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Background

Shipley College is situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saltaire and offers practical, vocational and work-related courses including apprenticeships and both full-time and part-time courses across a range of sectors.  The 850 full-time and 4,000 part-time students flourish in a safe and calm environment which helps them achieve their potential and those of all ages enjoy learning in such a beautiful environment.

The college is determined to provide the highest quality, inspirational education and training that exceeds the ambitions of individuals, businesses and communities, and one way it can achieve that ambition is to support students and the 400 full-time staff with a first-rate IT system.

Tom Crowther is the Deputy IT Manager, and he, along with The IT Network Manager Craig Wyatt, two technicians and an apprentice are responsible for ensuring the smooth running of the technology systems across the college’s five buildings.

Situation

Working with a Wi-Fi system that was set up in 2013, laptop users were often finding that their devices wouldn’t log on to the network and were too slow to run.  This resulted in the IT team spending a lot of time responding to issues.

“Staff and students tend to work with laptops that belong to the college and are loaned to users by the library,” said Tom.  “While a laptop would usually log in without an issue the first time around, when a second user tried to log in when the laptop was in a different area or classroom, it would not consistently handover from one access point to another. It simply couldn’t find it and a restart would force the machine to pick up the closest access point. Roaming was also poor, and so all-in-all, users were getting quite frustrated.”

The IT team were also unhappy with the fact that the current system had a limited reporting process.  This meant there was no real analysis of internal traffic monitoring and the team couldn’t see which access points were being used the most, making troubleshooting difficult.

The college tendered for an up to date Wi-Fi system that could cope with the issues.  The college previously had 30 access points, but the tender asked for 55 at the very least as they wanted a solution that would improve coverage.  The college didn’t specify whether they wanted a cloud management system or a locally managed system, but they did require relevant reporting and one that was smart enough to cope with the issue of handover.

Solution

Stone successfully tendered for the work and we specifically recommended a Meraki cloud managed wireless solution.  The college had used Meraki previously for their now defunct mobile device solution, so were familiar with the system and liked it.

Stone has been a trusted IT provider for the college for many years, supporting with a number of hardware refreshes. Over the last 3 years, Stone have provided around 1200 devices.

“We already had a good relationship with Stone but even so, they did not take this for granted,” said Tom. After an initial demonstration at the BETT Show “Stone representatives came to meet us to take a further detailed brief and we set out our requirements,” said Tom.  “They made sure they had a detailed understanding of our needs and once they were confident they did, they invested a lot of their time explaining everything to us.”

Stone are a long-standing partner of Cisco Meraki, which means they have trusted resources, training and expertise on Meraki solutions, which enables them to deliver the most reliable advice and transfer of knowledge to their customers. Stone are also one of the few resellers to hold the Cisco Meraki Master accreditation, meaning they are vendor-certified leading partners in the delivery and support of Cisco Meraki solutions.

As customer service matters to Stone, they made sure Craig and Tom were comfortable in understanding how the Meraki solution worked. They provided a demonstration of the cloud infrastructure, explained how the signal is set up and showed the team how they could get the reporting system they wanted.

“Stone implemented our propriety ID with all the relevant addresses, this was compatible with our firewall and included a special configuration of addresses,” said Tom. “In fact, Stone was so thorough in explaining everything to us that we were able to set up the others, a guest Wi-Fi and a third-party Wi-Fi, ourselves.

“Essentially, they did all the ground work and we were able to replicate what they had done. Stone even refunded us some money because they didn’t have to do as much as they originally thought – needless to say, we were very impressed with their transparency.”

As the college is set in such a unique environment thanks to its listed building status, Stone made sure they correctly capacity planned and assessed the buildings to identify potential hot-spots and dead-spots across the campus. “After the comprehensive survey we received a detailed report showing the best locations for potential access points.” Stone outlined their conclusions and advised on the correct access points to ensure consistent coverage throughout the college. They also provided an increased spec on a couple of the Wi-Fi points where a heavier duty solution was necessary, such as the canteen where there were often more users.

The Stone team went into the college to set up the new access points, and this three day project was done during the summer holidays to minimise disruptions to students and staff. The installation involved running cables to the college comms cabinets and putting the access points to the walls of various rooms.

The college was delighted that everything worked from the word go. “Stone has access to our Wi-Fi system so they could monitor how it is working remotely,” added Tom.  “The switch over could not have gone any better – once it was in, it worked.”

The new system means the college now has access points that work directly with the internet so there is no single point of failure – if one should fail, all the others would continue to work independently. The previous system was centralised which meant if the controllers went down, the whole system would come down with them, so the new solution offered a far more consistent and reliable network. It also means there’s no bottleneck of traffic and the new system offers greater speed and better user experience.

Tom said: “The new Meraki solution has resulted in a dramatic and much improved user experience.  The college laptops can now move from one part of the college building to the other quite seamlessly.  There are no failures and this allows us to focus on other projects and demands.

“The wireless solution offered by Stone not only meets but exceeds the current and future mobile device numbers. Stone definitely recommend the right piece of kit for the problem.”

‘We really like working with Stone – they do a great job and they do it well.’

‘Getting in touch with Stone is easy and they have an excellent website for customers to use.’

‘Stone engineers feel like part of our team and we have a great relationship with them.’

Tom Crowther, Deputy IT Manager

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