Helping a Rural Hospital Deliver High-Tech Care
I actually wrote this guest blog post for VCE back in July 2015, but it's still pretty relevant, so I thought I would link it here for those of you who haven't seen it yet.
Helping a Rural Hospital Deliver High-Tech Care
While working with my peers in Healthcare IT, I often get asked what switches I'm using, what wireless APs I have deployed, or what firewall I have. My answer in all three cases is the same, Meraki.
Meraki was founded by two PhD students at MIT who both worked on the Roofnet project, which was a wireless mesh network that was deployed at MIT. The potential of their idea was too good to pass up, and Meraki took off to become one of the most promising new players in the networking market.
It was during this upstart period that my former supervisor chose to take Meraki up on one of their free unit offers. It's a pretty sweet deal actually, and one that they still offer as of the time of this writing. All you have to do is attend a one-hour informative webinar on their products, and they'll send you a free wireless AP and a 3-year cloud management license for it.
Now mind you, the unit they offer is the lowest end AP they have available, but it's free, so I cut them a little slack. After evaluating the unit that my supervisor received, and working with Meraki's cloud dashboard to manage it, I could see tremendous value in what they were offering.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until I took over as CIO that we were able to invest in Meraki within our network. Now what you have to understand is that until just prior to my taking over the CIO role, our organization's network was quite a hodge podge. Netgear 48 port PoE switches worked right alongside HP 10 base-T switches from the 90s.
It was then that we were in the middle of implementing a new Avaya IP based phone system at our hospital and clinics, and since it required running all new cable for the phone lines, we had chosen to run all new CAT 6 network lines as well. Re-running all these lines allowed us to consolidate all of our switches to a single location at each clinic, and the datacenter and one other networking room at the hospital. At first, we used the newest of our existing switches, but when I took over I championed the initiative to standardize our network environment.
So after achieving buy-in, we deployed all new Meraki MS Series switches, along with MR Series wireless access points, and a MX Series firewall. I also decided to do away with our VPN to the long-term care facility, as it was running over a very unreliable DSL connection, and deployed two of Meraki's outdoor access points to create a high bandwidth point-to-point wireless connection with the hospital. All of these things we were able to tie in to the same cloud management dashboard, allowing us complete visibility into our network, even at the remote locations.
Now to fast forward to the present. Between our deployment and now, Meraki was purchased by Cisco for 1.2 billion dollars. This was concerning to us at first, since we worried that maybe a lot of what we loved about Meraki would go away, but so far the change has been minimal, and there have even been a few recent additions to the cloud dashboard that while they feel Cisco driven, have added useful functionality and have not detracted from the Meraki feel.
Lastly, we recently have deployed Meraki's Systems Manager app to all of our devices. This app is available for Microsoft Windows and Apple workstations, as well as Apple and Android mobile devices. This in conjunction with Kaspersky's MDM application has proven to be a powerful solution for keeping on top of BYOD in our organization.
So, upsides to Meraki:
Downsides to Meraki:
Now for the big question, is Meraki right for you? Well I would say that really depends. Meraki can drastically reduce management overhead from your network, and greatly simplify access to your network devices, by essentially making them available from any device that has internet. Where Meraki can struggle, is with complex networking topologies, and with integration with other devices.
For instance, creating a VPN between two Meraki devices is the easiest VPN experience you're likely to ever have, but making a VPN between a Meraki MX firewall and another vendor's firewall can be...an experience. Meraki essentially only supports one method for creating a VPN. Now thankfully, it uses fairly standard settings, but even when you use those settings, getting the tunnel to come up can be very tricky.
We have managed to successfully create VPNs with a Sonicwall 5500 series and a Watchguard Firewall, but we are currently struggling to get a VPN working between us and a Fortigate. I would say that if you're looking to establish many site-to-site VPNs with other entities, a Meraki firewall may not be the best fit for you. If your VPNs will all be between your own facilities however, and all of those facilities will have their own MX series device, then you will love the way Meraki VPNs "just work"
So whether you're looking to do a network overhaul, or just looking for a couple APs for a remote site, I would encourage you to take a look at Cisco's Meraki line of cloud networking devices. Attend one of their Webinars, get yourself a free AP, then download and try out their free Systems Manager product. Now tie your Systems Manager network in with the wireless network you create on the free AP you just got, and you may just start to get an idea of what makes Meraki so special, and how it can save you considerable time and effort in the future.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Cisco Meraki, and have not been incentivized to make any of these statements. I'm just a guy who happens to really like his networking gear, and wants to share that experience with people.