Goodwill Industries, a non-profit organization, owns stores all over the nation focused on training, employing, and transitioning individuals with disabilities into productive and stable employment. The stores are well recognized retail shops stocked with affordable donated goods, and each community operates independently. Goodwill Industries of South Florida consists of 46 stores, up to 3,200 guests and employees, and has over 500 connected devices in its stores at a given time.
Samuel Robinson is the IT Manager for Goodwill Industries of South Florida and has essentially been a one-man IT team for over 20 years. In that time, he’s only had 6 other technicians and a secretary at various times working with him in total. Today, Robinson and one other technician oversee all audio, video, voice, and networking for the South Florida area and remote users in other states.
Original Network Challenges
Prior to Meraki, none of the Goodwill Industries of South Florida stores had any wireless. “For the last 20 years, I just haven’t trusted wireless systems enough to set them up,” explained Robinson. He wanted visibility and control of the whole network across stores and employee offices, but couldn’t find a solution that worked for him.
As a result, network management was done manually, from software integrations to hardware installation. Basic security software would take a long time to install, requiring complex rules for seemingly simple implementations. In-store hardware installations and troubleshooting was usually done manually, from plugging in cables to testing ports. Most of these processes would require outsourced help, which was not only costly but also time-consuming for a single person.
Robinson described his management style with the legacy network as “reactive,” always having to rely on store managers to contact IT if a network ever had a problem or went down. And when he would hear of a problem, he had minimal insight into what the root source was. “It would always take a while to get rules corrected, everything tested, and implemented,” explained Robinson. “I had very little visibility and needed an additional license for everything. With Meraki, a lot of that visibility is included.”
Why Cisco Meraki
For such a small IT team, Robinson knew that he would want a solution that was easy to deploy and to manage. With the Meraki dashboard, a web-based interface, Robinson is able to monitor, troubleshoot, and configure his entire network from any location. “When comparing companies and vendor solutions, the whole evaluation was based off of how much visibility I had,” explained Robinson.
Absolute visibility and easy monitoring of the entire network.
When considering new solutions, the first objective was aimed at increasing insight and visibility into employee usage on the network, which the previous system lacked. And with the Meraki dashboard, Robinson now has access to employee usage data that helps him know more about what is happening on the network. With just a few clicks, Robinson now has access to employee usage data including details on applications and http content. This came in handy when he once noticed that over 50% of the bandwidth at a store was being consumed by one device, something he wouldn’t have been able to see with the previous network solution. In the past, store owners would just unplug devices and plug them back in in an attempt to resolve bandwidth issues. Now with Meraki, Robinson is not only able to identify the device and where it is located, but also reroute the traffic so that it doesn’t hog bandwidth anymore.
Another aspect of Meraki that Robinson appreciates is the visibility into specific device models that are connected to the network, such as computers, DVRs, media devices, cell phones, and more. Before, he would have had to manually count each device on the network to know what was where. And some solutions, like DVR systems, would require manual reboots, which meant someone on-site would have to facilitate that. Now he can just look at the dashboard, review the usage and application summaries, and manage the network from his own location.
For Robinson, who was skeptical about implementing wireless for 20 years, all that he could see and do with Meraki changed his mindset completely. “When I saw the visibility I could have, I decided to give Meraki a chance.”
A robust networking solution that enables Goodwill to be more informed and proactive.
For full visibility and control over the network, Goodwill takes advantage of MX security appliances, MS switches, and MR wireless access points – the Meraki full stack – in every store. With the full suite of products visible in the dashboard, Robinson can troubleshoot and configure devices all through a single interface. Now the tool that’s used to shut down ports and assign VLANs is the same one used for traffic shaping and security policies. This contributes greatly to Robinson’s day-to-day management and enables him to be more proactive with the network.
For any type of event, Robinson set up email alerts so that he can always be the first one to know if something goes wrong with the network. “I have alerts for specific events that all go to the top of my inbox,” as Robinson puts it, “and I prefer it that way.” That means from wired to wireless, each store is monitored very closely, even if it is just by one person.
Robinson is able to architect the optimal system for each store environment and increase what Goodwill knows about guest and visitor activity. One store can see up to 439 connected visitors, so adding firewall protection guards Goodwill’s main network from potential security breaches. And since all Meraki solutions enable customers to enforce a PCI compliant network, an important capability for Goodwill, Robinson could ensure their network infrastructure adhered to PCI Data Security Standards for managing and protecting cardholder data.
A comprehensive suite of products that is also cost-effective.
At first, the upfront equipment cost appeared to be a major deterrent for Robinson, but when he considered the amount of time he would save, in addition to the licensing structure, the decision to go with Meraki was much easier. In fact, according to Robinson, “We decided to go with Meraki primarily because of the way the licensing structure was built.”
The previous networking solutions were license-based as well, but required various licensing components that all solved the same problems. With Meraki, “everything is included. I have intrusion protection, better visibility across my wireless and switching, and continuous firmware updates” all wrapped into a simple license structure. Included with every Meraki solution is 24/7 Meraki support, however, Robinson works very closely with their partner, SOUTEC, for any of their technical needs.
Find out more about Goodwill’s in-store deployment and partnership with SOUTEC here.
The Network Tomorrow
Now that Goodwill has built out and standardized its networking solutions, Robinson is focused on advancing store mobility and analytics features. The next step for Goodwill is to focus on mobile devices and security. They have begun testing and exploring Cisco’s enterprise mobility management solution, Meraki Systems Manager (SM). With it, Robinson can have better control of tablets and other devices that employees use throughout the stores and to manage and log donations. With SM, Goodwill can enforce device security policies, deploy software and applications, and guarantee that devices are only used for business needs.
For Robinson, Meraki has helped make managing, troubleshooting, and configuring the network much easier to do across a vast network. Since it is only him and another person, they must always be available, anything could happen at any time. Yet, Meraki has still managed to open up time and energy for them to do more planning and work on important projects. “Everything always comes to me eventually,” explained Robinson, “Now I’m able to look at things differently and from a long term perspective, be more proactive, be less reactive. Meraki buys me that time and allows me to work remotely from home in Cartagena, Colombia more often.”