Associated Bank is the largest bank headquartered in the state of Wisconsin and is in the top 50 largest banks in the United States. The bank provides a variety of banking and insurance products throughout the midwestern United States since its founding in 1861. Associated Bank prides itself on its exemplary customer service, commitment to community support, and a wide range of financial offerings.
When Tim Larson (the first Network Architect at Associated Bank) was tasked with evaluating whether the company’s network was up to snuff, he determined not only did the WAN have inadequate capacity, but there were also opportunities to enhance the management and operations of this environment, which is crucial to the company’s business operations. With over 5,000 employees and more than 250 branches, Associated Bank required a WAN solution capable of seamlessly connecting the company’s sites and employees while meeting advanced traffic management requirements in a simplified, secure and scalable fashion. In the spirit of transformation, Larson decided to explore software-defined network solutions in preference of the standard enterprise systems he had previously designed and managed.
Larson evaluated eight SD-WAN platforms. After extensive research, he determined the Meraki MX platform has the most robust feature set, is simple to configure and deploy, and aligns well with Associated Bank’s business objectives. Larson launched a proof of concept project to test and prove his desired outcomes using MX appliances at three branch locations, working closely with the Meraki engineering staff to tweak the design when necessary.
Initially, transitioning from CLI-based traditional enterprise class infrastructure to Meraki software-defined infrastructure was a learning experience for Larson and his team. There were cultural challenges, as well. While the executive team was aligned with the transformation, many throughout the organization were skeptical and even resistant to the changes this technology would bring. Undeterred, Larson and his team pushed the POC initiative forward, delivering results which surpassed expectations, resulting in approval to implement the solution enterprise wide.
Additional enhancements proven through the Meraki SD-WAN POC included improved dynamic failover capabilities. This was a stark contrast to the failover mechanisms of the legacy active/passive WAN architecture, which would break application sessions if communications failed over to the secondary path. The timeline to implement WAN infrastructure and enable WAN communications was also greatly enhanced. After establishing a proven implementation methodology, the Associated Bank network team were able to reduce the legacy implementation process of several hours down to an average of only five minutes per site with the Meraki SD-WAN solution.
In traditional WAN architecture, load balancing can be a huge challenge, typically relying upon alternating destinations across multiple uplinks and creating considerable complexity, often resulting in asymmetrical traffic paths. The Meraki MX appliance overcomes these challenges with simple and reliable programmability, eliminating complexity and delivering predictable results, stated Larson.
[Meraki] transformed our WAN from a business constraint to a business enabler.Tim Larson, Network Architect
Larson’s team uses the cloud-based Meraki dashboard to apply quick configuration changes. When issues arise, “it may take only a couple mouse clicks to fix the problem,” explained Larson. With Associated Bank’s previous WAN solution, the network team relied upon a complex command matrix, necessitating peer reviews to mitigate human error.
Initial skeptics within the organization have now become advocates. Coupled with the advanced security of the Meraki MX appliance, the feature/functionality of defining performance driven data paths enabled Associated Bank to replace their high cost/low bandwidth MPLS circuits for lower cost/high bandwidth public circuits, resulting in an average bandwidth increase of 7800% for branch locations. A total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis revealed the business will save over $500,000 annually with the Meraki SD-WAN solution.
Network architecture is evolving and there are some who resist the administrative outcomes. Meraki made the transition an easy sell for our organization.Tim Larson, Network Architect
Larson believes the simplicity and reliability of Meraki has improved WAN operations and overall WAN services to Associated Bank colleagues and customers. The transformation to Meraki SD-WAN is helping to drive continued improvement and digital transformation at the bank, positioning Associated Bank to continue serving its customers as technology evolves in the coming years.