Cisco Meraki and Catalyst Integration: One Step Closer to Disaggregation?

Cisco Meraki and Catalyst Integration: One Step Closer to Disaggregation?

Network disaggregation, separating the network operating system and management from the underlying hardware, has been a perennial conversation in the network industry.  The tight coupling of vendor networking software with the hardware has been something many of us in the industry just accepted, mostly because there was very little choice.  That was just how things were, until a few years ago when white-box switches and independent network operating systems started appearing.

Many of us come from a background where we would build our computers with the understanding that we could pick and choose what operating systems we might run later.  The idea of being selective about our software without having to replace the hardware has a lot of appeal.

Last week at the Cisco Live event, Cisco announced that the Catalyst 9500, 9300, and 9200 series switches could be integrated into the Meraki Dashboard.  This piqued the interest of a lot of attendees who have been using a mix of Meraki and Catalyst equipment. Nobody wants to run multiple management platforms if they don't have to and this brought a smile to more than a few faces...  but is this disaggregation?

Not really.  While I was attending the Tech Field Day Extra sessions at Cisco Live, the presenters went into some more detail.  The underlying OS on the switches isn't being replaced with Meraki code, but the management interfaces are being pulled away from the device itself, so that's something.

Is This Only the Beginning?

The real power of the Meraki Dashboard has very little to do with the networking devices connected to it.  The convenience of having a vendor-maintained central management point (configuration GUI, provisioning API, and central reporting) for everything is a central part of the Meraki appeal.  The networking devices can be almost anything and the selling point remains.

The Catalyst networking products are Cisco's core offering for medium and large enterprises, but there's a large gap between individual device management via the devices' IOS XE interfaces and investing in Cisco DNA Center for large-scale management. Enter the Meraki Dashboard for those use cases in the middle.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see this eventually extend to the entire modern Catalyst line... but only time will tell.

The Whisper in the Wires

I don't think we're looking at disaggregation in the pure sense of picking and choosing operating systems for our networking equipment.  It is disaggregating the management from the device and providing a growth path within the ecosystem.  For many Cisco shops, this path is the very thing they're looking for.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the Tech Field Day Extra event at Cisco Live US 2022.  I was not compensated in any way by the presenter for my attendance.   Neither the Tech Field Day staff nor the presenting vendor have had an opportunity to review what I have written.  I have no obligation to write about the presenter, nor is there an assumption that I will show any positive bias towards their presentation.  The expectation is only that I be honest in any writing that I do.