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.
As we mentioned earlier this week in our latest launch blog post, we’re thrilled to announce some new features that are coming soon toall Cisco Meraki wireless customers: Wireless Health and RF Profiles (including customizable Rx-SOP settings, which help mitigate co-channel interference in high-density environments).
These features are critical for today’s wireless deployments. We increasingly depend on wireless for our network connection, so it’s imperative that administrators have insights into end users’ experience. It’s also paramount that wireless settings be quickly tailored to different coverage scenarios and that these settings can be pushed across a number of APs.
Wireless Health helps IT teams verify that client devices can access the network as expected and that they have a fast, reliable experience. It does this by looking at all the steps necessary to provide a seamless experience — from associating to an AP, to network authentication, to obtaining an IP address, to hostname resolution via DNS — and displays metrics and anomaly data about each. This allows network administrators to rapidly identify where in this chain of events something is going wrong and to more quickly remedy the issue.
Wireless Health illuminates problematic steps in a client’s path to network connectivity.
There are many, many root causes of problematic connectivity. Among other things, authentication failures can happen when client credentials aren’t accepted by a RADIUS server, when the wrong pre-shared key is used for a given wireless network, or when a misconfiguration or an overloaded server prevents requests from getting through. DHCP failures can occur when a client device doesn’t receive an IP address — either because the DHCP server fails to respond or because there are no more available addresses to hand out. DNS failures can happen if a DNS server doesn’t respond to a client request for hostname resolution. And finally, success is measured not only by whether a client can successfully connect to a network, but also by whether that client can then pass traffic — so Wireless Health also details traffic failure rates.
Once a client has successfully connected, Wireless Health displays detailed metrics about network latency, identifying which types of traffic are showing performance problems at various thresholds of performance (measured in milliseconds).
Quickly identify which types of network traffic are experiencing the worst latency problems.
Network administrators can drill down and get granular metrics on latency across their network at the AP level and at the device type level, helping them quickly identify the worst-performing APs and clients.
Latency at the AP level.
Latency by client device type.
These metrics and anomalies are synthesized into a holistic, network-level view that allows administrators to quickly identify networks with problems that require attention.
Wireless Health provides network-level statistics on latency and connectivity.
Each wireless network is a snowflake: it faces its own unique coverage challenges, configuration, and design — no two are exactly alike. It’s common for IT administrators to deploy several APs configured for a specific RF scenario (for example, a large, crowded auditorium) in one location, while needing to configure networked APs elsewhere for a different RF profile (like a small lobby or guest area). The radio settings for these two groups of APs can look quite different even though all of the access points are on the same network.
Enter RF Profiles. This feature allows network administrators to easily customize RF characteristics by deployment and manage diverse MR installations through the configuration of templated radio settings. These settings (which comprise a profile) can then be applied, en masse, to groups of APs. RF Profiles will include predefined templates for typical auditoriums, open offices, and outdoor coverage scenarios to help IT quickly configure wireless settings for maximum performance.
RF Profiles allows radio settings to be easily deployed to all the APs applied a given profile.
The radio settings that can be configured within a given RF Profile include:
Dual band and single band support for both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz radios
Minimum mandatory data rates
Minimum and maximum transmit (TX) power levels
Receive sensitivity via Rx-SOP/CCA (801.11ac Wave 2 only)
RF Profiles includes a new setting that can be configured: Rx-SOP (Receive Start of Packet). Rx-SOP helps mitigate co-channel interference (when two or more radios use the same channel) in extremely dense environments by allowing an AP to disregard transmissions that do not meet a specified signal strength threshold.
In high density environments with many client devices trying to connect to a wireless network, IT admins typically deploy more APs to increase overall capacity. But adding more APs introduces interference, since the odds that two APs within earshot of each other use the same channel increases. By ignoring signals that don’t meet a certain threshold strength, Rx-SOP allows an AP to ignore clients on neighboring access points who are using the same channel — mitigating their ability to interfere.
RF Profiles (including RX-SOP) will be rolled out as a free and seamless update for all Meraki wireless customers sometime near the end of February of this year. Wireless Health will also be rolled out as a free update for all wireless customers, and a generally available beta will make its debut next month.
As always, we’re keen to hear your thoughts and feedback, so please drop us a line on social media or leave a comment in our Meraki Community. You can also check out our wireless webinars or visit us at meraki.cisco.com for more information.