-in firewall, Internet gateway and traffic shaper.
IN PICTURES: Evolution of the router
Enterprise customers of both services could provision and manage their wireless LANs and remote WAN routers through a common Web portal using an integrated management toolset. The connection between the branch office router and the Meraki cloud consumes just 1Kbps, says Kiren Sekar, Meraki director of marketing.
Cloud services move some aspect of an IT function out of the enterprise data center to the provider's. Enterprises avoid some IT capital and real estate expenses by using the cloud provider's hosted resources via the Web and paying a recurring usage or subscription fee for the privilege.
For its part, Meraki put WLAN controller functions into the cloud in May 2009. For a per-AP per-month subscription fee starting at $25, you get Web access to centralized Meraki WLAN controllers, which you use to provision your WLAN, add users and monitor and manage your Wi-Fi network.
Aerohive, a Meraki competitor, launched a similar cloud option, HiveManager Online, in the fall of 2009.
According to Meraki, a number of its customers told the company it would be nice to get other parts of the network delivered in a similar fashion. So the company launched its cloud-managed router "networking as a service," whereby you pay $35 and up per router per month.
"We're doing what Amazon has done for the data center and applying it to the network," explains Sekar, referring to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
Branch office routing has long been dominated by Cisco Integrated Services Routers (ISRs), and Sekar says Meraki is "excited to give them a run for their money."
They're not the only ones. Last June, startup Pareto Networks became the first to offer a cloud-based router option similar to the one just announced by Meraki. If the fledgling Pareto were to team with a WLAN cloud vendor, the result could be similar to the new Meraki model.
Watch for more developments in this space.