Empowering Charitable Work with Scalable Cloud Networking Technology

How one of the world’s largest charities keeps data flowing across the globe.

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Cisco Meraki

Like most charitable organizations, The Salvation Army relies on volunteer help. Volunteers around the world serve people in need at service centers, retail stores, and satellite offices in metropolitan cities, rural communities, and at the scene of disaster areas. All of these locations have to stay online, connected, and sharing data, but with such a wide range of sites, networking is a challenge. Add in staff with varying levels of expertise and locations ranging in size from with one person at a small satellite office to hundreds at international headquarters, and you quickly have a very complicated situation on your hands.

The wide variety of spaces and available talent to manage IT infrastructure has created a nightmare for network administrators trying to keep data flowing where it needs to go. That is, until the organization began upgrading to next-level networking, making configuration, setup, and maintenance of networks at each location far easier, and freeing up personnel—volunteer and otherwise—for more productive work.

“Deploying 600 sites is kind of a daunting task,” said Randy Hann, Director of Infrastructure for The Salvation Army’s Western Territory.  That's especially true for a nonprofit with what Haan calls “a very, very tight budget constraint.” Even so, Haan and his team found a way not only to deploy networks at isolated Salvation Army locations quickly and affordably, but also to maintain them remotely with a small, centralized staff. The key to their success is cloud networking technology from Cisco Meraki.

Networking for Good

The Salvation Army counts 1.5 million people as members and serves millions more around the world. In the United States alone, the organization operates from more than 7,600 locations in four territories.

The Western Territory covers 600 networked locations from the Rocky Mountains across the western United States, including Alaska, and across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and Micronesia. “Within those,” said Haan, “there's varying levels of sophistication, from massively staffed call centers down to service centers with just one person at them.”

Not too long ago, network infrastructure for each of the centers was a unique mix of gear from a variety of vendors, with no easy path to upgrades, maintenance, or monitoring. To make an upgrade, for example, Haan and his staff would organize what they jokingly called “router parties,” which were anything but a fun time. They would have to fly out to the region requiring upgrades and spend hours manually configuring all of the new equipment. "I remember at one ‘party’ we were [at] a Marriott residence someplace,” said Haan. “And at about 2:30 in the morning, the cleaning staff kicked us out.”

Change couldn't come soon enough. And finally, after many years of “router parties,” Haan and team found the solution they were looking for through cloud-managed technology from Cisco Meraki.

Help from Above

After a member of Haan’s team introduced the group to a Cisco Meraki wireless access point (AP), the team set-up a test case at a few key sites and they never looked back.

For Haan, it was a dream come true. "It had always been my wish, that you could just plug in a solution, it would phone home, and the configuration would install itself,” recalled Haan. “That was my dream for 10 years prior to Meraki, and here I was, presented with a solution that could do just that.”

Cisco Meraki’s cloud-based configuration, management, and monitoring capabilities make Haan’s wish list possible. These days, “router parties” are a thing of the past, and  the team now configures new APs and other equipment in the cloud and has them shipped to locations that need them. There, someone with little to no networking experience can plug them in and get them working immediately.

The devices are novice-proof in other ways as well: they come with built-in redundancy for Internet access in the form of cellular wireless cards.

Even after an administrative assistant at one of the Salvation Army stores in Haan’s territory mistakenly canceled the store's Internet account, purchases continued to process normally - thanks to cellular Internet access - while Haan’s team worked to reestablish more affordable terrestrial connectivity. “We’d been trying to get that Internet reestablished, but the store had absolutely no knowledge of that,” said Haan. “All the transactions operated just flawlessly. That's a beautiful thing.”

Also beautiful is the better level of service the organization can provide, thanks to staffers and volunteers unencumbered by networking challenges.

To learn more, visit meraki.com/worksimple

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