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Clifton College

Clifton College

Highlights

  • Wireless coverage for almost 1,500 pupils across historic, thick stoned college wall
  • Over 1,000 devices seen on the wireless networks in first 3 months
  • Intuitive Meraki dashboard enables zero dedicated staff to manage wireless network

Clifton College is a prestigious independent boarding school perfectly located in the Southwest of the UK to combine the beautiful English countryside with the modern city life of Bristol. Steeped in history, the college was founded two years before Brunel’s suspension bridge was built across the Avon Gorge in 1862. Formed of three schools: Butcombe, Prep and Upper School, Clifton College uniquely offers education to almost 1,500 boys and girls aged between 3-18 years.

Although mobile devices began to gain adoption, the college’s network infrastructure was designed for static, hard-wired clients, noted Colin Lewis, Director of IT at Clifton College. “We’d explored wireless options in the past but the college walls are made of very thick stone, so an efficient wireless deployment that worked well was proving difficult to find, particularly in the dorm rooms,” said Lewis.

The rapid proliferation of mobile devices meant that only offering Ethernet connectivity was a growing problem. “An iPhone or iPad is probably top of a child’s gift list at the moment and our students are no different. We were finding that the number one request for the IT department was for wireless access as, of course, these devices only connected to the Internet wirelessly,” said Lewis.

Lewis received excellent reviews of cloud managed wireless solutions from his counterparts at other schools who had successfully deployed this next generation architecture. “A cloud- based solution was very appealing, especially since our previous foray into wireless networking was hindered by complex WiFi controllers,” commented Lewis.

The college worked with their technology partner, Gamma, to shortlist and evaluate wireless solutions from Aerohive and Meraki. They trialled APs from both vendors for two weeks in exactly the same locations and setup. “The outcome was unanimous — Meraki outperformed Aerohive in wireless penetration,” said Lewis. “Crucially for us, this meant that a full wireless deployment with Meraki would require fewer APs.” Moreover Lewis and his team were impressed with Meraki’s web-based management dashboard. “We absolutely loved the dashboard — it really sets Meraki apart from other solutions,” added Lewis.

The outcome was unanimous — Meraki outperformed Aerohive in wireless penetration. This meant that a full wireless deployment with Meraki would require fewer APs.Colin Lewis, Director of IT

After selecting Meraki, Lewis and two team members completed the deployment of 45 Meraki wireless APs in short order. “The installation process was really straightforward; normally you expect a degree of pain with these sorts of things, but the Meraki deployment has exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Clifton College now provides wireless connectivity for pupils in social and recreational areas including dorm rooms. “It’s been an overwhelming success — in just three months we’ve seen over 1,000 devices on the network. I’ve even received feedback from students saying they think the wireless is quicker than the wired connection,” said Lewis.

Approximately 20% of the students at Clifton College are from overseas. When the wireless project began, the immediate priority was to be able to offer wireless access to pupils in a social capacity. “Many of the pupils are thousands of miles away from their parents and they’re now able to keep in touch using apps such as FaceTime and Skype on their iPads and iPhones,” said Lewis. Similarly, the deployment is also proving an attractive feature for prospective parents. “At a college such as ours there’s an expectation to have WiFi, so it’s nice to be able to say ‘yes we have WiFi’ when asked by a prospective parent,” he added.

Beyond offering pupils wireless Internet connectivity, the Meraki wireless deployment is set to provide significant time savings for IT. “The IT team used to spend a lot of time troubleshooting and repairing the Ethernet network, but this will no longer be a problem. In fact, the network cabling in some of the houses has already started to be stripped out,” Lewis said.

Lewis is confident in longevity of the cloud-based strategy he has implemented with Meraki. “One of the big reasons we chose Meraki is the free firmware upgrades, which provide us a future- proof solution,” explained Lewis. Clifton College now plans to grow their wireless coverage to supplement learning in the classroom. “As mobile technology continues to offer more of an educational benefit, we’re aiming to expand our wireless coverage to include the classrooms as well.”