Meraki has taken Wi-Fi infrastructure to a whole new level of ridiculous with the “Split Controller.” My inner sarcastic comedian couldn’t keep quiet about this.
Meraki devices (APs, switches, and routers) connect to their cloud management platform for management and control. To be absolutely clear, the control plane within their system happens between the device and the cloud, not between devices.
I think we all know the ramifications of device-to-cloud control plane connectivity, so I won’t bore you with the gory details. Note that as you add more Meraki devices into your network, the reliability of your WAN link becomes increasingly important. Loss of the WAN link means loss of any function that is performed within the cloud.
Meraki’s customers have long given them grief about not supporting L3 roaming within their system. Meraki recently announced that their MX line of routers has been dubbed a mobility concentrator (controller) in support of L3 roaming.
Congratulations on deploying the other half of your cloud controller.
Meraki’s cloud controller handles the control plane, and the local mobility concentrator (controller) handles centralized data forwarding when you need L3 roaming. That’s hideous. They just took their customer base back to, what, 2005? That model introduces:
- Bottlenecks due to low throughput of the MX
- A single point of failure at the MX
- The added costs of the MX at every location needing L3 roaming
- No L3 roaming at sites where the customer doesn’t want to put an MX
… and the list goes on. Aruba might say, “bad move.” I would say, “not sweet.” My friend Mike at Vocera would say, “they need to keep it real.”
How much throughput can an MX handle across subnets? When compared against the throughput capability of gobs of APs, it’s practically nil, regardless of the MX model. I sure hope that Meraki’s customers don’t hope to deploy this L3 roaming solution within enterprise campuses, as it simply won’t scale. What about the Meraki customers who already have other vendors’ security appliances but want L3 roaming with their Meraki Wi-Fi? Well … you get the pleasure of buying a box just for this one feature while remaining dependent on the cloud and WAN link for other controller functionality.
Surely they thought about this being a single point of failure? Nah. No mention of a redundancy solution, and even if they offered it, then that would be TWO additional boxes per location for the addition of a single feature that comes standard with any real enterprise-class solution.
So … Meraki is promoting itself as an enterprise company now ... Maybe it should rethink that position. This new split-controller … or maybe we should just call it “unclean” … architecture is significantly less scalable and reliable than any number of on-premise controller vendors. Even Aruba, Motorola, and others are moving away from the controller-based, centralized forwarding architectural model and have the good sense not to extend a control-plane link across an unreliable WAN pipe.
Meraki changes its marketing story every few months it seems. First, it was a controller in the cloud. Then, they tried to draft on Aerohive’s story by “hiding the controller” and saying that their offering is just management in the cloud, though it’s still completely obvious and still stated on their website that their control plane extends into the cloud. Next they needed a method of performing L3 roaming, so they developed a “mobility concentrator” (a controller just for centralizing data flow) instead of distributing the data flow like most everyone else in the industry is doing.
They went from a single architecture, albeit an ugly one (distributed data forwarding with centralized control), to two ugly architectures by adding the option of centralized data forwarding when you need layer 3 roaming. I’ll give them less than two quarters until I think they’ll change their messaging again, likely announcing that some time in the future their switches will also become controllers …. Uh … mobility concentrators, undoubtedly stating that they too will help out with L3 roaming.
The problem though is that Meraki must learn how to build a distributed control plane, whether between APs, switches, or both.
Welcome to our world Meraki.
Here’s your sign: