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St Mary Star of the Sea College

St Mary Star of the Sea College

Highlights

  • NSW school uses Meraki MR, MS, MV to support 1,100 students and 130 staff
  • MVs provide increased visibility and security to gates surrounding campus
  • Meraki channel optimisation tools help achieve more capacity as population grows

Situated in Wollongong, New South Wales, St Mary Star of the Sea College is an all-girls Catholic school. Serving around 1,100 students a year, while hosting 100 teachers and 30 admin, Martin Janiszewski, the IT Manager, and his team have their work cut out to support the many digital learning initiatives, along with the ever-increasing, year-over-year bandwidth consumption. St Marys is committed to the pursuit of educational excellence and the development of the complete individual. It is one of the only schools in NSW that has operated continuously for over 140 years.

Janiszewski oversees a team of three: an admin and two technical staff. Over 10 years ago, when Janiszewski joined the IT team, there were only 2 computers in the server room and every wireless access point (AP) was from a different vendor, thus requiring individual management. He realized immediately that the network needed to be updated as students were relying more and more on wireless connectivity and “bandwidth consuming goodness.”

The IT team initially looked at Cisco on-premise solutions, along with other vendors; however, most solutions, when trialed, had to be configured separately as no cloning features or templates existed. Plus, the team had experiences with some vendors’ APs in which someone would walk two metres and the connection would drop.
It was half the price and we got APs and a wireless LAN controller in the cloud. It made such a huge difference.Martin Janiszewski, IT Manager

“It came to a point where adding more APs became problematic,” Janiszewski said. “As everything grew, it became a nightmare because we couldn’t see what was going on.” The team would attempt to make one change to the APs and it would take several days to make the change to each device and if it didn’t create the intended outcome, they would have to undo it, causing even more headaches amongst the team. Then, one day, someone mentioned Meraki to Janiszewski and he did a quick search over the weekend. Immediately, he realized that the single pane of glass was exactly what they needed and they tore up the PO they had put together for another vendor and got their first Meraki MR wireless AP trial to do a proof of concept.

“We worked with the Meraki team and we set up LDAP, RADIUS, guest SSIDs, and VLANS and thought ‘hmm, this is basically everything the other company was going to do and charge us so much more for.’” All the team had to do from that point with the first 55 MR APs purchased was to rip out the existing APs, install Meraki APs, and let them fine tune themselves. “It was half the price and we got APs and a wireless LAN controller in the cloud. It made a huge difference.”

However, as time went on, the school population continued to grow, while BYOD mobile devices did as well. The team did more channel optimisation than ever with the goal of achieving more capacity, but there were some APs with over 200+ students on them at once and it was too much. Janiszewski and team made a case to get another Meraki trial so they could place an MR AP in each classroom. With the new trial network and proof points, the IT team took the data to the principal and said “look at the difference these APs have made in our science block.” While they were there, they also made their case for Meraki MS Switches and MV Security Cameras.
The principal approved and the team secured an additional 55 APs, 14 switches, and 10 security cameras.

Today, 2 of the 10 MV Security Cameras have been installed outdoors to keep an eye on the electronic gates installed around campus. Within just the first week of installation, the cameras were able to provide results for increased security and even assisted in a situation where there was a collision with the gate. The team accessed dashboard and pulled up relevant clips of videos with just a few mouse clicks.

Through the course of the deployment, the team at St Marys has worked closely with the Meraki team to create an efficient and reliable network. They’ve worked cohesively on any potential capacity issues, bandwidth issues, and issues related to being close to the harbour, which affects the 2.4Ghz and 5GHz bands that the school operates on. Half of the 5GHz spectrum was used by radar due to the location by the harbour so ultimately, the ask for more APs was, without a doubt, the right call by the team.

The MR APs provide more than just a wireless network. There have been cases where a student couldn’t be found or an iPad had gone missing, but with the Meraki dashboard, the IT team could easily track the latest locations to see if they were in the vicinity of school perimeters, the bus areas, and classrooms to narrow down the locations, all thanks to access point triangulation and the built-in event logs. Upon seeing any tethering on the network, the team can log in to dashboard from anywhere in the world and stop it before it starts affecting the ability to teach or learn. Additionally, having intuitive and easy-to-use features to limit bandwidth on certain applications like YouTube, as an example, is a game-changer. “You won’t get the HD version of YouTube, but rather, the standard version. But that means that 300 other girls will also be able to watch YouTube instead of 5 girls watching HD.”

The teachers at the college need the wireless network for everything they do. “They virtually cannot teach without a network,” added Janiszewski. With the many educational apps and software platforms today, it’s also been useful for IT to create different SSIDs in the dashboard with just a few clicks on the mouse. Next, the team is continuing their work to integrate Apple TV into its classrooms to aid with teaching, while making sure that the bandwidth allocations are ready to support this. The Meraki stack will only help the team monitor and optimise them. If there’s ever a situation with RF interference when someone from IT is not on campus, the staff can easily pull up the dashboard from home and remotely monitor and make updates. Plus, the event logs and the email notifications provide incredible visibility to the team to look at what’s happened historically and try to improve for the future.

Janiszewski and his IT team are also working on installing all of the 48-port MS Switches and running more fiber so the college will have triple the Internet. “1100 users sharing 100mb of Internet can be difficult, and it doesn’t matter how much you give users because they’re always going to use more.”

With the IT team’s high visibility and the tremendous impact on the entire school, Meraki looks forward to supporting the IT team every step of the way as they continue their growing Meraki deployment.