I have approximately a year to decide on a wireless network system for the grammar school I work in. Currently we're utilising a basic system of around 20 independent AP's from 3COM, that have been as useful as chocolate teapots for the last few years. Over this time, we've got to the stage where we're having to restart the AP's at least twice a day. They were initially implemented in order to merely provide wireless coverage as a primary goal, for the insignificant amount of wireless devices we had. We're now at the stage where we have 1200 students and in excess of 150 staff. Staff have access to our internal wireless, but students are asking for net connection, which we refuse to offer in terms of internal access without filtering. What we intend to do is set up an external wireless system for guests, that follows our standard internet filtering (provided by Smoothwall, we're perfectly happy with this filtering method). Our current set up is simply not viable for such density of users, or the required bandwidth. It's so unreliable, we simply can't offer it to anyone in good faith, because it reflects badly on us. We haven't been given funding for a wireless project until recently, the Head teacher has decided to fund us in 2015 to get a proper, future proof, effective and most importantly reliable solution to work for us for the foreseeable future. We have narrowed our ideas down to 6 companies: Ruckus, Meru, UniFi, Aruba, Aerohive, and Meraki. We're looking for sheer density in specific areas, of the school, where BYOD will be taking precedent. These areas will be the 6th form (16-18 year olds for our American readers), where projects will be on the higher bandwidth side of things, and we're looking at peaks of up to 200 users spread across 2 rooms next to each other, known as the common room(the social space where they tend to do work outside of class hours). Standard coverage for the rest of the building would be ideal, we're looking at approximately 10-20 devices that will actually be utilised in the entire sixth form building during lessons, excluding the common room area where main the device density is. For this general coverage area, we're looking for solid, reliable, not necessarily fast connection. We don't want to have to touch this wireless system once it's up and running. It just needs to work, and deal with roaming users and connection by itself (On this note, Aerohive's webinar covered a great deal about roaming users and handover of connection between wireless AP's, and this was particularly interesting to us). In the high density areas, we're looking for absolute connection, and support for over 50 devices per AP. We're happy to put up to 4 AP's between these 2 or 3 rooms to provide the density requirements, but we need that connection to have enough bandwidth for those users, and ensure the AP's aren't fighting over each other for the devices connection. Proper aggregation protocols and hand overs will be implicit to this area, because we don't want users to drop or get slowed down too much because of the density of mobile devices. Nearly 100% of our sixth form students own an iOS or Android phone which they have in school with them, and a smaller percentage actually bring in their laptops despite not having wireless available to them. To that end, we're looking for 802.11AC as well as the obvious G and N on the 2.4Ghz band and 5Ghz band. We don't require AC right now, but we're looking to do this job right in the first place, and not have to touch it for a while. Meraki's webinar seemed to go on about their cloud based solution providing filtering, we're not interested in that in the slightest, we're only after a solid wireless connectivity platform that is self maintaining on the firmware/software side of things. Any extra gubbins that require technician hours to maintain are a downside to the system. We have better systems in place than these alternatives a managed wireless system can offer, so we simply aren't interested. We have a whole new Art and Drama block being built, and while the devices may not be so dense or high in bandwidth requirement, something that has briefly been touched on is video camera streaming. We've had a couple of students asking if they can stream videos from the video camera equipment over to a computer instead of having to copy over the data or use a cable into a projector. While this isn't a main priority, I think it would be something to look into out of future interest. The rest of that entire building will be purely about coverage, as we don't foresee much density requirement for Art or Drama. Two areas in particular are the Foreign Languages and English blocks, which are both identical in terms of the way they've been built. They're duplicate buildings, with two floors, and 3 classrooms on the lower floor and 4 classrooms on the upper floor. In these buildings we have 1 wireless point on the upper floor, smack bang in the middle of the block to cover the entire block (again, coverage is the priority here, as density is not something we foresee). The wireless in some of these rooms is pretty poor, occasionally students loan laptops and in the corners the signal is non-existent. In these areas we are looking for absolute solid coverage and connection, with zero black zones. We have 2 IT rooms parallel to each other, where device density and bandwidth requirement will be much higher. A fair few students will be using wireless devices, and the teachers in these lessons have wireless devices which they use in certain lessons (android tablets etc). This will possibly be one of the higher wireless priority rooms compared to the rest of the main building. Our art block is directly below our Science block(one of the largest departments in the school), and only has 3 of our relatively poor 3COM AP's