3 Top IT Cloud-Based Networking Solutions: How Do They Compare?
As organizations migrate data to the cloud, cloud-based tools and services can be used to protect information and optimize infrastructure. Some of the things you can protect with cloud-based solutions include data, networks, servers, hardware, applications, and access points.
Of those, one of the most critical things to address is your network. Whether you have a wide-area network (WAN), a local-area network (LAN), or some other type, your network is the lifeline of your business. Networks make it possible to transmit data. Without a network, businesses grind to a halt.
Traditionally, many businesses relied on physical, on-site network servers to facilitate the exchange of information. As organizations migrate to the cloud, more organizations are turning to cloud-based solutions to ensure that their networks capitalize on the latest technology advances.
The thing is, if you are like most business leaders, you don’t have the time or bandwidth to research different networking options to decide which is right for your organization.
That’s where I can help. I’ve been a network engineer for years and I help people just like you make sense of cloud-based networking every day. Some people might assume that since I work for a managed IT support provider, I have a vested interest and will steer you toward a cloud-based solution, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is that cloud-based networking solutions aren’t right for everyone. Rather than try to convince you to use a tool that doesn’t make sense for you, this article will provide an honest comparison of three top cloud-based networking solutions so that you can easily see the differences and decide if one of them is right for you.
It doesn’t do you or us any good to push you toward a solution that isn’t right for your business. Instead, we present the facts in an easy-to-understand way, so that you have everything you need to make an educated decision.
What Are Cloud-Based Networking Solutions?
With cloud-based networking solutions, all or part of an organization’s networking management capabilities are hosted in the cloud rather than in on an on-site, physical server. The support and management of the network is either managed internally or by and external IT service provider.
Cloud-based networking solutions are a subscription-based service in which organizations pay a fixed fee to a service provider each month in exchange for virtually managed networking and computing resources. These arrangements typically include hardware, software, services, management, and licensing fees.
One of the prime advantages of NaaS is that organizations no longer need to worry about backups, updates, and configuration. The service provider handles all of these tasks.
Some providers offer more than one subscription level and include different feature options.
Related article: What Does NaaS Mean In IT? What Are The Pros & Cons?
What Are The Top 3 Cloud-Based Networking Solutions?
In my time as a network engineer, I’ve run across a variety of cloud-based networking solutions.
Here are three cloud-based network management platforms that I consider best-in-class, listed in alphabetical order by product name:
How Are The Top 3 Cloud-Based Networking Solutions Similar?
All three options provide the ability to manage wireless, wired, and security networks from a single dashboard.
They offer similar uptime and application programmable interfaces (APIs), which make it possible to interact with (pull or push) data and make scripting and configuration changes. They also can all scale comfortably from small to enterprise-sized businesses.
Network Management Functions
All three solutions provide similar network management functions, including real-time monitoring, automatic firmware updates, and customizable reporting. and a broad offering of features. Their switching and access points are very similar.
They are all virtually controller free. Having said that, Aruba Central uses one access point (AP) as a virtual controller, so it's not 100% controller free.
Packet captures are possible with any of these three options, but while Aruba Central and Juniper Mist perform automatic (dynamic) packet capture, Meraki requires manual packet capture.
Each of these solutions is only compatible with other hardware devices from their respective manufacturers. This may cause issues for organizations that use devices from a variety of manufacturers.
Aruba Central and Juniper Mist are compatible with other access controls.
Related article: What Does NaaS Mean In IT? What Are The Pros & Cons?
How Are The Top 3 Cloud-Based Networking Solutions Different?
There are differences in terms of the specific features and capabilities offered in each of these solutions.
The artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) features of Aruba Central are not as robust as Juniper Mist, but it has more than Cisco Meraki. Its AI and ML capabilities are only available in its higher license offerings.
Aruba is moving toward one operating system for its entire portfolio and is developing its microarchitecture and microservices which will enable it to push updates quickly.
Aruba Central offers foundation and advanced licenses at 1-, 3-, and 5-year subscription increments.
Cisco Meraki was the first of these platforms available. While being first can be good, it also means that the others had time to think about how to improve on Cisco’s offering.
One advantage of Cisco Meraki is that it can be used to easily manage networks located at multiple sites, making it a good choice for larger organizations that have different geographically located facilities.
Meraki requires different operating system hardware than other Cisco platforms. But they are allowing new catalyst switches to be brought up into the new Meraki dashboard.
Different level switches offer varying levels of stacking capability.
