Archive for March, 2021

Adapting to Industry 4.0 in Manufacturing

Prior to the pandemic, manufacturing as an industry was well on the way to transformation with the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, automation, AR/VR, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Nonetheless, the disruption of supply chains we’ve seen as a consequence of the pandemic has only reaffirmed the need to compress the timeframe for digital transformation. How manufacturers adapt—and how quickly—will differentiate the survivors from the rest. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three ways the Meraki platform helps facilitate this transformation for our manufacturing customers.

Harness Wi-Fi 6 for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

One key component of digital transformation that smart factories are embracing is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), where everything from robots to forklifts to tooling carts are being connected to networks. This connectivity centralizes control, increases visibility, and leverages analytics to improve efficiency, reduce downtime, and make smarter predictions. With so many wireless devices requiring network access, providing a strong Wi-Fi 6 foundation is critical to ensuring consistent and high-performance IIoT deployments. Also known as the 802.1ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 has the potential to increase average throughput per user by a factor of four, thereby granting manufacturers the raw material (throughput) they need to fully harness the promise of IIoT.

Monitor smart factories with MT environmental sensors

Sensor technologies have allowed manufacturers to take advantage of big data to improve manufacturing processes, predict failure, and ultimately improve the efficiency of modern smart factories. We recently grew our platform to include environmental sensors as a standard component of network deployments. Meraki MT is a family of environmental sensors (indoor temperature/humidity, indoor leak, door open/close) that provide real-time remote visibility and monitoring to help protect assets and facilities 24/7. We imagine this technology to be initially deployed in IT closets, ensuring that critical infrastructure uptime is maintained, but there’s no reason to stop there. Wherever manufacturers need to monitor environmental conditions, we can help by simplifying the set-up process—MT environmental sensors can be provisioned in seconds, as they are battery-powered and use Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points and MV smart cameras as gateways to connect to the network.

Become adaptable with ecosystem partners 

To thrive, the modern manufacturer needs to be able to innovate and scale against the backdrop of a complex global supply chain. They must also be able to respond to a diversity of disruptive external pressures, and do so quickly. The Meraki platform makes it easy to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. With the help of open APIs, paired with a community of technology partners, Meraki can support a huge array of potential use cases outside traditional “networking” arenas. For example, one such ecosystem partner, Arista Flow, has an asset tracking app that gives the real-time location of everyone in a facility using Bluetooth tags and Meraki Wi-Fi 6 access points, allowing any employees left behind in an emergency situation to be identified and quickly located.

The network has always been about providing connectivity. Without a strong foundation of connectivity, manufacturers will be slow to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies.

 

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Federal Relief Funding for Higher Education

Funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act have been apportioned and disbursed to institutions of higher education (IHEs) to prevent, prepare for, and respond to needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Cisco Meraki wants to ensure you understand how to access these available funds to invest in technology that supports students and teachers.

We spoke with Mitchell Goersen, Cisco Public Sector Funding Advisor, on what funding is currently available for higher education in the U.S.

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How can IHEs use CARES Act funds?

CARES Act funds are explicitly appropriated for the technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, remote learning, and working from home.

CARES Act funds are for:

  • Community colleges
  • Institutions offering undergraduate and graduate programs
  • Public and nonprofit, private, and for-profit institutions

Can IHEs use CARES Act funds to purchase IT for distance learning, work-from-home, as well as physical/cyber security products and services?

Yes, the CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the American Recovery and Rescue Plan grant funds for preventing, preparing for, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds may be used to expand remote learning programs, build IT capacity, and train faculty and staff to operate in a remote learning environment. There are 15 uses specified, including:

  • Purchasing EdTech to facilitate continued learning
  • Addressing learning loss among students (especially those considered “at-risk”)
  • Other activities necessary to maintain operations and continuity of services, such as video surveillance of mask-wearing and social distancing

How and when do IHEs receive funding?

IHEs have already received allocations from the CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the American Recovery and Rescue Plan. Budgeting of allocated funds for tuition abatement, faculty salaries, health and safety, information technology, and other competing priorities is performed by each IHE. Dates by which funds must be expended vary depending on the source of funds. For-profit IHEs generally may use funds only for tuition abatement; administrative uses such as IT are not permitted.

What are anchor community broadband funds and how much is available?

In addition to previously appropriated funds for rural broadband infrastructure, the American Recovery and Rescue Plan includes approximately $2 billion in funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities to deploy broadband infrastructure in neighboring anchor communities.

Deadlines for use of funds vary by grant; the need-to-spend-by date for CARES 2.0 HEERF is September 23, 2023. Visit the U.S. Department of Education website for additional information.

Which types of institutions are the anchor community broadband funds designed for?

Does Cisco have a funding program available for higher education?

Yes, Cisco Capital supports education institutions as they work to deliver collaborative teaching and learning experiences. 

What is Cisco Capital?

Cisco Capital offers flexible financing solutions to help institutions get the latest Cisco technology with no upfront costs and predictable payments spread over time. Cisco can help you gain access to additional funding, enabling you to preserve your budget for other high-priority initiatives. Cisco Capital enables you to invest in the technology you need now to create a secure and productive learning environment and attract new students in a competitive and challenging landscape.

Visit our website to learn more about how Meraki provides IT insights, visibility, and flexibility to improve the college experience, or contact us today.

A Candid Guide to SASE

Everyone is seemingly talking about it. Some aspire to be it. Some even claim they are it. Some are already fed up with it. A lot, however, are confused by what it is and what to think about it. Let’s take a straightforward and pragmatic look at SASE.

The core functional elements of SASE are not new. As I covered in my previous blog post, the market transitions making a SASE architecture an increasingly compelling proposition have actually been playing out for the better part of a decade.

A recap of what it is

SASE, short for secure access service edge and pronounced “sassy,” is a label for a consolidated architectural solution that provides effective and homogenous levels of security and experience for users from anywhere (i.e. the office, home, coffee shop, etc.) on any device.

Even more simply put, if SASE had a mission statement, it would be to deliver consistent security and quality of experience (QoE) for end users, no matter their location. 

In order to accomplish this, SASE describes an architecture which converges networking and network security functions and shifts them towards an as-a-service (aaS) cloud edge model:

  • Networking for QoE
    The most widely cited technology here is SD-WAN, but of course the LAN also plays a role in QoE too
  • Security for… security
    Security is a complex beast and not a singular entity but instead a stack of security technologies such as firewall, secure web gateway (SWG), cloud access security broker (CASB), zero-trust network access (ZTNA), etc.
  • As-a-service cloud edge model for consistency

What is an as-a-service cloud edge model?

To deliver consistency, SASE proposes a consumption of its core technologies as-a-service by leveraging a global network of cloud points of presence (PoP). In this way, no matter where in the world end users are, they can connect to their nearest (and least latent) local PoP, and seamlessly have consistent networking and security functions applied as a service, en-route to their multi-cloud or on-premises workloads. 

We’re sold. We’ll have one SASE please.

Here’s where things get a little grey. Currently a complete SASE solution is like a fully autonomous car as-service; a lot of the individual technologies are available but have yet to be fully integrated so you can summon the nearest available self-driving vehicle to your doorstep. Consolidating the technologies within SASE to leverage a shared network of global PoPs and deliver them aaS will arguably be the biggest transformation for most enterprises and vendors. Consequently, moving SASE capabilities to an aaS cloud edge will be a multifaceted journey for enterprises and technology vendors.

The enterprise organization journey

Assuming, as an organization, you see value in the SASE architecture, implementation will most certainly be a journey that will evolve over time. There are multiple factors that will influence how much of the SASE architecture enterprises choose to implement and when:

  • Existing infrastructure and any related managed service contracts
  • Geography—as with other cloud technologies, there are regional limitations that can impact availability
  • Size of organization—the larger the organization, the more likely it is to have a complex existing IT infrastructure and change process
  • Industry, especially regulated ones with compliance requirements such as HIPAA, FIPS, etc.
  • Corporate IT investment strategy—does your organization believe in SASE and are they willing to invest in it
  • SASE technology maturation and availability

The technology journey

This will vary for technology vendors based on their starting point and the number of SASE puzzle pieces they’re missing: 

  • Networking
  • Security
  • Consolidation of the two technologies
  • An as-a-service cloud edge model

This might seem straightforward, but just consolidating the two powerhouses of networking and security, and doing it well, cannot be underestimated. For almost all vendors, the journey will involve either in-house development, acquisition, partnership with another vendor, or perhaps even a combination of all three. 

If only there was a vendor that is an outright leader in SD-WAN and networking and also has a best-in-class suite of as-a-service cloud security technologies… 

More on that next time. Until then, stay SASE.

What’s Next for Wi-Fi?

The next six to twelve months will likely see some shocking changes to networks worldwide. As organizations start to return to everyday operations, things will look a lot different than they did before. While challenging, the coming months will serve as an excellent opportunity for networking teams to use a strategic approach to deliver a big impact.

Be agile while facing chaos

A few things that you can likely project in the future are the need to adapt to some form of hybrid work model and the need to leverage new technology solutions to stay safe. Outside of a few key assumptions, unpredictability doesn’t mean you should avoid planning. You can succeed in uncertain environments by developing organizational agility and identifying ways to save time. 

As new challenges and uncertainties arise, it’s important that your network operations team is able to jump into action. They may have to deal with urgent employee VPN issues, a new corporate requirement for social distancing tech, or an overloaded Wi-Fi network. One place that can make a big impact on freeing up network operators’ time is troubleshooting, which is by far the #1 consumer of resources for a typical networking team, taking up 43% of their time. 

The Wi-Fi network is often a significant contributor to troubleshooting efforts due to the inherent complexities of the wireless medium. With great problems come great opportunities, and Wi-Fi might be a good place to focus when looking for ways to operate more efficiently. 

More data, more devices, more expectations

More is coming. Wi-Fi is now the dominant form of network access and faces huge expectations. 5G is starting to see global exponential growth, with speeds more than 10x as fast as LTE. Users will demand the same high performance on Wi-Fi and will want to offload large quantities of data. People going back to school and work will likely bring along more devices, placing extra strain on networks due to increased collaboration needs. Imagine an office building with 500 employees who want to collaborate seamlessly with remote workers. That means more cloud use, more video calls, and more chat applications. 

Preparing the network for what’s next

The IT team is going to need to deliver on high expectations, despite being strained with existing challenges. But, if network teams can free up resources, they have the opportunity to be seen as heroes when they are able to operate in an agile way. By embracing new technologies, the Wi-Fi network will be ready for what’s next.

Wi-Fi 6 will help future-proof Wi-Fi networks to deal with cellular offloading, new IoT projects, more cloud use, and the return of employees and students with new devices. With up to 4x higher aggregated throughput, network teams won’t have to worry about whether a legacy Wi-Fi network is going to handle what’s coming next. Wi-Fi 6 will be a critical technology to help world economies recover from the pandemic by helping facilitate new use cases and business opportunities. 

Embracing automation, particularly in regard to the Wi-Fi network, can help free up the network operations team. Automation can reduce the hours spent parsing through event logs, performance graphs, and alerts to pinpoint the reason a point-of-sale device was not registering on the wireless network. Instead, contextual and informative suggestions can provide automated remediation to enhance the Wi-Fi experience. Post-COVID-19, nearly half of organizations are expecting to increase reliance on advanced automation, and nearly the same amount want to increase their ability to remotely manage their network operations. Automation will allow these teams to reduce repetitive tasks and elevate their value. Individuals can become empowered to manage thousands of devices and transition from operators and practitioners to strategists and architects. 

Learn more about how organizations using Meraki solutions can save 50-70% of their time when troubleshooting, deploying, and managing their networks.

Meraki Stars Take the Stage at Cisco Live

James Cameron is a big inspiration to me. The Canadian director created some of my favorite movies—Terminator, Aliens, and Avatar. His films are visually stunning and futuristic with simple plot lines; I can watch them again and again. Cameron is one of the guest speakers at Cisco Live 2021, premiering March 30th on the virtual stage. While I cannot wait to see him, I am also excited that he will be sharing the stage with a whole slew of Meraki experts, including Chris Stori, Meraki General Manager, and Ways Hassas, Senior Product Manager. Let the show begin!

Meraki stars take to the stage

While James Cameron is a path-breaker in movie-making and has universal appeal, our Meraki stars know a thing or two about simplifying everything for our customers. On the Innovation channel, Chris Stori expounds on the evolved digital workplace. He explains how to transform your organization into a digital-first model and how to be ready for what’s next in networking technology. Here’s a sneak peek of digital-first customers that Chris will showcase—a large Australian enterprise, a college in California, and a community healthcare provider in the Southeastern U.S.

Ways takes it further, outlining how organizations can take the next step with the Meraki cloud networking platform. His session on easing into change on the Transform Infrastructure channel demonstrates the power of open APIs for deep analytics and integration across the ecosystem of developers for diverse use-cases to digitalize the workplace. 

There is more. Be sure to check out the Meraki demonstrations in the World of Solutions hosted by Meraki specialists Michael Singer, Jordan Noonan, David van Schravendijk, and Miriam Kung. You can chat live with experts, access helpful resources, and see the latest innovations. For even more must-see Meraki sessions, refer to the table below.

Select Meraki Sessions at Cisco Live!
Topics Sessions
The digital workplace evolved DLBINT-44 with Chris Stori
Easing into change BRKENS-2733 with Ways Hassas
Secure edge, SASE, WAN, 5G BRKMER-2019 with Steven Harrison, BRKMER-2020 with Rob Watt, BRKSEC-2032 with Seppi Dittli, BRKMER-1010 with Shilpi Sneha, and Unni Ambat Rajagopalan.
Location services, Wi-Fi, machine learning BRKMER-1000 with Neil Kulkarni, PSOMER-1103 with Sunmeel Bhumkar and Alexander Nedunzhko, and PSOMER-1102 with David van Schravendijk.
Smart spaces, IoT, machine learning BRKIOT-2023 with Anthony Hizon, BRKMER-1002 with Matt Marston and Andreas Nordgren, and PSOMER-1101 with Shashank Nalla.
Managed services, SMB PSOSMB-1009 with Miriam Kung and PSOSMB-1006 and PSOSMB-2000 with Lee Peterson.

 

Accelerating digitalization

2020 has indeed been a pivotal year for the world. While some businesses thrived, others struggled to survive, and most coped with massive disruption to operations. The good news, as McKinsey reports from October 2020, is that companies digitized many activities 20 to 25 times faster during COVID-19, and the acceleration factor was x43 for remote working and collaboration. This was certainly at the cost of organizational pain, but with the abrupt dislocation now behind us, companies need to get back to thriving. 

Platform-powered solutions

The key to growth is keeping things simple. Meraki’s philosophy of simplifying IT solutions with a cloud-first platform has benefited over half a million customers and scaled to three million active networks. Our platform-powered solutions offer robust business resiliency, location services, secure edge with SASE, smart spaces with IoT, and integrated Wi-Fi and switching access.

With ample content across a range of topics, using multiple formats and featuring diverse speakers, Meraki experts cover all these solutions at Cisco Live. Create a personalized watchlist and join us for Meraki at Cisco Live on March 30. Learn how your business can thrive through digital transformation confidently amid constant change with an evolved, cloud-first platform.

Get inspired

If all of the exciting sessions plus James Cameron aren’t enough for you to attend Cisco Live, we also have luminaries such as Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, José Andrés, and more as guest speakers. This is an event you won’t want to miss. Innovation peppered with inspiration. Click now to register and get ready to turn it up at Cisco Live.

Optimizing Healthcare Operations in 2021

It’s no secret that healthcare organizations were among those hit hardest during the early stages of the pandemic. From large hospital networks to senior care facilities, healthcare organizations were forced to adapt quickly while operating with limited resources and surging numbers of patients to care for. 

