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Lloydminster Public Schools

Lloydminster Public Schools

Highlights

  • Reliable, hassle-free wireless coverage for 4,000 students and 269 teachers
  • One IT person at one-quarter time manages wireless infrastructure across ten sites
  • Meraki’s cloud-managed wireless supports VLAN tagging and secure guest access

When Jason Dunk joined Lloydminster Public School Division (LPSD) in March 2010, he found the division’s wireless network in a state of dysfunctional chaos: six schools had no wireless, one school was fitted with a D-Link, and three schools were using HP. Meanwhile, the combination of poor coverage, dropped connections, and a confusing HP controller meant that teachers and students avoided the wireless network entirely.

“I was given the mandate to fix the wireless or find an alternative,” said Dunk, Manager of Information Technology for LPSD.

Located in the Canadian city of Lloydminster on the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta, Lloydminster Public School Division includes six elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, and an outreach school. Division-wide, 269 staff teach nearly 4,000 students—but the IT staff is comprised of only 3 people.

Dunk had experience working with Aruba, Ruckus, and Meru from his previous career as an IBM consultant for school divisions. In fact, he was prepared to bring Meru to Lloydminster, but he heard about Meraki from his business partner at Metafore while deploying new HP Netbooks and desktops for the school division.

“He told me about Meraki’s cloud management, and I liked what I heard,” Dunk said. “It fit with what I wanted: to keep it simple, stupid.”

Easy manageability was a particular need for Dunk because only one member of the IT team—at one-quarter time—is responsible for managing the entire wireless infrastructure across ten sites. But Dunk also wanted 802.1X RADIUS authentication with WPA2, reliable coverage for heavy-density usage, comprehensive reporting, secure guest access, and support for VLAN tagging.

“Meraki has all the features,” Dunk said. “It’s a one-stop shop. And no certification process, and no controller hardware you’ll be stuck with for years to come.” Dunk met with Meraki’s developers at an enterprise customer summit and was impressed. “I saw their passion to make a product that will continue to evolve.”

Dunk beta-tested Meraki’s slim new dual-radio MR16 access points (APs), lighting up the central division office as a first pilot. It took only 45 minutes to deploy four APs powered by PoE. “From a mounting perspective, it was easy-peasy,” Dunk said. “An extra security screw is even included. And the aesthetics of the APs are a nice touch.”

LPSD purchased 90 MR16 APs, and Dunk plans to deploy 10-12 access points in each school by September 2011. To start the process, he did a 1:1 access point replacement in the four schools with existing wireless infrastructure. The immediate boost in coverage surprised him. “I was preparing for the expense of an AP in every classroom,” he said. “But with Meraki’s range, the same number of APs means much better coverage.”

In the schools not yet retrofitted for full-canopy wireless, Dunk devised a unique solution: laptops and Meraki APs on mobile carts for teachers to bring into the classroom. This portable network operates alongside more permanent APs in libraries, cafeterias, and student communal areas. With the cloud-based centralized management of Meraki’s dashboard, Dunk can turn the WiFi on or off in different areas of the schools as needed. “That’s a nice feature for a school,” he said.

LPSD’s distributed WAN features 28-45 Mbps fiber connectivity between the schools and the central office, the result of an Alberta government initiative of dedicated bandwidth to every school. Most content filtering is controlled locally by each school, while additional content filtering devices run by the board office ensure that access to pornography and gambling is blocked division-wide. Currently the network utilizes a distributed Active Directory as well as a decentralized server infrastructure, but next year Dunk will undertake server consolidation and virtualization activities to centralize these services through the board office.

Already, the new Meraki wireless network has transformed the LPSD schools, making internet technology an integral part of the classroom experience. “It’s an mp3 player for spoken word materials, it’s a guided reading tool, it’s a chance for students to go head-to- head in Math Olympics competitions against students in Australia and Europe,” Dunk said.

Using Skype classroom forums, LPSD students compete in spelling bees against students in other cities, and high school students recently engaged in a discussion with students from Quebec, Turkey, Mexico, and the U.S. for World Aids Day. Meanwhile, kindergarten students use the iPod Touch to trace letters, match lower case and upper case letters, and work shape puzzles—activities that provide them with “immediate feedback and confidence with technology,” according to a teacher.

Meraki has all the features. It’s a one-stop shop. And no certification process, and no controller hardware you’ll be stuck with for years to come. Jason Dunk, Manager of Information Technology

Of course, students and teachers alike utilize the guest access for their personal laptops and devices, and LPSD provides classroom kits of mobile devices that teachers can sign out. “Everyone is using the wireless now,” Dunk said. “The litmus test for me is that now the Netbooks on carts have to be booked three weeks in advance. Before Meraki, the signout was next to nil.”

Meanwhile, Dunk is ecstatic about the network management through the Meraki Dashboard. “We kind of giggled, it’s so easy,” he said. “With any other controller you have to go through hoops to configure the VLAN, but with Meraki it’s just a radio button. Do you want secure guest access? Just click that button and, guess what, it works now. Do you want a walled garden? Do you want a splash page? Do you want this? Do you want that? Click, it’s done. Dashboard is the opposite of the command line interface, and it gives users exactly what they need.”

Dunk says he recommends Meraki whenever he gets the chance. “I’m not used to having a technology product that works really well, so you don’t have to think about it,” Dunk explained. “And then to have a Meraki developer email me to say, ‘We just added this new feature, do you want to try it?’ I think that’s pretty cool.”