Last week, Active Directory integration was released to all MC networks. For customers that manage their corporate directories through AD, a local server can now be used as a single source of truth for phone users.
Active Directory is the most commonly used directory software in the world, and by supporting it on the MC product line, IT administrators will have one less dependency to worry about when managing their communications system.
As always, this new integration was released right to the dashboard, with no need for additional licensing: just another example of how Meraki continually works to increase the value of our solution.
As the newest member of the Cisco Meraki Product Marketing team with just two weeks under my belt, I had the opportunity to unbox the brand new MC74. This most recent addition to the Meraki line-up brings an entirely new product category—VoIP—to our customers, further streamlining and simplifying the networking experience. Here’s a recap of my unboxing experience:
Unlike other VoIP devices, it’s clear the MC74 has been designed to appeal to the end user—not just the network administrator—right down to the packaging. The MC74 comes in a beautiful matte black box that displays a subtle image of the phone on top. Opening the box is straightforward, and its contents are arranged neatly, with the sleek black palette of the exterior continuing to the interior.
The MC74 is well-designed and sturdy, and good-looking to boot. It’s modern and sleek, yet subtle enough to blend into any office space. For those who might be concerned about the lack of a physical keypad for dialing numbers, fear not—the touchscreen feels great and is very responsive. It looks great too; the ambient light sensor ensures minimal tinkering with screen brightness and constant visibility. The team has even included a microfiber cleaning cloth in each package to ensure customers can keep their phones looking shiny and new.
On the technical side, the hardware team spent a lot of time and energy making sure the end-user experience matches the Meraki experience that network administrators enjoy with their Meraki switches, access points, and security appliances. The hook switch that’s typically found under the handset has been replaced by a more robust, not to mention more sanitary, IR sensor. Subtle magnetization helps the handset find its place on the dock while keeping its cord tidy. Physical volume and mute buttons ensure quick access to these important features when on a call. The whole device swivels forward and backward and can be wall-mounted without removing the base.
Ports are split into two main areas: the edge and back. On the back, you’ll find a USB port, along with network, passthrough and AC adapter connections, plus a reset button. Along the edge lives a 3.5mm headphone jack and a second USB port.
Meraki prides itself on the ease-of-use of its various products; and the MC74 is no exception. The phone took all of 3 minutes to unbox and connect, and thanks to PoE there’s no need for a separate power cord, as one ethernet cable provides network and power. For those who aren’t yet fully integrated into the Meraki ecosystem and don’t have PoE switch ports ready to go, we do have an AC adapter available as well. The package even comes with a mounting bracket (including a nifty built-in bubble level for OCD types) and anchors for those who’d prefer to wall-mount their devices.
Like all other Meraki hardware, the MC74 can be configured through the dashboard even before the device arrives on site, so as soon as my unit was plugged into the office network, it booted up right away and already had my name and a phone number assigned to it. Pretty slick!
Within minutes, the phone’s colored LED indicator (the same one that all Meraki products share) started flashing and its software had been updated. It might be worthwhile to note that, as with our other firmware updates, there is an option to delay this update to a time that’s more convenient for you, but when all was said and done, the entire setup lasted less than 10 minutes. And like our other devices, these automatic firmware and software updates provide a key advantage to users: Meraki engineers will continue to innovate and push the latest and greatest updates. Coupled with the touchscreen interface, this means each MC74 will always remain on the cutting edge of VoIP services.
Another key benefit of cloud connectivity reveals itself in the form of address book auto-population and integration with Google Apps. Since the Meraki office already had MC74’s installed, as soon as my phone came online, I had a full phonebook filled with conference room and desk-phone numbers. Combined with the simple, yet beautiful UI, being connected to the Meraki cloud management system made it easy for me to get up and running almost immediately, even as someone who had no prior familiarity with the product.
The MC74 integrates seamlessly into the existing Meraki dashboard. Similar to the other Meraki devices, the phone page will show you important information about each device, like serial number, IP address, MAC address, phone number, and more. This means the days of manually managing spreadsheets full of PSTN and VoIP devices are long gone.
Dashboard integration also provides access to Meraki’s suite of Live Tools: ping, throughput, screenshot, and blink LEDs, all remotely.
