See Other K-12 Education Stories

Ecole Lemania

Ecole Lemania

Highlights

  • Swiss, multi-lingual college provides education for students from around the world
  • Meraki APs, switches, and security appliance provide reliable and robust networking
  • Custom policies provide fine-grained control over end user devices

Ecole Lemania prides itself on offering a holistic educational experience that prepares students of every age to use their acquired knowledge to shape the future. In order to accomplish this goal, instructors and students rely on access to technology and the resources being used to define current trends in society. Providing a reliable network to support the school’s daily needs is of paramount importance to Leonard Jan, IT Manager at Ecole Lemania.

Situated at the edge of Lake Geneva in Lausanne, Switzerland, the school supports over 400 students between the ages of 12-18 in its multi-lingual high school program, and another 900 yearly in adult programs like business, accounting, and commerce. Based on complaints from many of these users, Jan had known the previous network was not ideal; the system would often crash every few days or even every few hours. “Before Meraki it was a total nightmare,” explained Jan. “We even lost two boarding students because of the unreliable network!”

Before, commercial-grade access points placed on every other floor provided the school with wireless. However, extremely challenging wireless environments existed in two of the main buildings: very thick walls in a 1908 building and armed concrete in a 1970s building. When signals could be seen by end user devices, data was unlikely to pass, and with over 400 concurrent clients, poor user experience was prevalent. Jan began researching other possible solutions.

Jan discovered the Cisco Meraki solution while researching how universities, hospitals, and other industries were overcoming similar challenges. A few hours after contacting Meraki, Jan was working with a local partner in Switzerland to learn more about the cloud-managed solution. Although he had been looking into other solutions, when Meraki sent him free networking devices to trial in his environment and worked with him to establish optimal configurations, he was sold. “Meraki was able to understand our case as a school. And it’s easy to use,” said Jan.

Based on a partner’s site survey of the two main buildings, the school purchased more than twenty Meraki 802.11n and 802.11ac access points, six 24 and 48 port switches, and a core UTM security appliance.  It took electricians three to four days to install new Ethernet cabling in the buildings; however, the actual deployment of all of these devices was done in just one day. “Thanks to Meraki’s automatic features, the deployment was quasi non-existent,” stated Jan.

As a team of one, centralized monitoring and management of the network devices distributed throughout the buildings was a crucial selling point for Jan. The Cisco Meraki dashboard provides Jan with a multitude of ways to configure his network, including the option to completely segment his wireless network from his security and switching fabric. Using the built-in reporting, Jan can easily monitor the more than 1,300 wireless clients which pass over 3TB of data weekly.

Thanks to the reporting in dashboard, it’s really easy to monitor bandwidth usage, prevent abuse during peak data times, and allow students ‘more freedom’ during downtimeLeonard Jan, IT Manager

Jan is able to take that monitoring one step further with the integrated dashboard features. As a school, Ecole Lemania has several network requirements unique to education, most importantly, the need to protect students. With Layer 7 firewall and traffic shaping features, Jan is able to set restrictions that block access to peer-to-peer traffic, as well as adult content and piracy. “We’re able to monitor student devices and warn them if the usage is not correct,” Jan explained. “If the student doesn’t listen to the warning, we can apply a specific policy to their device which limits Internet access.”

The ability to freely create and assign custom policies within the Meraki dashboard makes managing the various school-owned, employee-owned, and student BYOD devices even easier for Jan. One SSID is used in conjunction with the various policies which, depending on the policy, limit video, music, gaming, social web traffic, and more. “Thanks to the reporting in dashboard, it’s really easy to monitor bandwidth usage, prevent abuse during peak data times, and allow students ‘more freedom’ during downtime,” remarked Jan.

That same visibility and ease of management via dashboard is extended to the Meraki switches and security appliance that sit behind the wireless network. Each of the APs is connected back through onsite Cisco Meraki switches. It’s extremely simple for Jan to make configuration changes remotely on a per port basis via the cloud-management platform. Using virtual stacking, without ever touching the switch, he can make fine-tuned and expansive changes to facilitate evolving needs in classrooms. There are also numerous automatic alerts configured to notify him of any possible error in the switch fabric, from an offline unit to a cable error to a newly discovered DHCP server.

Sitting at the edge of the network, the Meraki security appliance provides Jan with UTM services, eliminating his need for numerous boxes and providing cost savings. As traffic requests flow between end user devices and end destinations, they must first pass the scrutiny levels defined in dashboard. In a few mouse clicks, Jan implemented settings like automatic malware detection and IDS using Sourcefire, content filtering rules which deny adult content, whitelisting of permitted sites, configuring of Layer 3 firewall rules on outbound traffic, establishing cellular failover, and creating per-VLAN configurations.

Having complete visibility, from the user device to the network core, using a single, intuitive interface allows Jan to be proactive in his network management. Whether identifying and solving a potential issue before hearing from the end user, or detecting an infected device and warning the user, the dashboard provides a level of management that was previously unheard of for Jan.

“Everyone is really happy. Before Meraki, the WiFi was unusable, or crappy at best. Now everything is working fine,” explained Jan. “And by everything, I mean everything. Not just company-related usage, but also student usage: Skype, big data downloads, gaming, etc.”