Meraki this week unveiled new management tools for its cloud-based Wi-Fi product, adding bandwidth controls, diagnostic tools and spectrum analysis. The tools exploit the packet processing engine embedded on each Meraki access point, and are accessed via a Web browser.
Some of the additions, especially the radio spectrum analytics, are catching up with features available already on conventional controller-based Wi-Fi products from rival wireless LAN vendors. But Meraki, like Aerohive Networks, runs controller functions on hosted servers, simplifying WLAN deployment and operations. (Don't miss: Moving Wi-Fi complexity into the cloud)
Meraki Traffic Control is a new feature that gives enterprise IT a clear view of the kinds and amount of wireless traffic on the Wi-Fi network. Until now, Meraki users couldn't tell how much bandwidth was being used by YouTube or Hulu traffic, compared to e-mail, CRM or peer-to-peer traffic.
With Traffic Control, all this becomes visible and controllable: Network administrators can limit peer-to-peer traffic to a set amount of bandwidth, for example. All traffic to and from clients passes through the Meraki packet engine, which can run a Layer 7 scan on the packet payload. Skype VoIP wireless traffic is notoriously hard to identify, says Sanjit Biswas, Meraki's CEO. The packet engine dissects the packets, and references a set of several hundred Meraki-created "signatures," including one for Skype, to identify the specific type of traffic it sees.
Packeteer and Palo Alto Networks are among those offering a similar tool.
The second new feature is Meraki Auto RF, for automated spectrum analysis. Meraki access points now can pick up not just rogue 802.11 access points, but any interference in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. Meraki algorithms process the RF data and can recommend and implement changes in channel settings and transmit power levels for the access points, to optimize client connections.
Rivals like Cisco, Aruba, and Ruckus Wireless have previously introduced a growing range of RF analysis and management capabilities. For example, Cisco unveiled its CleanAir technology in April, which does something very similar. But one key difference is that CleanAir only works with a new generation of Cisco access points, the Airnet 3500 series, which have an upgraded processor. Meraki's AutoRF doesn't require new hardware or software: The updates are delivered automatically from its cloud controller infrastructure, and administrators can access the new feature from a browser.
Finally, Meraki is adding a trio of Wi-Fi diagnostic tools: a site survey and coverage testing tool called Heatmapper; Mobile Wi-Fi Stumbler, an Android application that can run on a Wi-Fi equipped smartphone to scan and locate nearby access points (Meraki previously offered this as a laptop application); and Client Insight, which tracks a set of metrics for client Wi-Fi performance over time, creating a centralized store of information for network administrators. Client Insight uses a Meraki agent on a Windows PC or Mac.
All three work with all standard Wi-Fi products.
The new tools are part of the current refresh of the server-based Meraki controller software. They will be rolled out over the current calendar quarter, as enterprise customers decide when they want to upgrade their deployed Meraki access points.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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