By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: In addition to e-mail, what other workloads at Westmont College have you moved to the cloud?
RS: We followed that with other projects based on community input here at Westmont. Another thing we really wanted to get right was wireless. When I arrived, the existing wireless setup covered approximately 30% of the campus, and the performance and liability in that was that it did not meet end user expectations.
I knew the 802.11n, the third-generation Wi-Fi standard for wireless networking, was going to be ratified shortly. Therefore, we made a decision that if it was possible, we would like to go in 802.11n. Our current radios on access points (APs) were not capable of upgrades, and we had a very traditional environment with controllers here at the main campus that managed the APs for users. We had sophisticated management tools to troubleshoot any problems. When I began to look into that, we came across a company in the process of our evaluation. This company is called Meraki. Meraki sells access points just like Cisco or Aruba Networks, but what’s different is that the entire management council for the deployment is cloud based. They also have mashed it up, which really works, and we are able to go from 30% coverage to 100% coverage of the campus with Meraki. We switched from b/g APs to 100% 802.11n, both indoors and outdoors, and managed the entire thing through Meraki’s cloud controller. As a result, we were able to get rid of all the internal controllers that were blades on the council here. The cost associated with purchasing those, that we may have required for the end project had we used an older setup, those costs all disappeared with our new Meraki’s cloud-based management setup. So, we were able to do this wireless project for probably 50% of that cost.
But again, the big win here is – I had one person who knew how to manage the wireless environment before because of the sophistication of the tool. In terms of the complexity, these new cloud-based tools are, if you are to look at them, a Google map. Google is an investor in Meraki. We have now ten or eleven people who are capable of regularly checking the health and state of the wireless network due to the simplicity of the interface, which distributes that management across a wider range of people because it is cloud based. The controller is constantly giving us additional features through the cloud interface, and it just shows up and our access points are updated, with no involvement from my IT team. Again, one controller for millions of access points, versus the multiple managers that are really widely available now, so it dropped the management of our wireless network dramatically again to a few hours a week. But now we have 802.11n wireless standard everywhere. We have a fast network everywhere, and it is easily managed, and I think it was largely possible because of the cloud-based controllers.
SM: Interesting! This service that Meraki offers, it seems like you don’t have just the management console, you actually have people monitoring the health of your deployment?
RS: Well, Westmont manages the entire network; Meraki doesn’t do that now. What they did do was make sure that the controller was always available, like any cloud vendor [would]; we all depend on these cloud services to access our systems.
SM: I think I got it wrong when you said 15 people are checking on the health of the environment; those are your people, not Meraki’s people, right?
RS: Right. I mean, I am one of them right now. I often go in and look, whereas before there would be no way that I would have known. I could use the tool in a very basic form, which we had before, but it was designed for a system administrator with significant training and expertise. I’ve got really good system administrators, and I don’t want to be one. But now, because the tool is browser based and designed for a middle-level person, there is a way to access, to really view what is going on for a much broader set of people across the campus. I think that at the end of the day, this really has helped us to deliver a more robust service that end users enjoy. We have had about a 300% increase in traffic since the network went live compared to what we had before. It is being used heavily, which is our supportive indicator that we got it right.
SM: Is there any other workload at Westmont that you have moved to the cloud?
RS: The role of vice president for advancement at Westmont includes responsibility for public relations, print and Web, electronic communications, and so on. I have that responsibility. In addition, there are the alumni, and the third area is fundraising. At the moment, we are in the middle of a capital campaign. We did not have customer relationship management (CRM) in place, so we wanted to do that. We looked at the enterprise resource planning (ERP) that we were using and saw what they had from the CRM perspective. We were just getting into that market, and it followed a very traditional model. Earlier, we would again buy a server or use another virtual machine, install software, and be trained on a new system. We wanted to see if there was a possibility of using Salesforce, so we went to Salesforce, made an agreement with them for a few licenses, and began to see if we could adapt this cloud-based product to meet our needs. Actually, in reality, we soon become confident that the tool could be really adjusted to meet what [we needed it] to do, fundraising versus sales.