Covering 14,757 square kilometers, Rainbow District School Board is the largest school board in Northern Ontario, Canada, supporting 14,500 students in 38 elementary schools and 10 secondary schools. A fiber connection between the schools provides a strong WAN, but until recently Rainbow Schools only had consumer-grade wireless technology.
“We were severely limited in our ability to centrally manage the network,” said Rod MacLeod, Manager of Information Services for Rainbow District School Board. “More importantly, the networks were no longer meeting demand as we had provided laptops for teachers, and more students were bringing personal laptops, iPhones and iPads to school.”
MacLeod had concerns about his inability to monitor or limit the network traffic occurring on these portable devices, as well as his lack of tools for detecting rogue access points (APs). He wanted to upgrade the technology in secondary schools, where mobile device use is highest, to a wireless solution with greater capacity yet more sophisticated insight and control.
MacLeod and Brian Visneskie, Rainbow’s Technical Services Coordinator, evaluated solutions from 11 leading wireless vendors, including Meraki. “It was daunting,” Visneskie said. “Most of the solutions required an onsite controller. We were asking ourselves, do we want something more that we have to manage?”
A proof-of-concept trial of Meraki access points at one high school gave MacLeod confidence about Meraki’s ease of implementation.
“I had already done a trial of another product in one secondary school, so I knew the time and effort and configuration involved,” MacLeod said. “With Meraki, we were able to implement the technology into a high school in a single afternoon. That meant a lot to us, because it put a much lighter demand on our support staff.”
In addition, MacLeod got instant access to views of traffic over the network through the Meraki Traffic Shaper. “It gave us really helpful information, especially about student-owned equipment,” he said. “We were immediately able to put settings in place to prioritize certain traffic and better manage our bandwidth.”
Rainbow deployed 157 dual-radio Meraki access points to provide full coverage across nine high schools and the board office.
“We did the setup extremely quickly,” MacLeod said. “We had radio coverage to all of our target schools within a few weeks. And we were especially pleased because we were able to deploy across all eight schools with one year’s budget.”
After deployment, MacLeod handed the management of the networks over to the local school technicians, allowing them to resolve problems at their own schools without waiting for someone at the central board office to get involved. He appreciates that he has all the benefits of centralized management, yet he can also easily delegate responsibility across his team. The intuitive Meraki dashboard requires no specialized training for staff.
Traffic Shaper allows us to prioritize traffic by application, which is ideal. We want our students using the network for classroom activities, and we want teachers to be able to access the data they need in a timely fashion. Rod MacLeod, Manager of Information Services
“That’s the beauty of Meraki,” he said. “We just give the local technicians the access points to plug in, the APs show up in the dashboard, and the technicians can take over right away, detecting performance issues and dealing with them quickly. We never had that capability before.” Visneskie also highlighted the value of putting the local technicians in control. “We’ve empowered our technicians to run their networks the way they want,” he said. “And once it’s set up, it runs. They don’t need to play with it.”
MacLeod uses the Meraki Traffic Shaper network-wide to ensure that bandwidth priority is given to teachers and used for learning activities. “Application shaping is the future of how things will work, rather than the old days when we tried to do everything by port,” he said. “Traffic Shaper allows us to prioritize traffic by application, which is ideal. We want our students using the network for classroom activities, and we want teachers to be able to access the data they need in a timely fashion.”
MacLeod said the students appreciate the improved network performance as well as the faster support from the local technicians. Meanwhile, the Meraki solution has exceeded all of his expectations.
“Meraki is reliable, it supports our heavy usage, and it supports centralized management and multiple VLANs,” he said. “And the mesh functionality is a great feature to provide coverage for parts of buildings that we can’t run cable to. In those cases, we use the APs as repeaters, and it works very well.”
We want our students using the network for classroom activities, and we want teachers to be able to access the data they need in a timely fashion.