By Richard Jang | 22 June 2023 | Senior Product Manager, AIOps & Network Assurance at Cisco Meraki

Cisco, the leader in everything networking, has recently merged two of its most influential organizations that had operated independently for the past decade. Cisco Catalyst, the industry’s top on-prem networking solution, with Cisco Meraki, the leading cloud-based networking solution, has come together to form a new, formidable entity, Cisco Wireless.

This article explores the significance of this unification, how it’ll bring a cohesive experience between on-prem and cloud for customers, and the exciting possibilities that lie ahead in the future of networking with Cisco Wireless!

To understand what there is to unify, I’d like to give you a bit of context for these two organizations.

The Story of Catalyst and Meraki

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Cisco Catalyst is an organization founded within Cisco that provides enterprise wireless solutions with an on-prem controller-based architecture and is renowned for delivering the highest wireless performance and the ability to fine-tune enterprise Wi-Fi with exceptional granularity. While it may be considered complex for small businesses with less demanding wireless environments, it is indispensable for large-scale enterprises.

On the other hand, Cisco Meraki is an enterprise networking organization acquired by Cisco in 2012 and offers a cloud-based architecture widely recognized for its simplicity. Meraki’s cloud-first architecture has gained significant traction over the past decade, boasting over 4.3 million active networks and growing; however, compared to Catalyst, it sacrifices some granularity in favor of simplicity. This is why historically, more small-to-medium-sized businesses choose Meraki – with exceptions. With this background, let’s delve into what it entails to unify both stacks.

Bringing Together the Best of Both Worlds

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The formation of Cisco Wireless means bringing together the best of both worlds, the performance of Catalyst and the simplicity of Meraki, across the entire wireless portfolio. This integration focuses on creating a cohesive experience across components such as AP platforms, Campus Solutions, Network Management Software, and Artificial Intelligence between on-prem and cloud.

But what does this unification mean within Cisco?

Well, the Cisco Catalyst and Meraki organizations have merged completely under a single management structure, which includes Product Management, Technical Marketing Engineering, Software Development, and more. This integration enables Cisco Wireless to establish a unified vision and strategy across the wireless portfolio.

So, what can you, as a customer, expect?

Prepare for a rapid release of wireless innovations with a compelling narrative and a clear path toward the cloud. In fact, some of Cisco Wireless’s unified solutions are already available, let’s dive into them!

Unified Wi-Fi 6E Platform Experience

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A year back, Cisco Wireless introduced our first taste of the Catalyst Meraki convergence with our dual-mode Wi-Fi 6E access points. This lineup includes the Catalyst 9162, 9164, and 9166, all capable of operating in either a Catalyst or Meraki mode to connect to a Catalyst Controller or Meraki Cloud seamlessly.

The design of these access points embodies the strength of the Cisco Wireless unification, combining the exceptional performance of Catalyst with the simplicity of Meraki and providing users with a smooth transition to the cloud whenever they are ready.

Management: On-Prem, Cloud, or In-Between? You Got Options!

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With unified Wi-Fi hardware in place, how do we manage it all?

Traditionally, Cisco DNA Center has served as the network management system for on-premises Catalyst controllers, while Meraki Cloud has directly managed MR APs. However, as you may have guessed, with Cisco Wireless, we are introducing a new hybrid option called Catalyst Cloud Monitoring (release date pending). This solution caters to users who are not yet ready to transition to the cloud from an infrastructure perspective but want to monitor their Catalyst 9800 controller and associated access points directly on the Meraki Cloud Dashboard.

Catalyst Cloud Monitoring is a feat of innovation and goes beyond just providing a dedicated page for viewing Catalyst 9800 controller details. It also enables on-premises architecture networks to leverage all the latest AIOps innovations available on the Meraki Cloud Dashboard such as the Wireless Overview page, Roaming Analytics dashboard and so on, offering customers a seamless and comprehensive experience during their transition to cloud.

Industry’s Largest Data Lake and Most Sophisticated AI

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With all options of network management in place, it brings us to how we power the ability to predict, optimize, and self-heal our networks, and that’s with AI.

Cisco Catalyst with Cisco DNA Center traditionally utilizes AI Cloud as the AI backend for analyzing networking telemetry. For those whom are not aware, AI Cloud powers advanced solutions such as AI-Enhanced RRM for intelligent RF optimization, AI Network Analytics for insights and trend analysis, and AI Endpoint Analytics for security and client classification, among others and are incredibly powerful solutions within Cisco AIOps suite of solutions. While historically, these capabilities were not available on the Meraki dashboard, with the formation of Cisco Wireless, this has changed. How is this done?

By connecting the AI Cloud with Meraki Cloud, and forming a unified AI backend which not only positions Cisco as the industry leader with the largest data lake, but also enables one of the biggest advantages. Allowing for unprecedented feature integration into the Meraki stack by leveraging existing technology.

For example, we’ve recently released two new features with AI-Powered Auto RF, Busy Hour and AI Channel Planning, and this was powered by AI-Enhanced RRM through the connected AI Cloud. Our engineering team can now build powerful AI features in less cycles than before, and let me tell you, we have an exciting roadmap ahead filled with innovations to bring over to Meraki including the likes of AI-Enhanced RRM and AI Network Analytics, and I can’t wait to share them with you in the coming days.

One Experience to Rule Them All

With that said, the goal of Cisco Wireless is simple, to offer a unified experience across on-prem and cloud architecture without compromising performance or simplicity, to offer a seamless experience for those who want to transition to cloud, facilitated by our converged hardware, unified management solutions, and the power of AI. Cisco Wireless is actively executing to achieve these goals to redefine the networking landscape and I hope you share the same level of excitement for the upcoming developments as I am!

Thanks for tuning in and keep an eye out for detailed articles on each section in the near future!