Sometimes you write something that you know won’t fit into one post. This is the case for why I recently chose to use Ubiquiti for my entire wired and wireless infrastructure.
That is why I have chosen to break it up into a number of different parts, I am not sure how many posts it will be, so for now we will just start with part 1.
This post will show how I came to the conclusion to allow Ubiquiti to be part of the tender process.
I started working at Central Coast Grammar School in March 2017, upon my first week there the Director of ICT told me that I had the lovely job of undertaking 3 major projects scheduled to be completed by end of 2017.
- Server and Storage upgrade/replacement
- Wired and Wireless upgrade/replacement
- Backup Solution upgrade/replacement
Anyone of these products would be a big project, but I needed to get all three done throughout the year. I will speak about others at some point, but right now let’s focus on number 2.
I started looking into this and reviewed what the Director and I came up with as our wish-list for our wired and wireless replacement.
- Wireless AC (Wave 1 or Wave 2)
- Complete site coverage
- Single management/reporting interface
For our existing switching, we had been using HP Procurve (with a few Aruba branded switches for the odd warranty replaced switch). They did a fantastic job, and as someone who had worked on HP switches for the last 10 years, they were amazing. But my god they are expensive.
Our wireless was Aerohive, we had a mix of AP 121 up to a couple of AP 350. We didn’t have one per classroom and our outdoor coverage was somewhat there but not really. And in 2015 (granted I hadn’t been there for this) the school had had a big issue with Aerohive and a lot of packet loss. There had been firmware changes back and forth and eventually, Aerohive said they couldn’t fix it as it wasn’t a wireless issue. The Director brought in an amazing wireless expert who discovered that the issue was due packet lengths. After bringing evident to Aerohive they admitted the problem and undertook firmware patches. My main point is not too bad mouth Aerohive, but to point out we weren’t in love with Aerohive.
After reviewing gear that would work I had my first short-list.
- Cisco Meraki
It was after coming up with these vendors the Director pulled me into his office and told me that I also needed to think about replacing the bell systems within the next couple of years. This leads me to think of a wireless vendor I had used 6 years earlier. Ubiquiti.
I showed him the website about their EDU AP that included a speaker. He liked the idea and Ubiquiti were added to the list. But they were still not really trusted… by me. My previous roll-out had been because I needed to rollout wireless for an extremely small budget, and I ran 1 AC Pro (802.11 N) at home. For this, I decided that I needed to test them, but I didn’t want to pay for the test gear. I am a believer in getting test gear for free.
And for those who have used Ubiquiti, they sell their gear at such a low rate because they don’t waste money on test gear and the heavy marketing like others. So my initial emails out to them were met with responses of… “Ubiquiti don’t offer test gear because of their low prices. You are more than welcome to buy and if it doesn’t work out return the gear…”
While in theory, this is fine I didn’t really want to spend money on something I wasn’t even sure I wanted. So I kept going. I emailed a bunch of people and even twitted them. Finally, I was approached by a Mr Ben Klason at Leader Systems in Australia (where I am based). He advised me that I could get some test gear from him if I stopped trying to contact everyone.
Ben agreed to send me the following.
- 1x Edgeswitch
- 1x UniFI AP HD
- 4x UniFi AP EDU
The gear arrived within a few days and then I had to think about how I was going to test it.
Firstly I set about bringing them up and running on our existing network and mirroring our wireless settings so clients could connect without an issue. This took me a day but I got it done… hats off to the amazing Ubiquiti forums with plenty of support from UBNT Staff and passionate users. Plus Ty from Leader Systems also helped me get it done quickly.
Secondly, I needed to test it in a way that I knew our existing Aerohive system wouldn’t get in the way. To do this I choose our A Block, it was separated from the nearest building by about fifteen metres, and it was 4 classrooms with a couple of staff rooms. Plus we currently had 4 Aerohive AP’s in there. So it gave me a like for like replacement test.
Like a good Techy I went and spoke to the teachers first, it was positioned as asking permission exercise “Do you mind if we do a wireless test over a few weeks in A Block?” but let’s face it… it was more of an FYI and can you let me know how it goes. Who hasn’t done that?
The gear was installed and tested for the last 4 weeks of term.
NOTE: The UniFI EDU AP’s were installed without their speaker section. That would have required a 240mm hole cut-out in each room which I wasn’t prepared to do unless I knew I was going with Ubiquiti. However, an EDU without the enclosure is just a UniFi AP Pro… so it wouldn’t affect the test in any way.
What happened during that 4 week period I hear you ask. Nothing. I was rather disappointed that I didn’t hear anything from the staff. The 4 weeks came and went and then in the first week of the holidays, I added the speaker enclosure to test the sound and then happy with the results I packed up the gear and sent it back to Leader… by this point having borrowed it for about 2 months.
Then Term 3 started and I approached the teachers to ask how it went while I was finishing up my RFP’s and needed a final do I or don’t I go with Ubiquiti as well. I was meant with 2 types of responses… spoiler alert both were awesome.
“Oh yea, you were going to do that. When are you doing it?” – teacher response one. I was actually perfectly okay with this response. It meant that the system worked without any issues and meant I could install Ubiquiti without any interference to staff and students.
“It has been amazing… I can’t believe what a difference the new gear made.” – teacher response two. Enough said.
With that feedback, the Director and I were more than happy to add Ubiquiti to the RFP.
With that the short-list of vendors was complete.
- Cisco Meraki
Each vendor was sent our RFP with details of what I wanted to be quoted and a time frame.
NOTE: I had chosen that we would go with EdgeSwitch from Ubiquiti’s EdgeMax range. I knew that this meant I wouldn’t get my single management/reporting page. But I was okay with that for the advantage features EdgeSwitch gives over UniFi switches.