What do you get when you provide 12,800 kids with technology and programming classes? You get 12,800 people who are getting ready for the modern workforce of today and tomorrow. You also get 12,800 potential vulnerabilities. With the growing quantity of phishing emails, ransomware and malware that Coppell Independent School District (CISD) already had to combat with a small staff, this Texas school system was looking for smarter solutions.

“All these students who have taken programming classes, they’re often looking to bypass administrative privileges, looking for ways around the internet filters, or looking for ways to play games on the school computers,” said Stephen McGilvray, CISD Executive Director of Technology. “So, in addition to all these external threats we have to worry about, we also have a bunch of homegrown, internal threats.”

The school district recently underwent a data center refresh, which included updates for VMware vSphere, VMware App Volumes and VMware Horizon, and launched the implementation of VMware NSX Data Center. During the refresh, their VMware sales rep told them about a relatively new security product called VMware AppDefense.

At its core, AppDefense shifts the advantage from attackers to defenders by determining and ensuring good application behavior within the data center, instead of continuing the losing battle of attempting to identify unknown threats within the internal network.

AppDefense looks to prevent the execution and propagation of attacks with a combination of application allowlisting and behavioral awareness. It also integrates into NSX Data Center to prevent the lateral spread of threats with adaptive micro-segmentation. Security is enforced at the most granular level of an app – the process level – and micro-segmentation of the network stops an attack in its tracks.

“Before, our security footprint had a strong dependence on keeping people out,” said Systems Engineer James Holloway. “We didn’t have much in place for mitigation, if and when somebody did get through.”

“The AppDefense message really resonated with us,” said McGilvray. “With a small technology team serving 17 schools, anything that saves us time is appreciated. We liked that AppDefense integrated easily with NSX and into our VMware stack, to add another layer of security.”

CISD started its AppDefense journey by protecting its most critical systems, including file servers and student information databases – “The things that would cause the most headaches if they were compromised,” said Holloway. “Along the way, we’ve gotten a better understanding of how all our systems communicate. You think of your servers, and each has different services, but from a technical standpoint we were surprised to see just how much data is going in and out. That drill-down opened our eyes to how much we might have been missing.”


Secure, Game-changing App Delivery

Horizon and App Volumes are another significant part of CISD’s VMware footprint. The school district uses Horizon to provide remote access for students and teachers. Students can securely access their school desktops and applications and access school apps from anywhere using their school-issued Apple iPads, with security underpinned by NSX Data Center and AppDefense.

Holloway calls App Volumes a “game changer. We’re able to easily provide whatever apps our teachers need and meet their expectations.” He noted that while 90 percent of the school district’s devices are Apple, the district has purchased many programs over the years that are Windows-only or have other system restrictions. CISD uses App Volumes to deliver those apps to any endpoint, regardless of infrastructure or operating system.”


Flexible and Responsive for the Future

CISD’s IT team appreciates the flexibility they’ve seen from their software-defined data center refresh. Using virtualization and hyperconverged infrastructure, they were able to shrink their hardware footprint and related costs such as power and cooling. “Our systems are fairly static and don’t change that much,” said McGilvray. “Yet, when we do need to make a change, we can make it quickly, scale it out and give people what they need. That’s just gotten better and better as VMware has refined its products over the years.”

In the future, CISD plans to expand their AppDefense and NSX Data Center footprints to more secondary systems. With AppDefense, “We know we’ll be alerted when something isn’t operating within its normal parameters. said Holloway. “For us, the value of AppDefense lies in having peace of mind.”


Learn more about VMware AppDefense.