Rapidly growing high-tech law school needs scalable wireless solution
70 APs deployed in one day with no downtime for users
Cloud-managed wireless offers built-in redundancy without requiring on-site support
The classrooms at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida feature touch panel screens, full projector audio and visual capabilities, cameras, speakers, microphones—and, of course, wireless Internet.
“When we decided to raise the level of technology on campus, wireless was one area we definitely focused on,” said Mark Sabattini, Director of Information Technology at Coastal Law. “The school was already fully wired, with dedicated Ethernet jacks on every table, but the interesting thing is that the students don’t use them. They like wireless technology. They want to access the internet anywhere in the building, in the common areas, in the classrooms, on the deck by the lake.”
Coastal Law has almost 1,800 students regularly seeking access to email or to online legal databases, and many of them are using iPhones, smartphones, or other devices to do it. “We’ve really seen the impact of the new technology,” Sabattini said.
For four years, Coastal Law had another wireless vendor installed with two controllers, but the controllers never worked together properly. After numerous site surveys and engineer visits without a fix for the problem, Coastal Law returned to running a single controller. “We had no redundancy, and we were at capacity for the traffic we could handle,” Sabattini noted.
Once the original wireless vendor stopped supporting its hardware at Coastal Law and a sister school, the need for change was clear. Sabattini wanted a reliable, secure, yet flexible wireless solution that was easy to manage, especially for a school environment. “The whole point of the system is to give the students easy, fast wireless access,” said Sabattini.
Sabattini thoroughly evaluated solutions from Meraki and other leading wireless manufacturers, determined to find the best fit for Coastal Law. Right away, the heavyweight controller-based solutions from other manufacturers had less appeal.
“We’d have to support the controller on-site, and we didn’t want to go back to that,” Sabattini said. “Meraki’s solution, with the virtual cloud-based controller, just made sense. It eliminated the management headache for us.”
Coastal Law tested 10 Meraki MR14 access points (APs) and found the Enterprise Cloud Controller surprisingly intuitive. “It was much different from other controllers, where there’s just too much on the screen and it’s overwhelming. This looked more like a website,” Sabattini said. “There was no complicated network topology to figure out. The graphs were easy to understand, the mapping features and usage statistics were nice, and everything was clear. We like that it’s different, but it can do everything that other controllers do.”
Meraki’s highly scalable solution offered the built-in redundancy, heavy traffic capacity, and 802.1X authentication that Coastal Law needed—all at an affordable price. “The deal was too good to pass up,” Sabattini said. “The other vendors couldn’t touch it by a long way. Meraki really bent over backward to work with us.”
Coastal Law deployed over the summer. In less than five hours, two teams led by Sabattini and Network Engineer Buddy Searcy powered through all five floors of the Coastal Law building, swapping the original vendor’s APs for 70 Meraki MR14 APs and two MR58 outdoor APs.
Meraki’s solution, with the virtual cloud-based controller, just made sense. It eliminated the management headache for us.Mark Sabattini, Director of Information Technology
“We had no downtime,” Sabattini said. Students present during the deployment simply needed to log on to the new Meraki site. “We configured the APs with a laptop as we went. The Meraki APs showed up in the cloud controller and just started working. It was two or three minutes per access point. As we worked, we saw that people were already logged on to the new APs we’d put up a half hour before.”
Sabattini expects a constant load of between 400 and 800 users, but he said the new Meraki network proved itself during the first two weeks of school. “That’s always the heaviest load of the year, when every student is on the wireless at once, downloading syllabi and getting familiar with policies and procedures,” he said. “This year was totally different than other years, because I can’t think of any problems or complaints we had. Our students are very vocal, so that lack of vocalization is a great sign.”
The Meraki network lets Sabattini relax, he said. ‘Now my network engineer and I aren’t worried about the wireless every day, and we see fewer issues at the help desk.’
Meraki’s solution, with the virtual cloud-based controller, just made sense. It eliminated the management headache for us.