Due to a reduction in the number of patients opting for elective surgeries during the pandemic, clinics saw a significant decrease in revenue from what is typically the most lucrative side of their business—adding to the burden of financial strain for many under-resourced organizations. While many businesses impacted by the pandemic were able to shift to fully remote operations, this was not feasible for the majority of healthcare providers, forcing them to pivot to a hybrid operation to ensure both staff and patient safety. 

The importance of modernizing operations

One operational aspect of healthcare organizations that has remained constant is the focus on reducing costs and growing revenue. That’s why healthcare IT leaders are laser focused on making investments in modernized network solutions that streamline operational processes while keeping costs low. 

Given the tumultuous environment and day-to-day uncertainty that healthcare organizations are forced to operate in, the need for flexible and scalable IT solutions has never been more important. If and when situations change, organizations need to adapt quickly while continuing to provide the highest levels of security and reliability. 

Staying ahead of asset management 

While facilities departments within healthcare organizations are often overlooked, they play a critical role in asset management and regulating operational costs. From physical infrastructures such as refrigeration and ventilation to monitoring oxygen tanks and gurneys, the costs associated with the use of these assets can have a major impact on an organization’s bottom line. Tracking mission-critical equipment, ensuring safety through asset audits, and preventative maintenance of equipment enables healthcare staff to provide better patient care and reduces deferred maintenance costs in the long term. 

Running a (data) secure operation 

Security and patient data privacy have always been a top concern for healthcare providers, and have been further prioritized since 2020 due to the significant number of breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services. Healthcare organizations need secure solutions that do not store end user data and can be deployed to create HIPAA-compliant IT infrastructures while protecting against security threats. The challenge of implementing sophisticated IT solutions comes down to budget constraints and the need for organizations to do more with less, but in reality, these types of investments save money in the long run—from HIPPA fines to lost revenue from exposed patient data. 

As healthcare needs continue to evolve, organizations that are able to adapt quickly will be best positioned to succeed in the long term. To learn more about how to optimize healthcare IT operations, read our e-book, “Advancing Healthcare IT.”

Prepare for a Grand Reopening!

All signs are pointing up. After facing the worst year in modern history, retailers are poised for a return to in-person shopping. 2021 has given the industry hope. At the current pace, most U.S. states will have at least 25% of their population fully vaccinated by the end of April 2021. With the approval of a third vaccine, the White House has indicated that there will be enough doses for every adult by the end of May 2021. With the roll out of multiple vaccines and continued safety protocols, customers are beginning to feel more comfortable about returning to in-store vs. online experiences.

The grand reopening 

As of March 13, 2021, about one year since closing all stores, Apple will have all U.S. retail locations open. In early March,Texas became the largest state to remove all restrictions on businesses by allowing 100% capacity. While safety protocols will still be in place, both businesses and governments are working to ensure a safe return to physical shopping and dining experiences. Businesses must ensure they have the right technology in place to safely increase capacity as consumer demand continues to build with the vaccine roll out.

Customer safety

Safety and security will remain the top priorities for retailers until the aftershocks of 2020 wear off. Smart cameras have evolved to not only provide a physical safety net of surveillance, but also empower retailers by providing additional intelligence and analytics. These devices are being used to ensure social distancing, monitor capacity limits, and identify PPE (personal protective equipment) usage. By using smart, Wi-Fi-connected devices, retailers are able to monitor multiple stores from a centralized location to help keep staff safe.

Network safety

Safety today goes beyond the walls of the physical store and into the cloud. Customer data, employee connectivity, and corporate networks all need to be protected when connecting to the internet inside the retail space. As organizations begin their SASE journey (secure access service edge), they’re building a consolidated architectural solution that delivers an effective, homogenous security experience to users—from anywhere and on any device. Retailers need to make a conscious effort to ensure their customers’ safety, both cyber and physical, is cared for in-store.

Customer experience

On the experience side, stores are transforming their spaces to highlight curated collections of core goods. With the inclusion of AR and VR technology, customers will be able to peruse the nearly infinite combinations of colors and styles by combining a physical experience with the options offered by online shopping.

