Saigon South International School (SSIS) is a private international school in HCM City. With a vast campus spread across 6 hectares, the campus board has decided to use the Cisco Meraki better to manage all campus activities with three buildings, covering elementary school, middle school, and high school, as well as a large outdoor area and green space.
David Perkin, ICT Director responsible for managing the system, explains how to apply the network on campus.
1. Can you describe your network operations and your challenges before adopting Meraki?
Before moving our network to the Cisco Meraki solution, we could only manage traffic at the network level (layer 3). We can now control traffic at the application layer (layer 7).
With the ability to manage traffic at the application layer, we can sort traffic according to which application or service the traffic is trying to reach and the specific contents of that traffic. This gives us much better control over the network and balances the traffic on the network.
2. Why did you decide to choose, and how do you apply to Cisco Meraki?
With more than 1,200 students and 250 faculty and staff on campus, SSIS needs to find a new solution that will help manage our bandwidth and network traffic to reduce costs and facilitate learning.
After extensive research, several factors made Cisco Meraki the clear choice for our needs. For one, the Cisco Meraki dashboard is unparalleled in giving us the best oversight of our network. Also, as Internet bandwidth is a major expense for us, the ability to limit Facebook, Instagram, and social media traffic is a must, as it is in any school environment. So, the Cisco Meraki solution allows us to manage network traffic at the application layer is a huge plus and has saved us upwards of 30 per cent on our Internet bandwidth costs.
We apply the configuration for firewalls, switches, and wifis through Meraki Cloud. It’s quick and easy. My team manages the deployment in stages — starting with the MX400 security appliance, followed by switches and wireless access points.
The deployment of Meraki is straightforward compared to other vendors. Using the Meraki cloud-based dashboard, my team configured the switches and access points even before arriving in Vietnam. With only three IT technicians at a distributed campus, the ease of deployment helped the team.
Once they receive the shipment, all the team needs to do is push the configuration they had set in the cloud, plug the switch and access point into the Internet, and it would download the configurations. This allows the SSIS team to have a speedy deployment process.
3. How about the results after using the system, especially amid the pandemic?
The Cisco Meraki solution allows us to set up virtual private networks (VPNs) quickly, so our business office staff can easily and securely work from home as if they were on the campus network.
The installation of Meraki has enabled the school to use technology to improve teaching and learning. With wireless now covering the entire school campus, students have the flexibility of learning from anywhere.
Many elementary students use iPads outside to look and research in the garden areas, specifically to take pictures for a science unit of insects, plants, or flowers. With the school wireless, this learning process is seamless and easy for them.
The team can manage different levels of network access for students and teachers in different grade levels. We want to use Active Directory to define other groups and set up policies based on whether they are students in high school or middle school or whether they are teachers or employees, and this is something that Meraki allows us to do.
4. What does this mean for SSIS's upcoming strategy?
The flexible Cisco Meraki solution is an integral part of our network infrastructure and will continue as the school expands. In the last few years, we have grown from 500 students to over 1,200. We’ve easily been able to expand our network resources to handle the increase in users and network demand.
5. Did you experience any challenges while using Cisco Meraki at your school?
We have had very few issues deploying the Cisco Meraki. The cloud-managed system makes adding and deploying new switches and access points easy. Honestly, I’m happy to report that my team spends very little time on deployment, which gives them more time to deal with other issues.
The Meraki support team quickly resolved the few minor issues we have had. They have been very professional and readily available when needed.
The team used to experience cable damage often, with no way to determine which cables needed to be replaced quickly. Sometimes a cable may not work properly from water damage or animal damage.
With Meraki, we can run a cable test to see if the cable is damaged. In some instances, a damaged cable would only allow one-tenth of the throughput, which slowed down the connection. Meraki also enables us to identify the damaged cable from the dashboard. In the past, we had to spend a lot of time and energy troubleshooting why students in a section of the campus were complaining about an Internet issue. Now we can go, look at the dashboard, test the connection, and tell that there’s an issue with a cable, saving us a lot of time.
6. As an ICT Director of an education organisation, can you please share more about your strategy to ensure security for everyone at the school, especially with hybrid learning is considered the future of education?
Thanks to the Meraki Dashboard, we can set allowlist policies and apply them to specific networks giving us excellent granular control over users' activities while ensuring user privacy.
7. Do you have any recommendations for other schools?
I highly recommend the Cisco Meraki solution to schools. The Cisco Meraki solution has significantly reduced the time we need to spend on setup and has been well worth the investment. Before the Cisco Meraki solution, we spent many hours on device setup, deployment, and maintenance of network devices. This solution has freed up our time so we can enjoy our Friday nights again.