We can’t wait to get the MC74 into the hands of Meraki customers to see what this VoIP solution can do for them. I’m confident they’ll find the unboxing, setup, and usage as easy as I did. Some of our customers have been kind enough to help us beta test these for a couple of months now, and we’ll be sharing their stories here on the blog soon. Keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks!
Sometimes we come across a Meraki customer with a really cool story to tell, where they have found a particularly unique deployment need to fill with a Meraki network that does a great job of showcasing the capabilities and value proposition of the Meraki solution.
One of these customers is Allen Cook, owner of TourTechSupport, Inc., a unique business that provides portable IT systems to touring musicians. When Dave Matthews, Beyonce, the Eagles, and the Kings of Leon need wireless internet for their tours, they call TourTechSupport, and then Allen Cook sends Meraki.
The life of a touring rock musician is complicated, hectic, and occasionally downright chaotic. When the talent hits the stage, everything has to be working seamlessly to provide the paying fans with adrenaline-stoking lifetime memories. The behind-the-scenes operations of tours are complex. Crew, staff, and band members need phone and internet access and have had to rent phone lines, voicemail, extension dialing, call-waiting and Internet access from the venues they played. In every new city, there were new phone numbers to remember, new network connections to configure, and little control in restricting network access. The costs – and the headaches – added up quickly.
Cook saw a need, and set out to fill it. His company, TourTechSupport, created an IT rack system that touring professionals can take with them on the road— including wireless routers, access points, printers and other business communication essentials. He knew that the system had to be easy to launch at each new venue, so that any crew member on the tour can set it up. “With Meraki, I can support my clients anywhere in the world, because I can monitor networks remotely…In the rare case of equipment failure, replacement components can be on-site quickly and untrained staff can make the swap,” Cook says. Beyond data communication, he also wanted to include VoIP, so that tours could use telephone numbers that would remain the same regardless of their geographic location, as well as provide place shifting technology to meet demand for leisure time entertainment.
Cook examined multiple wireless solutions, but found most to be hard to deploy, inconsistent and often very expensive. He considered options from EnGenious and Ubiquity, but found them less flexible, more expensive and often complicated.
Then Cook called upon Meraki. By including 5 or 10 Meraki Outdoors with the IT rack, all a crew member had to do was establish an internet connection, strategically place the Meraki access points, power-up and voila: high-quality, access controlled WiFi in just minutes. Portability and aesthetics are also important. Meraki repeaters are, “smaller and slicker than anything else on the market,” he says.
The systems from TourTechSupport are used for everything from coordinating where the crew members stay each night, to providing VoIP phone service, to entertaining the entertainers. Controlling access into and across the networks is crucial. “We frown on open networks. If a tour manager’s computer is on an open network, anyone with a basic knowledge has access to the tour budget, housing schedule and other confidential information,” Cook said. Meraki’s security features keep the network strictly private.
TourTech’s partnership with The Dave Matthews Band is a great example of how Meraki makes touring a better experience. The Dave Matthews Band has 50 crew members on a nearly endless touring schedule. They tour with 13 trucks and 9 buses. Matthews is an outspoken activist on green issues, as well. His tour’s system includes a Meraki Solar that extends the WiFi signal beyond the walls of the main structure. “Many venues do not have accommodations that allow the entire crew ample work and rest space,” Cook explains. “This used to mean that Ethernet and power cables needed to be run between the main facility and auxiliary accommodations. Now, they simply place a Meraki Outdoor at the main facility and a Meraki Solar by each outlying facility—Internet and communication across the entire compound.”
The Beyonce tour operates without a dedicated IT technician on the road. “We used their tour as our ultimate test for the ease-of-use of a system,” Cook said. “If we don’t get any calls for support, we know we have built an IT rack that meets our user-friendly requirements.” The only support call he’s received so far from the Beyonce tour ended up being an issue with a crew member’s laptop; the IT rack and the mesh were working perfectly.
Saving his clients money and improving their efficiency is not just Cook’s livelihood, but his passion. Thanks to Allen for letting us share his story! Stay tuned for more posts in the future as we find other cool and unusual things that our customers are doing with Meraki networks…