VMware NSX Breathes New Life Into Existing Hardware

The Hutto Independent School District (ISD), located in central Texas near Austin, has grown dramatically over the last decade. Enrollment has skyrocketed from about 1,000 students on a single site to nearly 7,000 students spread across nine campuses.

As the student population surged, the district also moved to digital classrooms, which put pressure on its IT staff to find solutions that delivered both cost savings and efficiency gains.

“Being a school district, we have to consider that everything comes out of taxpayer dollars, so we have to pick the right solution the first time. Tight budgets have encouraged us to develop creative solutions toward traditional problems,” says network administrator Chris Harding.

Cost and Time Savings With Virtualized Desktops

Hutto ISD chose to virtualize its desktop learning environment with VMware Horizon, a move that enabled students and teachers to securely access a single digital workspace from any device. It also saved the district $250,000 a year in power costs.

Additionally, Horizon virtual desktops doubled teaching time in the classroom. Previously teachers would spend up to 25 minutes moving students to and from computer labs. But once the district virtualized its desktops, students were able to access high-quality software and learning environments from anywhere via Chromebooks in the classrooms.

A Growing Program Presents New Challenges

The virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) program quickly grew to 10 times its expected size—from 150 to 1,500 virtual desktops. And with this rapid growth, Hutto ISD soon found that traditional network segmentation in the data center was simply not cutting it.

“I was spending probably five to six hours a week just working on getting things handled. There wasn’t that much more time I could afford to dedicate,” says Harding. “I was already working seven days a week.”

With the increasing number of users accessing the network on an increasing number of devices came security concerns and bottlenecked network traffic. Hutto ISD needed a solution that would address all of these challenges but not stretch beyond the district’s limited resources.

New Ways to Leverage Existing Hardware

Virtualizing the district’s network with VMware NSX network virtualization platform on top of existing Cisco networking hardware was the answer. NSX abstracts networking functionality and intelligence from the underlying hardware, much like server virtualization does for processing power and operating systems. And yes, NSX works in tandem with Cisco’s hardware-defined solutions. In fact, it was this combination that proved to be the right solution for Hutto ISD.

“We started looking at NSX as a way to grow the network to support that quantity of virtual machines without having to invest in more networking hardware,” says Hutto ISD network administrator Keith Reynolds.

Installing NSX enabled the district to significantly flatten its network and reduce maintenance time. The original VDI deployment took two days to connect 37 virtual networks. After deploying NSX, connecting those 37 virtual networks took 30 minutes total. Installing NSX, with its built-in load balancing capabilities, also reduced one full rack of networking hardware and eliminated the need for additional hardware.

And with micro-segmentation, NSX provided a valuable layer of security. Micro-segmentation enables Hutto ISD to develop fine-grained, flexible security policies for protecting student data that previously would have required a physical firewall for each workload.

“NSX gives us the agility to change and adapt our network design, especially in a virtual environment, without having to purchase new equipment and re-cable. It’s a great combination,” says Travis Brown the district’s director of technology.

Building for the Future

By choosing solutions from VMware, the district not only addressed current needs but positioned itself to tackle future problems presented by growth and tight budgets.

“We’re going to be able to scale this even if we grow to 15 or 20 times our size. It’s just going to keep working natively and the load will be distributed. When it comes time to replace the hardware, because the software won’t change, we can do that,” says Harding.

“We are looking forward to seeing where VMware takes us,” Harding concludes. “I think it’s been a huge foundation for what we see as success.”