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Chicago Architecture Foundation

Chicago Architecture Foundation


  • Complete Meraki network provides a reliable, easy-to-manage solution
  • Centrally-managed WiFi network provides great coverage and seamless roaming
  • Smart link bonding between two ISPs increases capacity, uptime, and performance

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring people to discover why design matters. CAF is located in the famous Santa Fe Building and presents a comprehensive program of tours, exhibitions, lectures, and education activities. Andrew Ruginis, Director of IT, is responsible for providing this world leading organization — and its staff of 60, volunteer staff of more than 450, and an impressive annual audience of 488,000 — with a reliable network.

Before Meraki, CAF used individually managed (autonomous) access points to provide internet and LAN access for employees Also, CAF provided guests with Internet access during lectures and events.  “IT directors of other organizations recommended that I try Meraki,” Ruginis said. “They are Meraki customers and had great experiences to share.”

Ruginis evaluated two Meraki MR16 access points (AP). The installation was painless and straightforward. “It was very quick. I unboxed the AP, a minute to download the firmware upgrade, and it was up and running,” he said. Ruginis experimented with the features by adjusting the configurations on the Meraki dashboard and measuring the impact using Meraki’s WiFi Stumbler, a free WiFi planning tool. Given how critical network availability was to CAF, Ruginis also tested the quality of Meraki’s technical support teams.  “Meraki was very accessible and responsive to my questions,” he explained. “With such great technology and overall experience, I quickly ordered the APs for the entire organization.”

The Meraki MX made a complex project very simple. The entire installation was a smooth and enjoyable experience. There was no need for training or certification like other vendors.Andrew Ruginis, Director of IT

Compared to the individually-managed APs and to traditional solutions with WiFi controllers, Meraki’s cloud-managed APs saved CAF and Ruginis money and time. Moreover, Meraki’s robust and pragmatic design helped CAF avoid downtime, Ruginis explained, “When an AP loses uplink connectivity, it will automatically fall into repeater mode and my users are uninterrupted. This feature has been a lifesaver!” Lastly, Meraki’s platform provides great visibility and control. “I can see who is on my wireless network and I have all the tools to control the wireless usage, like traffic shaping or denying access for unauthorized devices.”

In addition to upgrading the APs, CAF added a second internet link to increase bandwidth and uptime. Ruginis looked to the Meraki MX security appliance to combine the WAN links into a single uplink, balancing the load between the connections and maximizing WAN uptime. “The Meraki MX made a complex project very simple,” he said. “The entire installation was a smooth and enjoyable experience. There was no need for training or certification like with other vendors.” As CAF grows, Ruginis is excited to deploy client VPN for CAF’s telecommuters.  “VPN for telecommuters was not at the top of my mind when I installed the MX,” he recalled. “The versatility of the MX’s feature set makes my investment future proof.”

The growth of CAF and growth in the number of devices brought about another challenge for Ruginis’ selfdescribed “one-man IT shop”: mobile device management (MDM).“I wanted a simple yet professional way to manage and keep inventory of CAF’s mobile devices,” he said. “I was looking for a web-based product that required no onsite server or aggregator.” Again, IT directors of other organizations recommended that Ruginis take a look at a Meraki product: Systems Manager, Meraki’s cloud based mobile device management platform.

Ruginis deployed Systems Manager to each device by running the installer file directly or remotely off a local file server. Ruginis uses Systems Manager on a daily basis to remote desktop into various servers and devices, troubleshoot devices remotely, monitor devices’ CPU and RAM utilization. “With Systems Manager, I can remote desktop into my user’s PC or Mac. Moreover, Meraki is the only MDM platform that can provide unified visibility and management from the top of the network with the MX security appliance down to users’ devices with Systems Manager,” Ruginis said. “If an organization is managing devices but has no such product like Systems Manager then I would say they are not really managing devices at all. Organizations need to get on-board and go with Systems Manager for the ease of deployment and intuitive management. Especially because it’s free, there’s no reason not to use it.”

The increasing number of devices has outgrown CAF’s switching infrastructure which was a mix of switches from various vendors and Ruginis was excited for the visibility and control the Meraki MS access switch can provide to his network. Ruginis evaluated the MS42 switch and was very impressed with the MS’ zero-touch deployment. “The installation could not have been simpler,” he said. “I took the switch out of the box and it downloaded the latest firmware. The most time consuming part was the cables — it took more time to unplug and reconnect patch cables than to actually set up the Meraki switch.” Planning for the growth of CAF, Ruginis is keen to deploy additional MS features, like voice vLAN and QoS, to accommodate for the organization’s VoIP needs.

Ruginis’ Meraki network simplifies his task in managing day-to-day network administration and meeting the needs of a growing organization. He concluded, “It is easy to run and manage my Meraki network, I didn’t have to go to class or get certifications to provide a world-class network for my users.”