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In Use

So what's it like running a Meraki network? Well, the good news is that it really is simple to configure, even for mesh APs. All I did was connect an AP into my office LAN's switch as the gateway AP, take another AP upstairs, select a spot and power it up. Within a few minutes, the AP's signal strength LEDs changed from a mesh partner search scanning pattern, to a steady signal level display indicating a successful mesh connection.

The bad news is that I had to lower my expectations of responsiveness for the Monitoring section of the Meraki Cloud Controller Dashboard and get accustomed to seeing mismatches in information presented in different pages. These mismatches were especially frustrating when I was trying to determine what was connected to what during my performance testing.

As an example, Figure 12 shows the Access Points Monitor screen, which displays three active APs, MR11, Office Gateway (an MR14) and Upstairs Mesh (another MR14). But I knew that I had disconnected the MR11 and replaced it with the Office Gateway MR14. However, the incorrect status for the MR11 persisted, even when I enabled the Live updates option, which refreshes the screen (and status) every 30 seconds instead of its usual (at least) every few minutes.

Access points monitor screen
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Figure 12: Access points monitor screen

Figure 13 shows the detail screen for the MR11 AP, obtained by clicking on its link in the Access points summary page. The correct status presented clearly contradicts the information on the AP summary page. And note the Status message, which correctly states that the AP has been unreachable for 22 minutes.

Individual access point  monitor screen
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Figure 13: Individual access point monitor screen

Another data delay can be found in the Event log, another logical place to go when you're trying to figure out what's up with your network. The delay here between the information being captured by a Meraki AP and showing up in the log is around 5 minutes, according to Meraki. Not too bad if your network if running fine. But if you're trying to find out why you're getting angry phone calls from users who can't connect, 5 minutes can be a very long time.

The Access Points and Overview pages also have similar data delays and some inconsistencies, which further inhibited my ability to quickly find where clients were connected.

For example, both will eventually show the number of clients attached to each AP, as Figure 14 shows in the Overview screen. And clicking on the AP in the map produced a nice popup with AP details. But the Usage information of 1 device transferred none in the last day isn't very helpful. I also found that the number of clients shown in the Overview page was often inaccurate, reflecting clients that were no longer on the network.

Overview screen with unhelpful client detail
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Figure 14: Overview screen with unhelpful client detail

Clicking over to the AP detail page (Figure 15) doesn't help either. This page has a lot of information, but connected clients isn't among it. And although the AP icon in the mini-map in the upper right corner of the page is properly green showing a non-alarming AP, the number of clients shown in the same icon in the Overview page isn't shown here.

Office Gateway AP detail
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Figure 15: Office Gateway AP detail

Meraki's explanation for these delays and information mismatches is that their system is currently handling over 14,000 networks scattered around the globe with over 5.9 M clients. So the system has had to compromise on responsiveness to handle such scope.

Depending on the Monitor page viewed and the period of data it's showing, information can be outdated as little as a few minutes for a day's worth of data to as much as 24 hours for a month's data.

My point back to Meraki is that their system design should not penalize individual customers, especially when customers are trying to fix problems with their networks.

Another hindrance to network troubleshooting is the LEDs on each AP. I though it was a cool idea to have signal level LEDs easily visible on each AP to help in siting APs for mesh operation. But it turned out that the level indicated is inconsistent at best.

I sited one mesh-connected AP in a location where it indicated a full four lights. But it turned out that the signal level in that spot was actually marginally low and caused intermittent disconnection of the AP. The correct signal level was shown in the AP's dashboard page, however.

There is also no indication of network traffic from any of the LEDs, which I find an odd omission and, again, no help in seeing what a given AP is doing during installation and troubleshooting.

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