Meraki Licenses: How to choose the best model?

Whether you are a Cisco Meraki veteran or an absolute newbie, understanding how their licensing models work can certainly be a bit confusing. The goal of this guide is to simplify the two main licensing models (Co-termination and Per-Device Licensing) and underline their key differences, so you have the knowledge you need to decide what works best for you.

We’ve included a few key tips at the end of the article that anyone who’s working with Meraki should definitely be familiar with.

Table of Contents

What is a Cisco Meraki License?

After you purchase your Cisco Meraki hardware, you’ll need Licenses to run them on the Cloud. These licenses are generally available for 1, 3 or 5 years. If you’ve just purchased Cisco Meraki devices for your company, the 5-year licenses are recommended as the devices are meant to have a life beyond that, so the discounts you get could reduce the cost of your infrastructure greatly over the course of this period.

Cisco Meraki devices do not function without active licenses, so purchasing and renewing licenses is mandatory for a fully functioning network.

How Cisco Meraki Licensing works

The key thing to know is that there are two different types of licensing models for Cisco Meraki devices. Both of these models work for all device and network types, so deciding which one to go with will be more of a strategic decision. We’ll explain both models below and provide you with all the knowledge you need to make that decision.

What is Per-Device Licensing (PDL)

This one is quite simple in theory. You purchase a license for a device, when the license expires for that specific device, you renew it and so forth. One license is attached to one device. This does seem rudimentary, but in cases of staged deployments, mergers and acquisitions or really any reason for why your company didn’t buy or activate licenses on the same day, this can become quite difficult from a management perspective. If you’ve got a thousand devices with different license expiration dates, that sounds like it could be an administrative nightmare for procurement. 

This model does offer a ton of flexibility though, as you can remove licenses for unused devices freely and move them around between devices.

Here’s what the dashboard for PDL looks like:

Per-device Licensing overview on the Meraki dashboard

What is Co-termination Licensing (Co-term)

This is the classic method for Meraki licensing, and new Meraki organizations are automatically set to be on Co-term. In this scenario, you have only one expiration date for your entire organization, hence the term “Co-termination”. This expiration date is calculated based on the weighted average of licenses activated in your dashboard. You can view this video to learn more about how the license expiration date is precisely calculated. Simply put, this calculation is a function of how many active devices and licenses you have in your organization. Adding new licenses will extend this date forward.

Below is the dashboard view for Co-termination licensing model. As you might see, its a lot simpler than the one for Per-device licensing. This is because there aren’t as many elements to manage in a Co-term situation.

Meraki dashboard view for co-termination licensing

What Meraki License type is best for me?

Let’s highlight the key differences between the two models before we make a decision.

In the case of PDL, since each device has its own expiration date, you retain a lot more flexibility in how you manage your infrastructure. Whereas for Co-term, all your devices share the same date, meaning a license compliance issue at any level would result in your entire organization going down rather than just the relevant devices.

PDL is flexible but slightly harder to manage, whereas Co-term is easier to manage but not as flexible. Weighing what is important for your company between these two elements is really the deciding factor for which you should go with.

So PDL is flexible but slightly harder to manage, whereas Co-term is easier to manage but not as flexible. Weighing what is important for your company between these two elements is really the deciding factor for which you should go with. A winning factor for me is the fact that there are quite a few APIs available on managing PDL, whereas there are next to none for Co-term. The fact that some features like Meraki wireless + Umbrella are only available with PDL furthers this case.

Per-device licensing offers a lot more and as the newer model type, is the way to go if you feel you can manage it. There are certainly some cases, such as set and forget networks or using the MSP portal to manage many organizations where Co-term makes more sense as juggling different individual end dates within many organizations can become a mess.

How to Purchase or Renew a Meraki License

Cisco Meraki Licenses, just like Meraki devices, have to be purchased through a licensed distributor. If you are reading this article you’ve probably been in touch with a distributor or a partner that can connect you to one. Whether it’s for an initial purchase or a renewal, the general process still remains the same. The distributor has to place the order with Meraki, where it is processed and returned with an order number. This order number contains the information about the License keys that are needed to activate the licenses in your organization.

You can also purchase licenses only directly from online distributors such as Rhino Networks, which makes the entire process of ordering and obtaining licenses much easier.

Things to Know when Managing Meraki Licenses

There’s a few more important things to know about licensing that I’ll try to outline here.

30-day Grace Period

First of all, it’s worth noting that there is a Grace period of 30 days after licenses expire, where your networks will keep functioning despite there not being an active and valid license. This doesn’t come for free though, as the days used during the grace period are adjusted for once you add new licenses.

Changing from Co-term to PDL (or viceversa)

The next thing to note is that you cannot freely change between the two models. Once you switch over from Co-term to PDL, that change is permanent for that organization. Since you start on Co-term automatically, you really only ever have one chance to change.

What License type for your Meraki Device

The most important thing to know is that there are different licenses for different devices, but also different licenses for the same device. Of course the different product lines have different licenses, but even within those there is a level of granularity. For example an MX64 License will not work with an MX64W. Therefore it’s essential that you know exactly which devices you have before placing an order.

Moving Meraki Licenses across organizations

It’s possible to move licenses between different organizations. This is available via the Meraki API for PDL but can be accomplished by calling Meraki Support in the case of Co-term.

Conclusion

Although Meraki Licensing can seem a bit daunting at first, it is actually relatively easy once you get the hang of it. It’s important to set up a clear internal process for how license renewals are managed, it can take a few days between the order being placed to the distributor and eventually being entered into the dashboard.

Thankfully, Meraki sends alerts in the days leading up to your license expiration. That along with the grace period means you should have plenty of time to plan ahead of time. Nonetheless, try not to leave it to the last minute to avoid having your networks go down!

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