Case Study

With Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Firewall, Chinese International School clinches 25–30% time savings

With Zero Trust, the school gains increased visibility and ease of management ahead of schedule.

Just talk to Alvin Chung, IT Infrastructure Manager and Sunil Talwar, Deputy Director of Operations at the Chinese International School (CIS), and you’ll see how passionate they are about cybersecurity. They are invested in protecting student and staff data privacy. The two have worked in conjunction for over 20 years as decision-makers on technology, cybersecurity, and future planning when it comes to the school.

CIS was established 37 years ago, and when Sunil and Alvin joined the school, the IT team was lean. Sunil reminisces, saying, “When I joined 27 years back, I was the team! When Alvin joined as network manager, we supported 1,200 students in what was a completely different environment, consisting of desktops.” Fast forward to today, and CIS has a team of 10 people comprising infrastructure leads, database leads, and frontline engineers. “99.9 percent of all tasks are done inhouse,” adds Alvin before continuing, “We now have 1,520 students across two sites in Hong Kong and Hangzhou, where we have a one-year immersion program, and this site is remotely managed.” The IT team at CIS oversees the requirements of 4,000 community members, including staff, faculty, and others.


Proactive upgrades to NGFWs protect against ransomware

As a premier international school in Hong Kong, CIS is essentially driven by innovation. Alvin and Sunil pride themselves on taking the right steps at the right time to stay ahead of the cyberthreat landscape. Given the spate of ransomware attacks over the past couple of years, the IT team at CIS began the process of upgrading to Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) from Palo Alto Networks. While the pandemic was not the key factor for CIS to move to NGFWs, in a sense, the school preempted this situation by opting for an upgrade before the onset of the pandemic. “Due to COVID-19, most schools today are facing financial constraints and increased pressure to invest in the right technology to navigate a sophisticated threat landscape. Being proactive with deployment of required technologies, CIS was well placed to cope with the challenges that the pandemic revealed,” says Sunil.

Palo Alto Networks has been an existing cybersecurity partner of CIS for six years. Alvin elaborates, “We needed a security solution to cover all vulnerabilities and proactively alert us to abnormal network traffic and activity. We were clear that the solution we opted for had to have advanced visibility and ease of management with a simplified user interface.”


We needed a security mechanism to cover all vulnerabilities and proactively alert us to abnormal network traffic and activity. We were clear that the solution we opted for had to have advanced visibility and ease of management with a simplified user interface.

— Alvin Chung, IT Infrastructure Manager, Chinese International School


Advanced visibility, simplified management, and substantial time savings of 25–30 percent with NGFW

After conducting a thorough Best Practice Assessment (BPA), where performance was benchmarked against industry standards, CIS selected Palo Alto Networks, as their solution was simple and more logical with respect to network segmentation.

Detailing the advanced visibility capabilities of the new solution, Alvin talks about how the new solution provides a clear, graphical representation that showcases application usage, helping the IT department understand the bandwidth used by students to browse sites like Google, YouTube, Facebook and several other educational resources. Alvin emphasises how these reporting features are important for a school to monitor. “Since these reporting tools are built into the solution and do not need a third party, we can plan bandwidth usage at our end,” he states. Another important feature is visibility into abnormal traffic. Alvin explains, “As you can imagine, we cannot risk students accessing unsecure networks and the safety and security of our students is of utmost importance. We have implicit trust in the NGFWs deployed by Palo Alto Networks.”

Sunil oversaw the business aspect of the new solution. “As with most schools in the region, the pandemic had pushed financial constraints to the forefront. Palo Alto Networks put together an affordable financial plan that we could consider during our upgrade. Even better, by installing two boxes instead of one, they helped us achieve our goals within one year, instead of two,” he says. For CIS, even though the initial investment was high, long-term returns were assured.

Deployment of the NGFWs was done seamlessly, and as Sunil puts it, “The local team came together with our team to ensure smooth implementation. It really was an amazing marriage that came our way with Palo Alto Networks, as they give us the benefit of the entire experience.” When the pandemic resulted in school closures and work from home, CIS was able to close the gap without further investments, as they had the GlobalProtect™ VPN service from Palo Alto Networks in place to connect all operational staff, faculty, and students securely.

At any given time, CIS has about 3,500 wireless devices connected to its network. “That’s where the Zero Trust Network Architecture comes into play,” explains Sunil. “With Palo Alto Networks NGFW, we have zero failure through load balancing without compromising on performance,” he observes. With digital citizenship being a focal point for the team at CIS, reporting is critical as it has a direct impact on decisions made regarding what needs to be incorporated into the curriculum so as to make sure the next generation is abreast with safe technology use.


CIS has realized several benefits after upgrading to Palo Alto Networks NGFWs. “The user interface with Palo Alto Networks NGFW is straightforward and reliable. It brings in the dual advantage of increased productivity and time savings. With the newly deployed solution, since the workflow within the user interface is designed for the people side with minimal downtime, we have realized a saving of 25–30 percent in time taken to assess vulnerabilities,” explains Alvin. Sunil adds to this, saying, “By utilizing real-time analysis and detecting unseen, targeted malware, WildFire® is like the big brother that is making sure we are doing alright.”


That’s where the Zero Trust Network Architecture comes into play. With Palo Alto Networks NGFW, we have zero failure through load balancing without compromising on performance

— Sunil Talwar, Deputy Director of Operations, Chinese International School


Alvin and Sunil reflect on how Palo Alto Networks has the right team representing the right aspects of the product. Sunil comments, “We are not difficult customers but we are customers who know what we want. I have always had a positive interaction with the team.” He recalls how when the Log4j vulnerability struck, Palo Alto Networks called and informed CIS that a patch was on its way. Alvin echoes this sentiment from a technical perspective, concluding, “If I have any technical questions, no matter what the time, I am given priority and the team has ready suggestions that work. To me, it’s like I am working with a friend who always has my back!”