Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Meraki MDM No Longer Free

Articles like this one and talking with my counterparts in other schools lead me to invest my time into using Meraki System Manager (a.k.a. just "Meraki") as a free Mobile Device Manager. As with all free services, I had reservations. Specifically, I wanted to know their long-term business model so I could be certain that it would remain free.

However, the Meraki MDM remained free for the two years or so that I had been watching them and a great many schools began depending on their service. Meraki also publicly stated several times that its MDM service would remain free. So I took a chance on them.

Then I heard the Out Of School podcast's episode 126. They claimed that Meraki changed directions and turned the MDM service into a bit of a bait-and-switch service.

Doing my own research, I found Meraki's own document on the transition.

Bottom line: For those of us already using Meraki System Manager, its not as bad as the hosts of Out Of School would have us think. But it does "start the clock" for our search to migrate off of Meraki's free offering and onto a paid service. This is especially the case if you have lots of devices.

For anyone who hasn't started on Meraki yet, I recommend avoiding it unless you can be 100% certain that you won't have more than 50 or so devices to manage AND that you can lay our hands on them in short order if the need arises in the future. I say that because you may find yourself in a position where you have to move off Meraki System Manager in a hurry when Apple or Google introduce new MDM expectations for iOS or Android at a future date. Meraki has said that they won't introduce new features into the old/free service. Also, while Meraki will let you have up to 100 devices on a free account, any experienced systems administrator knows that their institution school will some day increase its number of devices without a lot of advanced notice. By setting the threshold at 50 devices, you have a decent buffer to use up while explaining to your managers that they'll need to spend thousands of dollars per year on a service that they didn't even know existed and doesn't have an obvious affect on their bottom line.

There is certainly an element of a betrayal of trust with Meraki's new direction, but I feel that this wasn't entirely a surprise. Its why I hedged my bets and tried three MDMs first. (For the curious: Apple's Profile Manager and FileWave were the other two.)

For my part, I think its still not a bad deal. It allows you to manage your MDM without running the service yourself. Let's face it, you didn't want yet another server's upgrades and backups to worry about, did you? It also supports iOS all the way back to iOS 4.x. Not a lot of MDMs seem to do that. That said, I think there are also better options. Especially if your other workstation management tools have MDM components, e.g. Profile Manager, Casper, or FileWave.

So there you have it. A warning of upcoming change and my two cents on it. Take it for what you will, but if you use Meraki System Manager or are considering using it, please be informed. Good luck!