covering this entire area. This is also an area similar to the MFL and English block, that could certainly use some solid coverage with little to no black spots, but device density here is minimal. Following from the cloud based management, we're not so keen. These solutions provide hardware that only works based upon a subscription. We don't want useless hardware after 5 years because the management system that resides over it is not being used any more. If we choose to switch the management system to an alternative controller, whether it be physical or cloud based, we want our hardware to work. A prime example of this was a hospital a few years ago in Britain. They had a cloud based system, and good quality AP's. When they decided to stop paying their cloud management subscription and opt for a more price competitive alternative, that company then actively transmitted interference on the AP's they weren't managing any more, because the AP's talk directly to that company when connected in any way to the internet. You may wonder if these AP's were contracted to be only used on that management system, but they weren't, the hospital was within their right to use the hardware on an alternative management system. We're not keen on cloud based AP management. It's just one more thing separating us from possible issues that could arrive in the future. As of this moment, cloud based systems to us, are not a solution, they are a problem. The reliability is not there, the option to quickly switch out a piece of faulty hardware isn't there, the control is not there, and the security, no matter how secure these companies claim their cloud based systems are, is simply not as good as having a physical device in our server room we know nobody can access besides us. Cloud based management is a ransom, not a service. While I understand things are moving that way, it's a preference. That being said, if the actual best system available, with the best possible service for our needs is cloud based, then we will cautiously consider it. Sometimes these things become the going standard and we just have to adapt. UniFi interests us a lot. We're happy to put in some extra man hours to get the initial system set up, especially when it's open source and cheap, and allows us to hack and slash away at the set-up as we see fit. It's a very cost effective solution, and seems to be the most "DRM-Free" style of wireless we've seen. The only issue is we haven't heard reviews on the actual quality or performance of the physical AP's. If they're strong contenders on the hardware side, they're a likely winner in my eyes. Once set up though, we want these things to just work as I said above, no nonsense like having to change channels afterwards. Ruckus have been the most raved about managed wireless service. Every IT worker we've spoken to so far has either had a Ruckus system and sung its praises, or purchased another system, visited a school with Ruckus, and then decided that was their next Christmas present on the list. From what I've heard on EduGeek, they're very reliable, and no nonsense. We're not the kind of people that follow the saying "nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco". While their offering, Meraki, is price competitive, after watching their webinar, they seemed to just advertise what wonderful things their cloud system could do, that essentially had nothing to do with the actual wireless connection. They didn't touch on AC, they didn't touch on any special technologies like handover, or any fancy automated systems they had under their belt. They waffled on about their switches. We don't care, we have good new switches, and we already have web filtering. We're happy to listen to the gritty technical details of the hardware, and do some research if we don't understand what we hear, but we're not looking for anything beyond a strong wireless system. Aruba and Meru are two companies I've literally never heard of, but some guys on EduGeek mentioned their names on the subject, so we're looking into them too. After going through all the details of all six, we're eventually going to knock it down to two and get into the gritty details of the systems. From their we're happy to leave the two companies to battle it out for pricing. Both Meraki and Aerohive are sending us one AP to test, we're hoping the other four companies will do the same. So far Meraki have been quite helpful and quick to set us up on their cloud service even though we don't have a wireless system to manage, which in itself is a benefit that I can honestly see. Of the two Aerohive actually told us the technical details we wanted to hear, but of course I'll be contacting each company individually in order to give them the chance to go into detail about what their system can promise us. In the event one of the companies does not offer us a demo system (just an AP, and a simple way to manage it), then they're struck from the list. We like to try before we buy. I've mentioned 802.11AC earlier, this is also a must. We won't be buying a managed wireless system without it. As a team we've always thought exceedingly long and hard about every project decision until both the reps and we are exhausted, and as such, we receive nothing but positive response from our end users. At the end of the day, if our users aren't happy with the system, we aren't. Our view is, if we hear nothing about it all year round, odds are the system is doing its job just fine. We have a year to decide, so we will exhaust every option until we're happy. While talking directly to the reps from each company will give us the factual details we need, I'm looking to get actual in-use recommendations and advice. Any issues, gripes, and general banter about your managed wireless systems in the workplace would be greatly appreciated.