- Year 7-12 school with 2 campuses, 1400 students, and 200 staff members
- 2 IT staff look after the entire network consisting of Meraki MR, MS, MX, & EMM
- Network bottlenecks are easily detected and resolved within the Meraki dashboard
Situated on two separate campuses in Western Australia, Bunbury Catholic College is a co-educational Catholic year 7-12 school aiming to keep education quality high while keeping overall fees low. As the original campus in Bunbury quickly grew to serve over 1000 students, Bunbury Catholic College opened a second campus, Mercy, in Australind. Today, there are 1400 students, 200 staff members, and a small team of 5 IT staff across the two campuses.
Greg Everitt is the man behind the scenes making technology and IT work in and out of the classrooms. Having started as a systems administrator over a decade ago and now serving as the IT Manager of both campuses, he’s seen everything from the nuts and bolts up to the overall network and systems strategy. On his lean team, only 2 staff actively look after the Cisco Meraki network they have in place – one at Bunbury and one at Mercy. The overall goal of Everitt’s team is to keep all students connected and “provide as good of service as we can with the budget that we’ve got.” When the IT team was tasked with pushing out a 1:1 laptop program, they knew they needed a stronger, more reliable network to support the large number of devices that would shortly come onboard.
Prior to Meraki, the Bunbury IT team was using a complex command line interface (CLI) to configure and maintain the network. Additionally, all of the time-consuming firmware updates had to be pushed out over the school holidays, as they couldn’t be scheduled, finished overnight, or completed over a weekend. They had minimal visibility with the previous network even though Everitt tried to integrate open source tools to get a better idea of what was happening on the network, but still “all the stats we now get from Meraki are so much better and easier.”
When Everitt’s team first started evaluating Meraki, they attended a webinar, received a free MR wireless Access Point (AP), and then requested a trial. They had first heard about Meraki when someone on the team attended an in-person presentation. Since then, Everitt had his eye on Meraki. Once the trial equipment arrived and Everitt familiarized himself with the ease of use and simplicity of the Meraki web-based dashboard, where all products are managed from, he was immediately won over. “This is for us. I don’t think I’d go back now. I’m sold now,” Everitt said as he reflected on his initial experience with Meraki. Another aspect of the Meraki solution that attracted Everitt was that he had a few younger IT staff members, along with several trainees from the recent graduating class and they are much familiar with graphic user interfaces (GUIs) as opposed to CLI.
Every year, hundreds of new laptops are purchased for the new class of students. While students can take them home and use them in class, all of the maintenance and fixes are provided by the IT team, saving parents quite a few headaches each year. After the initial wireless MR34 AP deployment across the Bunbury campus, Everitt also began looking at the MX Security Appliances, mainly because of the site-to-site VPN feature and the ability to link the two campuses. They settled on the MX400 Security Appliances, one for each campus, and quickly deployed them. Additionally, there are 2 MS420 Aggregation Switches at each campus, both connected into the security appliances. These serve as the backbone that the fiber comes into. Everitt also has individual 48-port and 24-port switches installed throughout the building, which are all then connected to the MR34 APs.
All of the deployment work is done by Everitt’s local team, apart from the data cabling. The team attaches the AP to the data point and cables it up. “That’s all you have to do and that’s the best thing about it,” Everitt explained. The team uses many of the default Meraki dashboard settings, making the configuration even simpler.
In terms of dashboard features, viewing the connectivity of the network is particularly useful for Everitt. As his role has grown to encompass everything related to IT, he loves that in an instant, he can see the health of the network and whether devices are offline or online based on the red and green color bars. He also set up email alerts to get notified each time a device goes down so network connectivity never impedes on student learning. When it comes to wireless APs, Everitt says, “it’s so easy to see what traffic is going across the AP, who’s connected, the troubleshooting tools, and the LAN tab, all in a single view.”
On the switch side, Everitt’s favorite feature is that the VLANs are setup automatically and the RADIUS server automatically places the students into the right network when they connect to them. Just the other day, Everitt shared that someone on the IT team connected up a switch, but forgot to put the VLAN on it. He noticed in the dashboard that there was no DHCP for the VLAN. “That sort of stuff is so easy to do and my junior IT staff can do it.”
On the MX Security Appliances, the best tool for the team is to see what’s going out through the WAN link. This is particularly handy for the team when there are bottlenecks, which usually happens when students use too much bandwidth. The other feature most used by the team is the firewall feature as Everitt can create custom rules providing granular control over policies and applications. In the past, ensuring that students couldn’t access the staff network took a significant amount of time. Now, Everitt loves seeing how many hits a particular rule has to ensure that it’s working and for an education environment, this has been mission-critical.
Not only is the IT team benefiting from the Meraki solution behind the scenes, but so are the students. On the frontline, students at Bunbury Catholic College are able to use their timetable application to find out when class times are, rather than relying on paper copies. In addition, they now have access to their class plans and assessments, while also having the ability to send in assessments directly to their teachers, thanks to the 1:1 program. Enabling digital learning has had tremendous impact on the teachers as they no longer need to plug in wires to connect to projectors. Now they can take their mobile device from the library to the classroom, log in, and wirelessly connect to any classroom’s projector, making the teaching process more efficient than ever.
Aside from MR wireless APs, MS Switches, and MX Security Appliances, the team is using Systems Manager, the Enterprise Mobility Management solution, to track when students sign onto the network, any application usage, and disk usage information.
The development of Bunbury Catholic College has been quite a ride for Everitt who was working in the early days when there were 200 computers limited to a lab and only two wireless APs. Today, Bunbury Catholic College is building a new science block and early adult learning center at the Mercy campus, both two story buildings needing network gear. This campus also plans to expand student count from its existing 400 students to 600 students. As Bunbury Catholic College continues to grow, Meraki looks forward to the partnership to support their growing digital learning initiatives.