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Meru Networks targets growing market for cloud-managed Wi-Fi

With a solution aimed at small businesses but which could apply to larger organizations, Meru Networks is turning to the cloud for plug-and-play Wi-Fi.

Future Wi-Fi

In the application world, the cloud has been all the rage. It's hard to find any application today that's not offered as a cloud service. The cloud has also had a significant impact on infrastructure and more and more customers are buying compute services from the likes of Amazon and Google.

However, most network products are still procured using traditional means. Pay for it up front and then pay an annual or monthly fee for maintenance. There are a handful of network solution providers that offer "cloud-managed" solutions, and while they do offer a cloud-based management interface, the vendor typically charges an upfront fee for the hardware and then the customers' "cloud" cost is for the management tools.

Last month, Meru put its money where its mouth is and came out with a cloud-managed Wi-Fi service. Meru's XPress Cloud is a pure subscription model that obviates the needs for an on-premise WLAN controller, as all of the management functions are facilitated by software in the cloud. XPress is a true "pay as you grow" model and has no upfront cost at all, as the price of the 802.11AC access points are bundled in as part of the monthly service cost. If the customer wants to pay for the APs upfront, that option still exists as well.

Meru is targeting XPress Cloud primarily at small businesses, but cloud is also of value to medium or large enterprises that are highly distributed where local IT support isn't available in all locations. Meru's cloud offering is designed to be plug-and-play so an AP can be shipped to any location and then anyone in the location merely needs to plug it into a PoE-enabled cable and, like magic, enable Wi-Fi.

Meru architected the solution to minimize security concerns. With XPress Cloud, only the management data is sent to the Meru cloud. All of the user data is sent directly to its destination and never to the XPress Cloud. Also, customers should take comfort in knowing that to enable the service, Meru didn't build its own cloud. Instead, the service is hosted in Amazon's cloud in both Europe and North America. Building a robust, scalable cloud platform certainly isn't a core competency for Meru, so it's good to see the company recognize this and leverage an existing, best-in-class cloud platform.

In addition to being simple to deploy, the solution is easy to scale. If a customer wants to expand the network, simply add more APs and let the auto configuration and channel selecting take care of the rest. Also, as the environment gets bigger, Express Cloud can be migrated to a traditional controller solution, if the customer chooses to do so.

While the concept of cloud-managed network devices is still fairly new, I believe the market is ready to accept it. I recently participated in a webinar on this topic with Meru where we asked a poll question: "what are your plans for implementing a cloud-managed wireless LAN solution?" Only 28% of the respondent base said "no plans." Of the remaining 72%, 16% claim to have cloud-managed Wi-Fi in production today, with almost 40% currently piloting, investigating options, or likely to deploy in 2015.

The XPress Cloud service offers a great option for any business that wants to migrate to 802.11AC but can't afford the high upfront cost of having to pay for a bunch of access points. XPress Cloud allows customers to buy exactly what they need and pay for it in a way that's most comfortable for the business.

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