Group Hug Events 2.0: The Meru Summit 2009By CWNP On 02/23/2009 - 9 Comments
"Deployment and Management Headaches Are For Other People"
This was the dominant consensus among large numbers of Meru customers and VARs as I spoke with them en mass and invidually for 3 days at Meru's 2009 summit. Discussions, public and private, were about Meru cutting a clear and fast path toward Wi-Fi utility (Wi-Fi that works as well as your home's electricity).
It was a whirlwind event, starting early, finishing late each day. They had WAY more cool stuff on the event schedule than I had time for. One night, everyone was bussed to a fight and a hockey game broke out. The food was awesome. ;-)
We heard from customers who had very large deployments (2500+ APs and growing fast) managed by only 3 people (with few-to-no help desk calls) and medium-large deployments (800-1000 APs and still growing) managed by a single person. We even heard from one guy who takes Meru's gear into places where it might take a bullet or grenade from time-to-time. He said he hasn't lost one to shrapnel yet. This guy mentioned that site surveying is out of the question in environments like that (ya think!?!?) due to having to wear flack jackets and steel helmets. You know, routine stuff.
From some customers, I heard, "Set it and forget it. It's been out there working for a year and we haven't touched it." I heard, "Heck no, we don't do site surveys! Why waste your time? We can get it to 97-98% right just by eyeballing it, and then we use Meru's post-deployment management utilities to show us any small coverage holes. We go plug in another AP or two and we're finished. Massive time savings, massive cost savings, more time for beer."
One night we got the full-monty of the Meru facility, test labs, and new hardware/software that they're building. SMOKIN. That's short for SMOKIN FAST, which is what I witnessed in their test lab. Their engineers were grinning ear-to-ear while showing the tests to me (as they were running). I was in shock. It wasn't like they could pull a fast one because I do the same testing here using the same tools. Their gear is FAST, FAST, and holy-freaking-cow-batman FAST. I think Joe (Epstein) is feeding their APs steroids or something. :-) I saw their gear compared directly against competing gear using the latest code (which I witnessed), using standard packet sizes, reasonable numbers of stations and flows-per-station, and... nope, I won't share the numbers... but let's just say that Meru's gear won - by a lap. If you want the numbers, do a bake-off or something. hehe. I'm sure they'll oblige.
Quote of the week goes to Rachna Ahlawat, VP of Strategic Marketing (formerly a Gartner Analyst). It goes something like this: "Nobody ever got fired for buying _______, but you might get promoted for buying Meru." I'm Switzerland, and even I thought that was funny. ;-) Corny, I know, but so is my since of humor.
Of course, there was the really cool "firing line" at the end of the summit where all of the corp execs are on stage and the audience can fire away with any kind of question. Nobody ever said, "secret sauce" or "I don't know" or "you suck for asking that" which was a nice surprise. I was especially impressed by a single person - someone whom I'd never met. Ihab Abu-Hakima (CEO), who's business card I can't read. I didn't notice that I couldn't read it until about 30 minutes ago when I was trying to enter his contact info into my address book. :-( It's written/typed/scribbled in something that looks like a Japanese/Hindi mix - except for the numbers of course. I'm not sure if that was meant as a practical joke (where he gave me the trick card to see if I would actually look at it) or if all of his executive peers and friends read scribble. Ihab is judicious and as cool as a cucumber even under some pressure. Well-spoken, calm, thoughtful. As such, he's an odd contrast to the rest of the culture at Meru, which consists of 90% Type-A (like me) personalities. In fact, you could take one of their names and add "ator" to the end of it (like Devinator), and it would probably be "fitting"...though it might sound a little strange in most of their cases. They're relentless around that place, like a hive of little red bees.
Was there customer loyalty around that place? Well, some people were there to feel Meru out. They were potential partners. They listened alot. For those organizations that deploy Meru gear already (whether as a VAR or as an end-user), they were fanatical and then some. I wouldn't swear to it, but I thought I heard some lady say something like, "you can have my Meru AP208s when you pry them out of my cold, dead walls." It was a little spooky. I'm tellin' ya - fanatical is the word for that group.
Joe and I got a chance to white-board a few things one evening. It was a blast. Markers and erasers were flying...until he literally floated away into math la-la land. He broke into mathematical song. He stopped drawing and started seeing in formulas and things that are scribbed on those pages you see in OFDM whitepapers from the IEEE. He started writing them next to what used to be a visualization of our conversation. I guess he thought I was hanging in there with him for about 30 seconds or so because he kept going... I said, "uh, can you just draw that?" He stopped, laughed, paused, and said, "oh, sorry, sure, it looks like this!" and drew some more squiggly lines. At that point, I was figuring it was time to go find something to settle my stomach. Those hideous formulas give me the hibee jibees and made me nausiated.
I did get to take a couple of hours out to go to my favorite steakhouse in San Jose. If you haven't been there, do yourself the favor and go. The Grill on the Alley. Most people just call it The Grill. The filet is to die for. What was even cooler was my main man (and CWNE) Shawn "I can't sit down at a Round Table" Jackman was in attendance for dinner. Going over test reports and capture files for voice analysis in the parking lot afterwards (til 12am) was like having Tiramisu for dessert. SWEET. Jackman, don't forget QoS Trust in your L2 switch buddy. ;-)
Thanks to Meru for inviting me out to speak and participate. Sorry I asked so many nit-picky questions at so many of the sessions. I enjoy learning, and your product is unique.
I'll close by pointing out that I'm Switzerland (neutral). If anyone else wants me to come spout-off at their event, feel free to drop me a line. I'm usually game. ;-) A funny thing about Meru's marketing team though... they let me pick my own topic, never saw my presentation before I presented it, and had to just hope that I wouldn't hose them in front of tons of big customers and partners...and I found out just prior to getting there that I was the keynote speaker. That's pretty brave, or crazy, on their part. :-D