Bridged the digital divide by offering online services and free Wi-Fi throughout all library locations, along with free computer use for in-branch learning
Switched from a traditional wireless networking system to Cisco Meraki MX security and SD-WAN appliances and wireless access points
Tapped into $8 million in funding through the FCC’s E-Rate program for schools and libraries
23 Columbus Metropolitan Library branches
3.8 million library visitors in 2022
28 Cisco Meraki MX security and SD-WAN appliances, 118 MS switches, and 237 MR wireless access points- all managed by a single Meraki dashboard
When you think of a library, do you imagine a grand Beaux-Arts-style building with cool marble floors and quiet stacks of books lining hundreds of shelves? If so, you might be envisioning Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), with a rich history dating back to its inception as a humble reading room in 1873, and evolving into a massive monument in 1907, thanks to a significant contribution from industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
Flash forward to the 21st century and you’ll find that today’s CML is more than just a single structure. It’s a vibrant community gathering place that encompasses 22 neighborhood branches and a modernized Main Library, plus extensive green spaces.
Information security for us is very critical. It’s important that we are doing everything we can to keep our operations running and secure to help our customers maintain safe internet connections. Our top priority is to keep staff and customer information secure.
Justin Bumbico, Director of Information
Technology at Columbus Metropolitan Library
CML is a beloved fixture in the greater Columbus metropolitan area, but serving upwards of 3.8 million visitors each year comes with challenges. Today’s visitors expect quality Wi-Fi access from any location in the 23 physical library sites and the surrounding grounds. Think high ceilings, multiple floors, and park-like outdoor spaces—all needing reliable, secure internet access.
In addition to providing internet access for visitors on their own devices and on library computers, the CML IT team maintains a secure internal network for staff working with back-office applications that keep CML running. Of course, internet access provided to visitors must adhere to the Children’s Internet Protection Act and other regulations, while also being separate and secure from the system used by the nearly 900 library staff.
Historically, CML used a traditional wireless system and LAN controller housed in the organization’s 20-year-old data center. The organization wanted to modernize with a reliable, easy-to-use networking and wireless solution to help them continue serving community members for decades.
“For the last several years we had been working to free ourselves from day-to-day operations of server management,” explains Justin Bumbico, Director of Information Technology at Columbus Metropolitan Library. “We had the plan and direction to shut down an underutilized data center that was built over 20 years ago.”
But how can a public library afford enterprise-grade security, networking, and Wi-Fi access equipment?
CML found answers—and $3 million in Category 2-level funding assistance—with Cisco Meraki and the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program over the course of seven years. The E-Rate program offers discounts for schools and libraries for broadband implementation and support, including Wi-Fi access. Bumbico credits the E-Rate program discounts for making it possible to implement such a valuable solution, considering that “the cabling alone for the Main Library would normally cost nearly $500,000.”
With assistance from technology partner CDW-G, the CML IT team deployed a solution built on Meraki MX multifunctional security and SD-WAN enterprise appliances. They worked together to integrate 28 MX appliances, 40 UPS systems, 114 MS switches, 224 MR wireless access points, and data cabling—all easily managed via a single Meraki dashboard.
The MX is a highly secure appliance with multiple advanced security technologies built in, such as next-gen firewall and IDS/IPS, that can be managed by any IT team member at CML with the intuitive GUI of the Meraki platform. CML had already been using Cisco Umbrella for content filtering and malware protection, and the MX natively integrates with it.
In a matter of a few simple clicks, the IT team at CML can configure layer-7 traffic shaping rules and enable IDS/IPS protection to control bandwidth and secure internet traffic. This allows CML network admins to easily see precisely how their network is being used and can reserve bandwidth for critical applications while restricting nonessential network usage.
SD-WAN gives CML the flexibility to send some traffic out of lower cost connections and provides them with resiliency if the primary path is degraded or unavailable. Additionally, rate limiting peer-to-peer traffic with the MX appliances allows the IT team to ensure sufficient bandwidth is available for visitors and staff.
CML currently manages a full stack of MX, MS, and MR products across each of their locations—managing a unified platform helps ensure efficiency and streamlined operations.
Cisco Meraki MX allows us to control our devices at a granular level, meaning that the public can have continuous access to internet resources, while we help keep malware threats out of our network.
Todd Wiler, Network Engineer at Columbus
The Meraki solution makes it easy for CML to stay true to its philosophy of “open to all” by offering online services, providing free Wi-Fi throughout all library locations, and creating a hub for learning that includes free internet-connected computer use.
The Meraki cloud-managed solution fits in well with CML’s plans to move away from data center management and eventually retire the old data center. Now there is no need to run additional management servers or wireless LAN controllers for the solution. And the CML IT team doesn’t have to worry about working with extra management software to perform firmware updates because the Meraki platform provides continuous automatic smartphone-like firmware updates.
Bumbico is pleased with the results, noting: “The Cisco Meraki platform includes cloud components and all the management and enterprise security features built into it. We don’t have to run additional management servers to control the solution.”
Better yet, nearly every element of the Meraki solution was eligible for E-Rate funding. With such a positive initial experience, CML is planning additional projects, knowing they can get quality products like those from Meraki.