Deploying Meraki access points and smart cameras, powered by the cloud platform, to elevate the student and staff experience across two campuses
Greatly reducing wireless troubleshooting time, which peaked at 60% of time spent
Using a technology partner from the Meraki Marketplace ecosystem to create an “at-home” experience for students to easily and securely enroll IoT devices in their dorms
Located in the heart of Richmond, the capital of Virginia since 1779, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) serves an integral role in the economic health of the city and the state, educating the current and future workforce, reaching out to the community, advancing research, and enhancing patient care.
VCU, the state’s largest four-year public university, enrolls over 31,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences, and humanities, and has a full-time faculty of more than 2,500 who are nationally and internationally recognized for excellence in the arts, business, education, engineering, humanities, life sciences, social work, and all the healthcare professions. With more than 10,000 employees, VCU also has a significant impact on Central Virginia’s economy.
For a vibrant university community of this size, in which students and staff are working, learning, and conducting research in more than 150 buildings spread across two metropolitan campuses, reliable highquality wireless connectivity is essential. While VCU’s existing campus wireless system was reliable and had served the university well over many years, it was not flexible enough to meet the rapidly evolving requirements of students and staff. With more than 4,000 access points, the network was extensive and complex and relied on numerous routers, wireless controllers, and other on-site equipment that was becoming increasingly challenging to manage.
An analysis conducted by VCU’s network services team revealed that more than 60% of trouble tickets were related to back-end issues, such as provisioning, configuring, maintaining systems, and keeping software versions on the many systems up-to-date. With the network services team’s two full-time engineers spending so much time dealing with these issues, they were not able to adequately address the needs of its user community, in particular the approximately 9,000 students that were living in VCU’s student dormitories.
To meet the wireless connectivity needs across its entire campus, VCU selected the Cisco Meraki cloud-based wireless solution.
The Meraki solution provides the VCU user community with unparalleled high-efficiency wireless connectivity, including better coverage, faster connections, and a seamless user experience. The solution has also enabled VCU to deploy several different types of wireless access points to serve students and faculty in different settings, including university offices, boardrooms, outdoors and, most importantly, within student dorms.
A top priority for VCU is to ensure that students living on campus have the same online experience they enjoy at home. That means being able to connect seamlessly to the network from within their dorms so they can meet their academic requirements, but also to enjoy a high-quality online experience when using gaming systems, smart speakers, and other connected devices during their leisure time.
By working with SplashAccess, a Meraki technology partner whose application is integrated into the Meraki cloud-based platform, VCU students can easily and securely enroll and manage all of their devices on the VCU network even before they step on campus, drastically minimizing help desk tickets and intervention from IT. Once connected, students enjoy a superior online experience with improved coverage and faster connections.
Thanks to the simplicity of the Meraki solution and the analytics provided by Meraki Health, the effort required to manage the network has decreased dramatically. No longer spending 60% of their time maintaining and upgrading on-site wireless controllers and other equipment, network services engineers now have the ability to configure and manage all of the university’s 4,000 access points via the cloud, eliminating cost and complexity. In addition, the Meraki browser-based dashboard, part of the Meraki platform, makes it possible to shift some management responsibilities to other members of the operations team, which has resulted in faster overall response times to user inquiries.
Most importantly, the network services team has been freed up to focus its attention on supporting a variety of new use cases, as faculty and students continue to explore the ways in which wireless technology can be used to meet their research and learning goals.
For example, VCU was able to leverage data from Meraki access points during the global pandemic to understand movement and density patterns of students in dorms and elsewhere on campus to ensure they were adhering to social distancing guidelines. With the assistance of these advanced analytics to safeguard the health of its students, VCU has had fewer outbreaks compared to its sister universities.
Making the switch to the Cisco Meraki cloud-based wireless solution was a major project for VCU that involved replacing all access points across VCU’s 150+ buildings. Despite the scope of the project, combining the ease of configuration and implementation with Meraki, and with close collaboration between Meraki and their preferred partner, VCU was able to complete the implementation in six months—twice as fast as planned.
The Meraki solution has also proven to be cost-effective. Along with the near-term savings it has realized by reducing the day-to-day management of its existing systems, VCU projects significant cost savings over the next ten years, a fact which played a major role in its selection of Meraki. The physical footprint of the Meraki solution is much smaller than that of the system it’s replacing, with fewer devices to operate and pay maintenance on, and fewer devices to cause problems. What’s more, key performance indicators point to an improved user experience. Since deploying the Meraki solution campus wide, VCU has seen trouble tickets decline and fielded far fewer complaints from students and staff.
Looking ahead, VCU is excited about the Meraki solution’s potential to support innovation and growth. As an example, VCU recently deployed MV smart cameras across their campuses. As new requirements and innovative use cases emerge, the VCU team is confident the Meraki cloud-based solution—comprising connectivity products, IoT devices, and a platform with an ecosystem of partners—will enable them to provide the best possible service to their diverse user community.