While many people want to stack or bundle switches into a larger logical switch to simplify management and reduce the number of internet protocol (IP) addresses that need to be assigned, previous experience has shown that some lower model switches (i.e. MS-120) are unable to stack using Cisco Meraki.
Cisco Meraki offers two license levels: advanced and enterprise. Subscriptions are
offered at 1-, 3-, 5-, 7-, and 10-year increments.
The Juniper Mist offering has the most advanced machine learning-based analytics and automation capabilities, which can help organizations improve network performance and reduce the number of manual tasks required to manage their networks. This makes it a good option for organizations with fewer IT resources.
It also is compatible with internet of things (IoT) devices. Its entire portfolio operates across one operating system (JunOS). Brownfield Juniper switches can be brought into the Juniper Mist platform from previous deployments in addition to greenfield native cloud switches.
One advantage Juniper Mist offers over the other options is that it was developed in a microservice architecture, which means specific feature sets can be updated without taking the entire application down.
It offers service level expectations so that the network engineers can see from a high level how the network is performing (i.e. the average amount of time it takes a client to connect to wireless, visibility of performance issues, what the bandwidth looks like, monitoring of overall network health).
Juniper Mist has one license level. You can add extra features including Marvis, their virtual network assistant that uses artificial intelligence to support an organization’s own enterprise-level team of network experts. This allows organizations to customize Juniper Mist to its particular needs. It offers 1-, 3-, or 5-year subscriptions.
How Much Does Each Option Cost?
The exact cost of each platform will be determined by the number and type of devices being managed, the features and capabilities your organization needs, and the length of the subscription. For example, feature-rich licensing and higher-end switches will cost more but will also give you greater flexibility and deployment options.
In addition, discounts may be available depending on the number devices supported and the length of your agreement.
In general, Juniper Mist is the most expensive option once all the licensing features are added, followed closely by Cisco Meraki and Aruba Central.
IT service providers can provide specific quotes for cloud-based networking options that will meet your needs.
What Else Do You Need To Know?
Although price often takes precedence, there are other things to consider:
It’s important to get a cloud-based networking solution that is sized to your business.
For example, if an enterprise business tries to use a solution that isn’t sized for big businesses they could experience bottlenecks and lags in network performance.
I always recommend planning for the network capacity you expect to have in five years and choosing the networking solution that can best accommodate that capacity.
What Happens When Your Subscription Expires?
Understand what happens when your subscription expires.
While each of these providers will let you know before your license expires and offer you the opportunity to renew it, there may be consequences if you don’t pay or renew.
For example, with Cisco Meraki. your devices will stop working. With Juniper Mist your devices will still work, but you won’t be able to make configuration changes.
If your business has specific compliance or regulatory obligations, make sure to ask the provider if they can be accommodated. The last thing you want to do is realize late in the game that the service you’ve selected leaves you exposed to breach of contract issues.
Related article: Continuous Compliance: 6 Steps To Stay Ahead (NIST & More)
Which Cloud-Based Networking Solution Is Best For You?
I often see companies that put all of their money into one platform, meaning that they are loyal to a particular brand for all of their technology needs.
While that is a valid approach, it can make it hard for companies to be objective about changing or evaluating other vendors. On the other hand, it can make your decision easier because it will dictate your options.
The truth is that the best cloud-based networking solution for you depends on your technology needs, your budget, and your business.
After reading this article, you have a better understanding of the three top cloud-based networking solutions. You know the similarities and differences. You know approximately how much you can expect to pay. And, you know some of the other things you need to consider.
At this point, you have a solid understanding of each of these solutions.
You may need to partner with an external IT partner to evaluate, select and manage a cloud-based networking solution. As part of that process, we encourage you to explore several options to find a provider that offers a solution and approach that is a good fit for your organization.
At Kelser, we offer cloud-based networking solutions as part of our managed IT support services offering.
While we are confident in the benefit our managed IT provides, we know that managed IT isn’t the right solution for everyone.
Instead of pushing you to work with us, we focus on publishing educational articles that business leaders like you can use to understand the technology and make the right decision for your organization (whether you work with us or not).
You may be at a point where you want to know more about NaaS. Read this article to learn the pros and cons of NaaS.
If you are considering IT options for your organization, you may want to explore our managed network offering. As I mentioned before though, don’t stop there. We are so serious about our advice to check out multiple providers that we post articles like this one to compare Kelser’s offering to that of our competitor, IT Direct.
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