Connectivity

Connected devices are booming into retail locations, from smart shelf systems to IoT devices leveraging AR & VR. On top of that, more than 90% of consumers use mobile devices while they shop. This influx of 5G-enabled devices can be a drain on the network and instill a bad shopping experience. Retailers have found the remedy in Wi-Fi 6. Benefits include better high-density performance, consistent performance and faster speeds across a large number of diverse devices, and energy efficiency that improves battery life.

Augment existing infrastructure with technology partners 

To take technology investments to the next level, retailers can leverage technology partners who specialize in unique solutions. Retailers can expand the utility of their networks by augmenting their existing infrastructures with partner solutions tailored to their needs. Safe occupancy, contactless engagement, contact tracing, footfall analytics, and video analytics are just some of the robust solutions available. Discover the wide variety of solutions and technology partnerships available on our website.

Maximizing the return of in-store shopping will require the proper technology. Dive deeper into the latest technology trends to create a safe and modern in-store shopping experience. Read the list of Top Tech Trends for Retail in 2021 and Beyond in our latest e-book.

 

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A Prequel to SASE

For the past year or more, the transition to hybrid work has been forcibly turbo-charged, and it has brought into sharp focus the challenges enterprises face around how to achieve this goal while maintaining consistent security and performance. 

The transition to multi-cloud

Over the past few years, organizations have been shifting workloads and apps from their data centers to multi-cloud environments. For many organizations, most of their critical traffic is now internet-based, but their continued reliance on data centers—at the heart of traditional backhauled architectures—creates an unnecessary intermediary from a performance perspective. For end users at branch and remote locations, the result is poor quality of experience (QoE) for critical cloud-based workloads and apps that are forced to take a longer route. 

Naturally, a solution to improve QoE would be to allow internet-based traffic to bypass the data center altogether with direct internet access (DIA). But what about security? It’s precisely for this reason that many organizations stuck with (and some still do) the traditional hub-and-spoke architecture because of the enterprise security measures in place at the data center. 

In parallel but still related, IT professionals have continued to deploy technologies to upgrade infrastructure and/or support new digital initiatives. There are many, often complicated, reasons why but ultimately, most IT organizations run an infrastructure made up of multiple vendors’ technologies. With each added vendor, an IT team’s maintenance, management, and security workload increases. Multi-vendor environments are inevitably siloed with often-complex integrations that yield limited visibility at best. Generally, the only real way to identify a user experiencing poor performance is via each user’s helpdesk ticket.

Fundamentally, this type of complex environment is brittle and slow when challenged to change quickly. 

The pandemic amplified everything

The gradual transition to a hybrid workforce happened overnight. IT teams suddenly found themselves supporting users spread across as many locations as there were users. 

In addition to simply getting employees connected to the resources they needed, there was the gargantuan challenge of replicating data center or branch security measures outside of those locations. Followed closely after security is QoE—how can IT maximize the performance of critical employee workloads and apps outside the office’s SD-WAN environment? 

According to a study by Freeform Dynamics, demand for a streamlined, singular QoE will become paramount, and it looks like this need won’t end with remote work set to continue in some form. A Gartner survey found that 90% of respondents expect to continue allowing remote work, at least part-time, even after most people have been vaccinated against COVID-19. 

SASE

 

The journey from here

The ultimate problem that IT organizations are being asked to solve for over the long-term is achieving consistency for security and QoE regardless of an end-user’s location. 

This is where SASE comes in, since it looks to deliver exactly this. 

SASE, short for Secure Access Service Edge, and pronounced “sassy,” is a label for a consolidated architectural solution that provides effective and homogenous levels of security and experience for users from anywhere (i.e. the office, home, coffee shop, etc.) on any device. In order to achieve this, SASE proposes the convergence of networking and network security functions and their shift toward an as-a-service cloud edge model.

This architecture will be a true journey for enterprises, partners, and vendors that will evolve over time. There are multiple factors that will influence how much of the SASE architecture enterprises choose to implement and when.

Listen on demand as Imran discusses what’s next for SASE on the Meraki Unboxed Podcast, available March 10th.