Electrical contractor deploys cloud-managed WiFi for job sites, trailers, and HQ
Zero-touch outdoor APs set up in minutes for temporary networks at harsh job sites
Corporate LAN with RADIUS 802.1X AD and separate guest access at HQ
Doug Schremp, CTO of Sullivan & McLaughlin, the largest union electrical and tel/data contractor in New England, knows all about the challenges of the construction industry: temporary work sites, blueprints that
change by the day, and mechanical dust everywhere.
Schremp has been with “Team SullyMac” for over five years, directing a small network engineering team that supports a dozen or more construction projects and other network projects at a time. Sullivan & McLaughlin works closely with large general contractors, providing temporary electricity, core and shell deployments, and final fixture fit-outs. Of the approximately 500 employees, 400 of them are in hard hats and work boots on construction sites every day, while the other 100 manage projects, human resources, or accounting at headquarters.
“We started using Meraki for customer hotzones four years ago, and we love the cloud management,” Schremp said. For example, SullyMac did the installation and cabling of over 300 Cisco Meraki APs for the City of Boston, as well as managing a large Cisco Meraki deployment at Merrimac College.
Schremp is equally enthused about deploying Cisco Meraki on construction job sites. “The biggest challenge we have, when we go on a new job site, is that there’s no infrastructure at all,” he explained. “No walls, no power in the building, so essentially what you’re being asked to do is to build a WiFi network outside. With Meraki all we have to do is get an Internet connection onsite, then give the guys a stack of Meraki APs to plug in, and the APs come up on the dashboard.”
Schremp utilizes Cisco Meraki’s built-in DHCP servers to manage all clients. “I don’t have to preconfigure anything or worry about downloading software,” he said. “We can even have the APs mesh when we need to expand connectivity.” He also uses the mesh capability to confirm that the AP radios are working properly on different frequencies, rather than going on site to survey the wireless.
Schremp explained that most WiFi solutions that would be appropriate for temporary job sites don’t provide centralized management or security features, but he argues that these are especially critical on these sites. “We need guest access and security, because the network is running all the onsite coordination and paperwork.” he said.
Meanwhile, he’s also equipped the job site trailers with Cisco Meraki hardware. “We need the VPN capabilities of the Meraki APs for the laptops, iPads, iPhones, printers, and everything else we’ve got out there,” he said. “They can tunnel back, giving remote job sites access to corporate resources, and there’s no need for VPN concentrators or VPN clients on laptops. We want to make it as easy as possible for our users – so that when they attach to the SSID, it’s the same SSID on the job site as it is at the office, so their wireless experience is the same.” Schremp noted that all the company iPhones and other devices are enrolled in Cisco Meraki’s free mobile device management solution, Systems Manager. “That gives us remote management, remote wipe, location services, and more,” he said.
The built-in centralized management provided by the Cisco Meraki cloud managed solution is key, Schremp said, because it means that there’s no need for him or his small staff to go to the job site to troubleshoot. Rather, he can see his entire network from anywhere via the web-based dashboard. “It’s a long drive to any of our sites, and physically parking your car and getting into a job site is never trivial,” Schremp said. “Every job site has requirements for safety training, so to send an administrator on site to check on something means he has to go through those requirements first. Meraki’s remote troubleshooting helps me keep people off job sites when they don’t have to be there.”
With Meraki all we have to do is get an Internet connection onsite, then give the guys a stack of Meraki APs to plug in, and the APs come up on the dashboard. Doug Schremp, Chief Technology Officer
Most recently, Sullivan & McLaughlin has been working closely with Turner Construction on the Vertex Pharmaceutical high rise in Boston’s Innovation District. Along with the core and shell contract, SullyMac is also providing WiFi for Turner’s engineering and project management staff. “Turner is viewing Internet connectivity and WiFi at the same level as power for the job sites,” he said.
Schremp decided to use MR62s, Cisco Meraki’s outdoor access point model, to withstand the active job site’s unique environment. “Drywall dust, cement dust — those do horrible things to equipment,” he noted. He deployed one Meraki AP on every other floor and configured two SSIDs: one for SullyMac employees and another for Turner Construction. SullyMac employees can connect securely to headquarters, while Turner has guest access that goes straight to the Internet.
Schremp noted that WiFi connectivity has proven increasingly important in the construction industry, as companies like Sully Mac and Turner adopt new technology on site. In particular, iPads are growing in popularity for how they enable mobility. “All of our employees have iPhones, and our foremen all have iPads. The world is different when you have cement floors rather than carpet,” Schremp joked. “A normal laptop is not going to survive in the construction environment the same way an iPad can. Laptops have mechanical keys, and dust will get into them.” In addition, he said, iPads have a longer battery life.
Reliable and secure WiFi on a construction site makes communication more efficient and environmentally-friendly. The latest AutoCAD drawing iteration can be instantly viewed from a tablet without being physically printed and sent to the site. “Historically, there’s been so much paper generated on job sites, so many revisions of huge sheets of drawings,” Schremp said. “Now, with it all being moved into iPads electronically, it makes takeoff significantly easier on the job site.” To Schremp, offering wireless on sites reduces construction errors, lowers budget costs, facilitates team coordination, and saves paper.
Back at headquarters, Schremp also deployed Cisco Meraki wireless APs configured with two SSIDs: the corporate wireless integrated with RADIUS 802.1x AD, as well as a separate open guest access network. The warehouse too is equipped with wireless to enable employees to work on iPhones and iPads. “We use wireless to support administrative functions as well as an inventory tracking tool with bar-coding,” Schremp said. “Wireless provides mobility.”