Wales & West Housing (WWH) is a housing association managing more than 9,500 high quality, affordable homes across 12 local authorities in Wales. It employs almost 400 people to deliver their vision of strong, sustainable growth to make a positive difference in the lives of its 17,000+ residents.
The British government has set out a Digital Inclusion Strategy that aims to get 90% of the UK online and digitally capable by 2020. It’s estimated that over 4 million of the 8.7 million adults who have never been online in the UK live in social housing. “The strategy is very pertinent for us,” said Richard Troote, Head of ICT at WWH. “Almost half of our residents don’t have access to the Internet”. The government has partnered with various bodies including Go ON UK, a charity enabling digital skills in the UK, to help organisations such as housing associations to get their residents online.
WWH is rising to the challenge of digital inclusion by committing to provide its residents, guests and staff with Internet access. WWH had an experience base in traditional CLI and controller based Wi-Fi management. “The wireless architecture, which we would use at our offices wasn’t scalable,” explained Troote. “The cost of controllers, VPN infrastructure and not to mention their management meant they weren’t an option for this project.”
WWH first heard about Meraki in 2012 and talked in more detail with the Meraki team in attendance at IPEXPO in 2012. “The proposition that Meraki offered was very compelling,” commented Troote. “The ability to manage thousands of wireless access points, across numerous locations, on an extremely intuitive web-based interface ticked all our requirements.”
WWH evaluated Cisco Meraki access points for their wireless needs. “The access points were a fit for our requirements but what we were really taken aback by was the ease of installation,” said Troote. “We quickly realised we could roll out Cisco Meraki access points across all of our locations with the limited IT personnel we have.” Configuration of Cisco Meraki access points can be done entirely on the web-based dashboard, meaning that there is no need to physically interact with the devices. In this way, access points can be deployed without any IT staff onsite.
Deploying Meraki has taken away the complexity we were accustomed to, and that’s significantly reduced the pressure on our technical team to configure and manage the WiFi.
Head of ICT
To date, WWH has deployed Cisco Meraki cloud managed Wi-Fi across almost 20 of their locations in Wales. Before installation at a new WWH location, a site survey is completed to determine the optimal placements for the wireless access points. Typically, when a new location is going live, the network configuration is completed centrally by the ICT team and onsite installation is carried out by non IT staff. “There are no IT staff at 99.9% of our locations so being able to deploy, support and maintain the network remotely using the Cisco Meraki dashboard is really ideal for us,” said Troote.
The vast majority of sites have 2 secured SSIDs – one for staff and one for residents. WWH also utilise Cisco Meraki Systems Manager to manage employee devices. Systems Manager is a free mobile device management tool that is integrated into the same dashboard as the one WWH use for their wireless access points. “Employee devices are configured using Systems Manager for access to the employee SSID,” explained Troote.“This allows them to roam seamlessly across sites and access corporate resources whenever they’re at a WWH location.”
The Cisco Meraki dashboard has a range of security features and analytics are a significant benefit in delivering the service WWH designed for its residents. “Features such as the custom DNS filtering and layer 7 firewall capability built into the Cisco Meraki dashboard help us to provide what we consider to be an appropriately family safe network environment for our residents. The location analytics and summary reporting also gives us some information about how Internet access is helping our residents,” explained Troote.
When fully deployed, WWH will have Cisco Meraki cloud managed Wi-Fi spanning across more than 120 locations in Wales. “For the sites that are online, we’re providing the residents’ simple, reliable and cost-effective Wi-Fi,” said Troote. “That was the aim to begin with, and Meraki has played an integral role in enabling us achieve it.”
The Cisco Meraki centrally managed architecture has relieved a lot of pressure from technical team at WWH. “Before Meraki, our main experience with Wi-Fi was with traditional controller and CLI based systems,” explained Troote. “Deploying Meraki has taken away the complexity we were accustomed to, and that’s significantly reduced the pressure on our technical team to configure and manage the Wi-Fi.”
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