October 09, 2020
Meraki Hackathon Powers Innovation
Cisco and CDW team up to jump-start development on exciting new wireless networking applications.
Darin Burleigh and Will Kerr also contributed to this post.
This summer, with support and guidance from our partners at Cisco, coworkers from CDW came together for a friendly Meraki hackathon. Over the course of two days, each of the four teams worked on designing and implementing applications based on Cisco Meraki wireless technology.
Our projects were evaluated by a panel of judges from across CDW, IGNW (a CDW company) and Cisco/Meraki’s leadership teams. The goal was to encourage innovation, build tools to streamline CDW processes and ultimately show that CDW has the skills to help with anything API-related in the Meraki ecosystem (and more).
As with any hackathon, part of the challenge was quickly brainstorming ideas, communication among team members (especially while meeting virtually), and working with people you may not have interacted with before. Despite these challenges, all four teams were able to overcome and adapt, resulting in the production of interesting and potentially viable projects that would enhance our services to benefit our customers the most.
Better Together, Focused on Meraki Python SDK
As a longtime partner, CDW has close-knit relationships with Meraki. A conversation on programmability evolved (as many do) at an industry social event among like-minded folks from both sides. Coming off the 2019 Cisco Partner Innovation Challenge win, many CDW coworkers were eager to also highlight their skills, try APIs they haven’t used and for a few of them just dip their toes into programmability in general. Meraki, being both “API first” and having a steady stream of new products released over the last year, recognized that it had the ecosystem and mindset to provide the perfect incubator for CDW’s ideas. With this ideal alignment, CDW and Meraki were able to invest to bring both sides together for a memorable learning experience.
Hackathons come in all shapes and sizes and can drive education, problem solving and innovation, regardless of the group organizing them. Our collective experience has shown that rallying around a specific language, ecosystem or project tends to result in the most creative results. Coincidentally, Meraki’s 1.0 API release occurred right at the time of our hackathon, so it made sense for all of our teams to focus on leveraging the Meraki Python SDK in addition to other ecosystem languages and tools to perform our work.
The Meraki Hackathon Projects
The first entry was the Managed Service Onboarding Tool. This was designed to enhance how we bring new customers onto our managed service platform. By utilizing the API, we were able to design automated ways to check customer networks for best practices. Work that would have historically taken our coworkers tens of hours now took seconds. Spoiler alert: this entry won the hackathon and we are working to bring it into production, including enhancing it to possibly conduct remediation of dashboard settings when we find something problematic.
The second entry was the Meraki Assessment Tool. In our professional services group, we provide tons of assessments to customers to understand their current network and make recommendations for improvement. One of the ways we like to enhance our assessment services is with automatic data collection, leaving more time for our engineers to focus on critical thinking.
The third entry was the Meraki Deployment Tool. This tool was designed to help scale out a Meraki deployment. An engineer would be able to prepopulate configurations, use templates and then deploy all via a mobile application. This simple mobile application allows non-technical end users to onboard Meraki devices easily, without the need to understand or access the dashboard.
The fourth and final entry was the Meraki Wireless Troubleshooting Tool. This tool was designed to help troubleshoot Meraki wireless networks. The Troubleshooting Tool talks to the dashboard via the API and ingests information about the wireless network. It then presents it in a way that may help you troubleshoot your network. One of the tool’s coolest features is the ability to schedule and run live packet captures (PCAPs), which is not available directly in the API.
All teams benefitted from Meraki’s commitment to ongoing expansion of API endpoints and the corresponding SDK updates. Additionally, the OpenAPI-based documentation that can found on Meraki’s Developer Hub ensured that new endpoints were easily consumable by the developer. This velocity of product improvement means that during our hackathon we were able to generate solutions that would not have been possible even six months prior to our event.
CDW participants had the following to share about their experience at the Meraki hackathon:
Mike Robinson: Although only about a day and a half was spent on the hackathon itself, it was amazing to see what can be built in just a short amount of time using Meraki APIs. We found it was very simple to find the API needed to solve the task at hand and it didn’t matter if the API was getting used in a mobile app, a web page or a chat bot, it provided the foundation to allow our creativity to shine.
Darin Burleigh: Team four consisted of two members with a strong background in wireless technology, and three members with experience using automation in the collaboration space. Our project brought both skills together with an application that provided useful business value and was technologically straightforward to implement.
Will Kerr: This was our first official hackathon in the Enterprise group at CDW. I was blown away by the amount of innovation that can come from these with just a few days of dedication. I believe every organization should consider these to discover new ways to innovate on processes and how they consume technology.
Colin Vallance: A key piece of the success of this effort was level setting some basic skills around version control systems, Integrated Development Environments (IDE), and API testing tools. This really let the teams come to the table with similar basic skills when we got in to the sprint. Regardless of role, these skills are imperative for the modern IT professional to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.
Event Wrap Up
The Meraki hackathon was a huge success for both CDW and Meraki. Working with other coworkers whom we would not normally work with provides CDW’s engineers valuable cross-practice experience. Automation does not belong to just one practice ― the more we can learn from each other, the better. Based on this hackathon, we are already developing new solutions from the ideas it generated.
Meraki gained insight into its API library when we had a session with its lead API developer. CDW brought forward opinions and real-world experience based on managed services, field services, solution architects and the voices of our customers from many industries. CDW is in a unique position to offer these perspectives across different lines of business, and due to our partnership we can communicate directly to Meraki’s product management team, who appreciated our feedback.
Another great aspect of the hackathon was having CDW executives involved, which showed commitment throughout the entire organization as well as having judges from various management groups. Everyone could see the capabilities of our engineering teams and realize how important it is to build automation into Meraki for the benefit of our employees in the form of new skills, and for our customers who will see efficiency and productivity gains.
With the power of Meraki, CDW is ready to assist with all your technology needs to help you adapt to the changing workplace of today.