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The Chinese University of Hong Kong Simplifies IT Infrastructure and Improves Security with F5

Founded in 1963, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is a comprehensive academic research leader with some 20,000 students and around 7,600 staff. As the leading Hong Kong institution, CUHK needed to meet demands of an increasingly connected and mobile user base of students and academic staff. Using F5 Application Delivery Controller (ADC) with VIPRION chassis, it was able to enhance the performance of apps, reduce its IT footprint, and improve security posture. 

Business Challenges

CUHK has partnered with F5 for more than 10 years throughout its journey to becoming a leading research institution. During this time, it has seen significant growth and evolution, both in terms of its infrastructure and its users. The internet has driven a tremendous change in the way users interact with CUHK’s IT infrastructure. Today’s staff and students use a multitude of smart devices both off and on campus to connect to the internet, driving high volume of traffic. Coupled with this is a growing use of applications, both on the education side and across the user base.

“Like any modern global institution, we faced rapid digitalization across our business, and our infrastructure always need to keep up with the pace of development. Our budgets made it challenging to deliver solutions that served both our security requirements and our user access needs,” says Che-Hoo Cheng, associate director (infrastructure) of IT services, CUHK.

This all contributed to a fundamental change in the role of IT at CUHK, and raised concerns about its ability to successfully handle future demand. CUHK had deployed multiple pairs of BIG-IP Local Traffic Managers (LTM) for mission critical applications in the data center, but this current infrastructure needed refresh for today’s mobile and digital era.

The university needed to upgrade platforms and tools to meet higher users demand, improve traffic management and the performance of applications. With the increased number of devices accessing its network and the sheer variety of web applications, CUHK also needed a solution that would mitigate a new generation of sophisticated cyber threats.

“We needed a solution that was agile and intelligent enough to deal with an evolving user base and sophisticated threat landscape. The technology also needed to be flexible to cope with changing demands and use cases, and that could be upgraded or enhanced easily in future.”

We needed a solution that was agile and intelligent enough to deal with an evolving user base and sophisticated threat landscape. The technology also needed to be flexible to cope with changing demands and use cases, and that could be upgraded or enhanced easily in future. Che-Hoo Cheng, Associate Director (Infrastructure) of IT Services, CUHK

Solution

As an existing customer, CUHK knew that F5’s expertise in application delivery networking and application security would offer the most scalable and secure solution. Plus F5’s solution could easily be built on top of the existing infrastructure. F5 partnered with the IT team at CUHK to design an architecture that was flexible enough to cope with fluctuating demand, and robust enough to deal with cyber threats. It centralized the existing pairs of LTM into F5’s VIPRION 2400 chassis platform which gave CUHK the flexibility to add or remove blades to scale capacity according to traffic demand.

F5 tailored the implementation of the VIPRION platform specifically for CUHK, building a solution that answered the immediate traffic and security needs, but also anticipated future demand. The F5 team worked closely with the CUHK engineers to install VIPRION alongside the existing infrastructure, minimizing downtime and disruption.

A key element of this project was F5’s SSL Everywhere architecture which is part of every BIG-IP deployment, enabling F5 to have visibility and control over all SSL/TLS traffic. This is particularly important in an era when SSL is quickly becoming the de facto protocol for encrypted communications, but is also susceptible to attacks from cybercriminals and malware that attempt to exploit security loopholes.

F5’s full proxy architecture enables conversion and decryption seamlessly, while implementing separated connections for both internal and external communications. Given its adaptability and robust configuration, CUHK benefitted from maximum SSL encryption functionality, improving its security profile across the organization without sacrificing performance.

“The ability for us run a secure yet flexible network was our key consideration throughout this project. F5’s solution allowed us to tailor the VIPRION platform to our needs, but also anticipate future growth and functionality. The SSL feature has better protected the University from the growing threat landscape.”

Benefits

CUHK now enjoys a less complex but robust IT infrastructure, improved performance, and enhanced ability to mitigate threats.

Optimized IT; simplified network

One of the greatest benefits from this implementation has been a vastly optimized IT infrastructure. F5 helped CUHK achieve its goal of modernizing its platforms to deal with the influx of smart devices, web applications, and other traffic loads on the network. The solution allowed CUHK to consolidate devices, saving power, space, and management costs. Plus the inherent processing power of VIPRION means that application servers can be explored to their full potential, increasing capacity and efficiency.

On-demand scaling

CUHK can scale its IT resources up and down seamlessly according to demand. Blades can be added onto the existing system without impacting the user experience, and this translates into high efficiency and productivity because the university no longer has to spend time and money installing new devices each time it needs to upgrade.

Security enhanced; confidence boosted

The concerns about multiple devices accessing the university network and traffic security are now allayed from an enhanced VIPRION system. Additionally, the SSL adoption has provided CUHK with an efficient network security architecture.

“The VIPRION system provides CUHK with a fast virtual application delivery provisioning platform, with the flexibility to change and to adapt to increased and growing demands of different university platforms and application systems in different networks.”