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Sterling Autobody

Sterling Autobody

Highlights

  • Centralized network management for nationwide collision repair with 60+ locations
  • Segregated SSIDs ensure security on corporate, guest and individual machine networks
  • Integrated MDM provides visibility and quick troubleshooting for shop devices

Headquartered in Natick, Massachusetts, Sterling Autobody Centers offer state-of-the-art collision repair services with a mission to provide the best experience to their customers.  Sterling Autobody has around 1050 employees and 60+ locations nationwide, ranging in size from 10,000-40,000 square feet.

Howie Cheney, Vice President of IT, and Andy Corbett, Network Administrator, are part of a five man team tasked with ensuring the continued operation of the company’s networking infrastructure, which supports everything from in-store repair machines to employee computers. 

However, Sterling Autobody’s original WiFi solution failed to provide the visibility and control that Cheney and Corbett desired.  In addition, it was actually two separate networks at each location – a traditional controller-based solution for the corporate network, and consumer-grade gear to support Sterling Autobody’s specialized equipment, such as paint mixing machines and frame pulling machines, that require Internet access to download specifications unique to each vehicle.   

“We were running two Internet connections, one for corporate access and one for the machines, at each shop,” Corbett explained. While this system ensured the security of the corporate network – important for corporate email, HR applications, and sales reports – it added cost and complexity. “There was no way to centrally manage all of the APs, and it was complex command line just to debug and manage each separate network. It was more hassle than it was worth.”

When Cheney and Corbett learned that the Cisco Meraki cloud managed wireless solution offered reliable connectivity, centralized management, and multiple SSIDs with a built-in firewall, they wanted to upgrade. “When we discovered what Meraki could do, it was like ‘Yes! We’ll take it now!’” Corbett laughed.

Sterling Autobody worked with a technology partner to deploy one cloud managed access point (AP) per location. “We just shipped the units to the shops, and the deployment didn’t take long at all,” Corbett said. “Each shop is shaped differently, so the local tech lead used the Meraki Stumbler to figure out the best placement, to make sure the signal reached the front office as well as the shop area.”

With a few clicks in the web-based Cisco Meraki dashboard, Corbett created two SSIDs at each location: secure wireless for employees, utilizing Active Directory for authentication, and public wireless for guests and repair machines.

“It’s so nice to be able to split traffic on a single unit,” Cheney said. “And it’s great to offer guest access for our customers coming in with iPhones. At the same time, we can also now offer wireless access for traveling regional employees, whereas before we were running up a huge bill using air cards. Taking that off the table is saving us a tremendous amount of money.”

Now Cheney and Corbett keep an eye on their entire network from the Cisco Meraki dashboard, displaying it on a flat-screen television in their headquarters office.  While they appreciate how cloud-based centralized management lets them see the network status at all of their locations, the granular visibility into each store’s users, devices, and applications is perhaps even more meaningful. “In the past, we couldn’t see where the traffic was going over the WiFi,” said Cheney. 

If we start to see a spike, we can drill down, see exactly where the traffic is coming from, troubleshoot, and make adjustments as necessary.Andy Corbett, Network Administrator

With Cisco Meraki’s built-in client fingerprinting and Layer 7 application visibility, Corbett can quickly identify trends in bandwidth usage, like video or music streaming. “We found that our technicians were coming into work, firing up their iPhones, and streaming audio all day,” said Corbett, explaining that this caused a network bottleneck. “In a couple of mouse clicks, we were able to set traffic shaping rules on the public SSID.” This quickly blocked streaming and limited the amount of bandwidth that could be used for certain applications.

Not only can they monitor long-term trends, they are able to respond instantly if they notice abnormal activity.  “If we start to see a spike, we can drill down, see exactly where the traffic is coming from, troubleshoot, and make adjustments as necessary,” Corbett said.

“We can get a complete client list and see who is using up bandwidth at any point in time and then remotely blacklist them if needed,” Cheney added.

Cisco Meraki’s mobile device management solution facilitates on-the-fly troubleshooting as well. With Cisco Meraki’s Systems Manager installed on virtually every shop computer – eight or nine at each location – Sterling Autobody’s IT team can quickly access the devices remotely.  They have visibility into what applications are on each computer, what needs to be updated, and where the devices are located; IT can then quickly resolve any problems they encounter.

Day to day business is fast paced at each location.  Orders are continually coming in, computers need up-to-date configurations, custom applications need monitoring, estimators and insurance companies need WiFi access, and customer service representatives need access to corporate assets. Fortunately, granular reporting, centralized management, and easy but powerful configuration options make operating the nationwide network simple for Cheney and Corbett. 

“Even the ‘Make a wish’ feature is impressive,” said Cheney. “I made a wish and within a week, there was an update with that function!”