The concept behind Cisco’s Meraki line of networking products is to manage everything in the cloud. That line consists of the regular Meraki line of products which are much like other enterprise networking products, but cloud managed. The other line is Meraki Go, which is intended to be used in small businesses without any IT support where a non-technical employee can set up and manage the network. Cisco provided a complete business setup of Meraki Go products for testing and also sent along its new WiFi 6 access point.
A basic Meraki Go setup includes a router with included firewall, a switch and one or more wireless access points. Note that the router is not a WiFi router like you’d see at the store, but rather depends on a separate access point. There are indoor and outdoor WiFi access points available. Meraki Go has a variety of switch types available with 8, 24 and 48 ports and optional power over Ethernet.
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The tested units included an 8-port PoE switch, an indoor and an outdoor WiFi access point and the Meraki Go Security Gateway, which is what they call the router. Each item comes packed with a pictorial installation guide that’s probably not necessary, except to know which parts to use if you’re wall mounting one of the devices.
Meraki Go: True Plug-and-Play
To set everything up, you simply plug an Ethernet cable from the switch to each device. The Security Gateway is plugged into either the company network or the internet, and the other port goes to the switch. After that’s done, you plug in the power, and everything turns on. The ease of setup is such that using the PoE switch makes a lot of sense for most small business networks.
Once the network is up and running, you’ll need to install the Meraki Go app on your smartphone or tablet, create an account, enter the Meraki order number so that the cloud app can find your products, and then follow the instructions to make any configuration changes you think necessary. The most likely changes include creating a name for the network (this will serve as the WiFi SSID) and deciding if you want to set up a guest network.
You can do the basic set up, including the unboxing and installation of the hardware and doing the configuration in less than a half hour, unless you have to mount things on the walls, which might take longer. If you have the outdoor AP, it needs to be installed so that you won’t get rain inside the electronics, and then you need to run an Ethernet cable to the outdoor location.
The Ethernet ports on the tested switch also can connect to non-Meraki products, whether or not they’re PoE devices. There are also two ports on the switch, whose presence is not explained.
The only issue we had with the Meraki Go equipment was that the outdoor AP sometimes complained that it wasn’t connected to the cloud service. There are no diagnostics in the Meraki Go management app to tell you how to fix the problem beyond unplugging the AP, waiting 5 minutes and plugging it back in.
Other factors that may affect how you use the Meraki Go equipment include a lack of IPv6 support, which may arrive later in 2020, and the lack of a desktop version of the management interface. A Meraki spokesman said that the mobile-only interface was intentional as a way to cut costs. However, not everyone is likely to find network management via your smartphone or tablet to be an ideal choice.
The Meraki Go equipment is very reasonably priced, and is competitive with consumer WiFi routers. MSRP on the indoor access point is $149, the 8-port PoE switch is $279 and the Security Gateway is $149. Security subscriptions are $120 per year. If all you need in your business is basic WiFi with guest access, this is a good way to get it.
Meraki MR45 WiFi 6 Access Point
The Meraki MR45 WiFi access point is not part of the Meraki Go suite of products. Instead it’s a cloud-managed AP designed for use in a business environment where the implementation and management will be done by IT workers. It can support multi-gigabit throughput if you have the infrastructure to support it, and it acts a lot like an industrial grade wireless router, except it’s not a router. However, it does include its own firewall with NAT and DHCP support with guest access.
You manage the MR45 through a web interface to the Meraki Dashboard cloud application. The interface is clear and easy to use, intuitive to navigate and provides broad support for functions that aren’t available on much of the competition. Most management tasks are through radio buttons or drop down menus. The top-level menus will display the next level as your mouse pointer moves over the choice. There’s also a smartphone and tablet app available.
Setup is very easy. Attach it to your network and attach power, and the MR45 configures itself to its default settings, which includes delivering NAT addresses to clients. You can change these settings if you wish, but it’ll run when it’s plugged in.
The MSRP for this capable 4×4 MIMO AP is $1449 plus the $150 annual license. This is an excellent, enterprise grade AP that will work well in an industrial environment. My only gripe, and it’s a minor one, is the lack of a fiber interface. But the 3.5 gigabit copper interface will make up for it if your infrastructure will support it. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it.
Wayne Rash, a former editor of eWEEK, is a longtime contributor to our publication and a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing.