Step anywhere on Butler University’s campus and you’ll see students swaying in hammocks in the outdoor quad, collaborating in large lecture halls, and cheering on the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse, all with a cell phone or laptop in hand. Butler was founded on the idea that everyone deserves access to a quality education, so it’s no surprise that the University’s leaders strive to provide equal access to all students and faculty by supplying campus-wide Wi-Fi. With more than 1,300 Cisco Meraki indoor and outdoor access points (APs) deployed across the campus, students can seamlessly connect wherever they are with no interruption to their education. The wireless upgrade also provided many unforeseen benefits to the IT team, directly impacting how they spend their time to improve everyday student life including ease of deployment, providing reliable connections, and gaining access to actionable insights.
Connecting 100,000 devices with the cloud-managed Wi-Fi
To the IT team’s surprise, the group who installed the cloud-managed access points didn’t need to have deep technical knowledge. The team deploying the APs comprised of both full-time IT staff and student workers, who together were able to deploy all 1,300+ APs across the campus in less than two weeks. This was made possible because of the cloud-managed Meraki dashboard, which allowed IT to preconfigure the devices before they arrived. They also used configuration templates, allowing the team to apply the same configuration to hundreds of devices and install them for immediate use. This enabled the student workers to simply plug the devices in and they were ready for use. In the last year since the deployment, over 100,000 devices have traversed the network, which has worked seamlessly for users.
High density with automated assurance
Once the deployment was complete, it was immediately apparent that connections were more reliable, there was better coverage, and more robust troubleshooting tools were available for faster time to resolution. Students now have the same experience using their laptops in their dorm room as they do in the outdoor quad, ensuring they can stay connected no matter where they are on campus. With higher density APs, the IT team has seen hundreds of students seamlessly connect in a lecture hall and use the devices they need to without issue. They can also see where the most bandwidth is being used and on what application, and can limit the amount of bandwidth certain applications or devices are using to improve connection reliability and speed across campus. Instead of acting reactively to issues affecting the wireless network or running complicated scripts to verify wireless performance, the IT team now uses automated assurance with MerakiWireless Health. They can quickly see the number of failed connections, obtain automated performance metrics, and provide root cause analysis of client connection issues. Different wireless needs exist across various environments on campus, including lecture halls, dorm rooms, stadiums, and outdoor spaces, and it was traditionally challenging to meet their different configuration needs. With Meraki, the IT team was able to create pre-defined and customizable RF Profiles to apply RF settings across all of their diverse environments.
The network as a platform
While providing reliable wireless access was the original IT team’s goal with their AP deployment, they quickly realized there was so much more they could do with their new solution. The information and tools already made available in the Meraki dashboard can inform how to design the campus moving forward, help improve student safety, allow them to personalize student experiences, and more. With Bluetooth beacons, they can send personalized communications to students that are connected to an AP in the dining hall, student center, or science building. By leveraging the Meraki API, they can pull data out of the dashboard and use it in other systems and tools to continue improving the student experience. With the vast amounts of data available at their fingertips, the IT team is continuing to explore new ways to take advantage of these insights and apply them to the University going forward.
Butler University is a pioneer in deploying innovative technology in the higher education industry. To learn why they chose Meraki wireless, how they were able to complete their deployment so quickly, how they leverage non-technical staff to manage and troubleshoot the network, and how they are thinking about using wireless data to do more than just provide access, watch the on demand webinar. Peter Williams, Associate Vice President of IT and Chief Information Officer, and Michael Denny, Network and Security Architect, at Butler University walk us through their Meraki deployment, including a live demo of their Meraki dashboard. Watch now.
Organizations are rich with information sources, from point-of-sale solutions and IoT sensors to camera systems and wireless access points. This data promises to optimize workplace processes and improve services by offering insights into customer behavior. But to truly take advantage of these benefits and make data-driven business decisions, organizations must find a way to connect their various data sources, presenting a complex challenge that can be difficult to execute in reality.
Miami-Dade Public Library System (MDPLS) is one organization that has figured it out. MDPLS started with an ambitious goal — to provide personalized, relevant, and timely experiences to more than six million annual visitors across their 50 library branches in Miami-Dade County, Florida. To do this, MDPLS needed to understand unique differentiators about each library, such as how many guests they served, when the busiest times were, and what services were the most popular. By using APIs in combination with data and analytics, they were able to collect this valuable information and turn it into actionable insights.
In order to identify the personalized services and content required at each library, MDPLS needed to determine what data sources to pull from. The wired and wireless network was one clear choice to gather insights into how the different libraries were being used. However, with a lean IT team and tight government budgets, a complex networking solution that required additional analytics tools and resources couldn’t be justified. The small team needed a comprehensive, easy-to-manage solution that could provide the reliable connection visitors expected, while also providing data and analytics to improve library experiences. The MDPLS team was able to meet these requirements by implementing Cisco Meraki cloud-managed access points and switches. The browser-based Meraki dashboard enables complete visibility and control with the entire network being managed from one place, simplifying day-to-day maintenance and troubleshooting.
However, collecting network data was just the first step. The IT team then needed to decide which other IoT or connected devices they wanted to implement to collect additional data. The MDPLS team started this next phase with Meraki MV smart cameras. Like the rest of their Meraki products, the cameras are managed through the same cloud-based dashboard, streamlining the management of all their IT devices. The added benefit of on-camera storage also eliminated the need for a network video recorder (NVR) and its associated software, greatly simplifying the deployment and ongoing maintenance for the IT and facilities teams.
Above all, the most important element of the smart cameras for MDPLS is the built-in machine learning-based analytics. This enables the cameras to anonymously detect and count people, find incidences faster and with more accuracy, and understand where people are moving throughout specific areas, without additional software, servers, or complex configurations. By setting up a camera at each library entrance, the MDPLS team can better understand the number of people entering and exiting throughout the day and learn the overall number of library visitors. Additional cameras throughout the libraries help MDPLS understand what library services are being used and what content is the most popular based on where people are moving and congregating.
In addition to their Meraki access points, switches, and cameras, MDPLS had additional data sources to consider, including book checkout machines, library-owned computers, and more. In order to take advantage of these different data sources, they needed to find a way to collect the data in a digestible format. Using the Meraki API, the team pulls relevant data from the access points, switches, cameras, along with library data, into a cohesive, custom-built dashboard that shows important information about the library system. By having insight into this data, including how many people are visiting each library, the number of people that are using the Wi-Fi on their personal devices versus the library computers, what types of books are being checked out, and what other library resources are being used, the MDPLS leadership is able to determine what additional services and resources their visitors may need. This, in turn, helps to inform them where budget adjustments or additions are needed. With 50 different libraries spread across a very diverse area, being able to ensure the needs of each branch are being met is key to the library system’s success.
To learn more about theMDPLS Meraki deployment and how they are using data and analytics to make decisions, watch the webinar recording with Julio Campa, Systems Support Manager for MDPLS. You will see a live demo of their Meraki dashboard and hear some great insights into their deployment. Watch now.
Today, the need for higher density, higher throughput and higher capacity are critical to wireless networks. These are the things that everyone wants from their wireless network–especially schools. These are the promises of Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 (known in more technical terms as 802.11ax) is the latest emerging wireless standard, offering several new improvements to make it the highest performing set of wireless protocols to date. Not only will Wi-Fi 6 boost overall performance on paper, but it is specifically designed to perform efficiently in real-world scenarios that Wi-Fi currently struggles in, such as when 25 students all hop on the classroom Wi-Fi at the same time. This allows end users to experience always-on connectivity without bottlenecks or performance degradation.
While every industry can benefit from the promises of Wi-Fi 6, one in particular is ready to benefit from this change: education. While most of us remember those school days spent searching through binders of papers, sharpening pencils in the middle of a test, and carrying heavy books from class to class, classrooms of today are transforming into central hubs of technology innovation and experimentation around the world. This shift has led to the need for secure and persistent Wi-Fi.
So what challenges will Wi-Fi 6 help the schools of tomorrow solve?
With an expected 50% increase in networked devices per person by 2020, equivalent to about 3.6 connected devices per person, schools are in for more of a bandwidth challenge than most. Additionally, more schools are deploying Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to increase school safety, improve operations and save costs. Together, this changes the requirements for many school networks. Traditionally, schools would add more access points to high density areas to try and combat reliability issues, but this has been found to cause congestion with overlapping signals. Plus, just having connections in classrooms is no longer enough; high density access points will be required everywhere on school grounds in order to accommodate students roaming with several mobile devices and wireless IoT devices.
Who are the first people to generally test out new technologies? Students. As a result, school networks are the first to handle hundreds of new devices at the same time. Not only are Wi-Fi 6-supported mobile devices already hitting the network, but the traffic per smartphone is expected to grow 10x by 2022. And if that isn’t enough, bandwidth-intensive video is expected to grow from 3% of all IP traffic in 2017 to 22% in 2022, already challenging networks with high throughput demands. To top it all off, 8K streaming is just on the horizon (and we know students will pick the highest streaming video quality they can!).
In the classroom, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), collaboration applications and other bandwidth-intensive technologies are already starting to provide a more immersive learning experience. With teachers already using video and other wireless technologies for instruction, having higher throughput will ensure learning goes on uninterrupted and teachers have more freedom to bring new capabilities into the classroom.
All this change will come faster than you think. For Jaymon Lefebvre, Director of IT Services at Wild Rose School Division (WRSD), the rapid increase in student and IoT devices poses unique networking obstacles for the district to overcome. As a rural school district in Alberta, Canada, WRSD has many students who don’t have Wi-Fi access at home. Therefore, WRSD is not only accommodating devices for learning, but also students’ personal devices, which they use to download content and homework while at school so they can continue using their devices at home.
Additionally, learning no longer just takes place in the classroom. At any given time, students are learning wherever they go, using high-bandwidth applications in the hallways and outside. Teachers are starting to use tiny, single-board computers more regularly, like Raspberry Pis and VR headsets for instruction. With up to 30 students per classroom, each with several devices, Lefebvre’s team wants to make sure there are no limitations to new and creative learning techniques.
The IT team has started deploying Wi-Fi 6 compatible APs to continue supporting the current technologies used by students and staff, while still getting classrooms ready to support new technologies. The Wi-Fi 6 APs not only provide higher density and throughput to support students and staff, but also enable the team to support over 15,000 wireless devices and focus on providing better experiences for the school division.
In the face of a new digital era, reliable connections allow students at WRSD to have the same learning experience as kids anywhere in the world, opening up new opportunities that were not possible before. To learn more about WRSD and how they are using Wi-Fi 6, watch the on demand webinar.
TEDGlobal 2010, themed “And Now the Good News”, wrapped up with some good news for Meraki and TEDGlobal attendees using the conference WiFi. As part of the British Telecom Sponsorship team, fellow Meraki engineer Robert Shanks and I were on site to deploy and support the wireless network for this 4-day conference. To make a long story short, the wireless network performed flawlessly, with just over a 1,000 people connecting throughout the conference and transferring over 250 gigabytes of data.
The conference venue, located in Oxford, UK, had its fiber backhaul brought in by BT. The backhaul was then distributed to wireless users in the two main venues of the conference, the Oxford Playhouse and the gala rooms of the Randolph Hotel, through fifteen MR14 dual-radio access points.
We leaned heavily on the Cloud Controller to quickly deploy the network with a small team. Rogue AP detection and automatic channel spreading maintained performance while TEDsters blogged, tweeted, browsed and streamed all at once. While we trusted the Cloud Controller’s real-time alerts to let us know about unexpected changes (there weren’t any), we also kept tabs on the network’s summary report, giving us a good understanding of the overall usage and performance of the network.
Along with performance and usage information, the summary reports confirmed that the device-of-choice for TEDsters was the iPad, with well over 100 using the network. In fact, hand-held devices accounted for over 50% of clients connecting to the network.
We had a great time at TED, and were happy to see the Meraki network being used so heavily. Thanks to the team at British Telecom for including us!
It doesn’t matter how large or small the conference is, it seems like they always have WiFi problems. The networks are consistently slow, frequently fail, and usually require some arcane security measure that involve weirdly-small scraps of paper and bizarre usernames.
There’s no reason for WiFi to be this frustrating!
We’ve started a new project to loan our enterprise-grade WiFi gear to smaller tech conferences, meetups, BarCamps, WordCamps, Tweetups, whathaveyou … for free. You provide the Internet connection, and we’ll provide a rock-solid WiFi connection. All we ask in return is that if you like our products, tell your friends, and if not, let us know how we can make them better.
We’ve just gotten started with this project, but so far, meetups like SF Beta, WordCamp Boulder, and Hacks/Hackers NYC have had great experiences.
“One of the best decisions we made for our conference. Not only was the delivery and setup effortless, our network remained stable throughout the entire day. No matter your wireless needs, this experience alone tells me Meraki’s solutions are some of the best.” —WordCamp Boulder
As part of this project, we’re excited to be partnering with WordCamp.org. We’ll offer a streamlined signup process for the many BarCamp-style events that these organizations sponsor throughout the year.
If you run an event and would like to participate in our new Free Event WiFi project, we’d love it if you signed up! We’re looking for small to medium-sized events that have enough bandwidth to support that group.
If you’re interested, head on over to the signup page to learn more or take a look at our plug-and-play setup guide, or ask any questions below!
One of the most challenging aspects of managing large distributed networks is troubleshooting issues when the client is across town (or maybe even across the country!). Having on-site IT personnel 24/7 at even small satellite branch offices can require a very large IT staff and is too expensive for most organizations. Meraki networks offer a variety of “remote hands” troubleshooting tools, helping network admins diagnose and resolve many wireless connectivity issues without dispatching IT staff to the site. The ability to run diagnostic checks such as pinging an access point, running a throughput test from Dashboard, or reviewing detailed event logs have been integral to Meraki’s value for distributed networks and organizations with small IT staffs and large footprints.
We are now announcing a set of Live Client Tools that expose even more up-to-the-second information about who is on a wireless network, and further help troubleshoot connectivity issues. Administrators who log into their Enterprise network in Dashboard will notice several new and improved areas. On the Monitor > Overview page, there is now a new addition under the network name showing the number of clients that are associated at that moment:
If you click on the “More” link, you will see an expanded list with more information, including which SSIDs and channels the clients are using. This data is automatically refreshed as long as the “More” link is expanded.
Even cooler, Enterprise customers can change the access points map to show where clients are associated: click the “Options” menu on the map and select “Current clients.”
But the really interesting stuff is on the Access Point and Client detail pages. The Access Point detail page used to look like this:
Now, all of the live tools have been consolidated into a new, cleaner layout. Both Pro and Enterprise networks will benefit from the new layout. Enterprise networks now have two additional features in this area: Current Clients and Ping Client MAC. Clicking on the play icon next to Current Clients will pop up a list of all clients associated to that AP at that instant, including useful information about each client such as MAC, SSID, channel, signal strength, and how long they have been associated. Click on the name of a client to go to its client details page. You’ll even see clients that have associated, but not authenticated (they’re listed in grey). If you click the Ping link next to the client, you can actually ping that client in real time using ARP, as well as get additional information, such as RSSI changes over time and 802.1X identity (if appropriate).
The other new addition, Ping Client MAC, allows you to enter a MAC address and try to ping it. This can be very useful if you are trying to determine if a particular device is on your network at that moment.
There is also a new Live Tools section on the client detail page. From this page you can also ping that individual client, but there are a few additional new tools:
The Locate Client tool allows you to find out whether that client is associated on your network at that moment, and if so, where they’re associated and for how long:
Finally, the Packet Counter tool shows a real-time count of received and sent packets to that client. You can actually see the packet counters roll as you ping the client!
We think these new tools further improve Meraki’s uniquely clear approach to distributed, multi-site network management, a normally challenging task. Network administrators can more quickly resolve their wireless users’ connectivity issues and access accurate real-time data about the exact state of their network.