Friday, June 3, 2016

Catbird CTO on why new security models are essential for highly virtualized data centers

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer discussion explores how increased virtualization across data centers translates into the need for new hybrid-computing approaches to security, compliance, and governance.

Just as next-generation data centers and private clouds are gaining traction, security threats are on the rise -- and attack techniques are becoming more sophisticated.

Are yesterday’s perimeter-based security infrastructure methods up to the task? Or are new approaches needed to gain policy-based control over all virtual assets at all times?

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To explore the future of security for virtual workloads, we're joined by Holland Barry, CTO at Catbird in Scotts Valley, California. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us why it’s a different picture nowadays when we look at data centers and private clouds. Oftentimes, people think similarly about security -- just wrap a firewall around it and you're okay. Why isn’t that the case? What’s new?

Barry: As we've introduced many layers of abstraction into the data center, trying to adapt those physical appliances that don’t move around as fluid as the workloads they're protecting, it has become an issue. And as people virtualize more and we go more to this notion of a software-defined data center (SDDC), it has just proven a challenge to keep up, and we know that that layer on the perimeter is probably not sufficient anymore.

Gardner: It also strikes me that it’s a moving target, virtual workloads come and go. You want elasticity. You want to be able to have fit-for-purpose infrastructure, but that's also a challenge when you can’t keep track of things and therefore secure them. 

Barry: That’s absolutely right. The transient nature of workloads themselves make any type of rigid enforcement from a single device pretty tough to deal with. So you need something that was built to be fluid alongside those dynamic workloads.

Gardner: And I suppose, too, that enterprise architects that are putting more virtualization together across the data center, the SDDC, aren’t always culturally aligned with the security folks. So you have more than just a technology issue here. Tell us what Catbird does that goes beyond just the technology, and perhaps works toward a cultural and organizational benefit?

Greater skill set

Barry: Even just from an interface standpoint or trying to create a tool that can cater to those different administrative silos, you have people who have virtualization expertise, compute expertise, and then different security practice expertise. There are many slim lanes within that security category, and the next generation set of workloads in the hybrid IT environment is going to demand more of a skill set that can span all those domains. 

Gardner: We talk a lot about DevOps and SecOps combining. There's also this need for automation and orchestration. So policy-based seems to be really the only option to keep up with the speed on security.
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Barry: That’s exactly right. There has to be an application-centric approach to how you're applying security to your workloads. Ideally that would be something that could be templatized or defined up front. So as new workloads present themselves in the network, there's already a predetermined way that they're going to be secured and that security will take place right up against the edge of that workload.

Gardner: Holland, tell us about Catbird, what you do, how you're deployed, and how you go about solving some of these challenges.
Having that single point of policy definition and enforcement is going to be critical to people adopting and really taking the next leap to put a layer of defense in their data center.

Barry: Catbird was born and raised in virtualized environments. We've been around for a number of years. It was this notion of bringing the perimeter and the control landscape closer to the workload, and that’s via hypervisor integration and also via the virtual data-path integration. So it's having a couple of different vantage points from within the fabric and applying security with a purpose-built solution that can span multiple platforms.

So that hybrid IT environment, which is becoming a reality, may have a little bit of OpenStack, it may have a little bit of VMware. Having that single point of policy definition and enforcement is going to be critical to people adopting and really taking the next leap to put a layer of defense in their data center.

Gardner: How are you deployed, you are a software appliance yourself, virtualized software?

Barry: Exactly right. Our solutions are comprised of two components, and it’s a very basic hub-and-spoke architecture. We have a policy enforcement point, a virtual machine (VM) appliance that installs out on each hypervisor, and we have a management node that we call the Control Center. That’s another VM, and those two components talk together in a secure manner. 

Gardner: What’s a typical scenario? Where in this type of east-west traffic virtualization environment, security works better and how it protects? Are there some examples that would demonstrate where the perimeter approach breaks down would but your model got the task done?

Doing enforcement

Barry: I think that anytime that you need to have the granularity of not only visibility, but enforcement -- I'm going to get a little technical here -- down to the UUID of the vNIC, that smallest unit of measure as it relates to a workload, that’s really where we shine, because that’s where we do our enforcement. 

Gardner: Okay. How about partnerships? Obviously you're working in an environment where there are a lot of different technologies, lots of moving parts. What’s going on with you and HPE in terms of deployment, working with private cloud, operating systems, and then perhaps even moving toward modeling and some of the HPE ArcSight technology?

Barry: We have a number of different integration points inside HPE’s portfolio. We're a Helion-ready certified partner. We just announced our support for the 2.0 Helion OpenStack release.
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We're doing a lot of work the ArcSight team in terms of getting very detailed event feeds and visibility into the virtualized workloads.

And we just announced some work that we are doing with HPE’s HPN team around their software-defined networking (SDN) VAN Controller as well, extending Catbird’s east-west visibility into the physical domain, leveraging the placement of the SDN controller and its command over the switches. So it’s pretty exciting work there.

Gardner: Let’s dig into that a bit, the (SDN) advances that are going on and how that’s changing how people think about deployment and management of infrastructure and data centers. Doesn’t this really give you some significant boost in the way that you can engage with security, intercept and stop issues before they propagate? What is it about SDN that is good for security?
Knowing the state of the workload, is going to be critical to applying those traditional security controls.

Barry: As the edges of what has traditionally been rigid network boundaries become fluid as well, knowing the state of the network, knowing the state of the workload, is going to be critical to applying those traditional security controls. So we're really trying to tie all this together -- not only with our integration with Helion, but also utilizing the knowledge that the SDN Controller has of the data path. We can surface indications that compromise and maybe get you to a problem a little bit quicker than traditional methods.

Gardner: I always like to try to show and not just tell. Do you have any examples of organizations that are doing this, what it has done for them, and why it’s a path to even greater future benefits as they further virtualize and go to even larger hybrid environments?

Barry: Absolutely. I can’t name them by name, but one of the US’ largest carriers telcos is one of our customers. They came to us to solve a problem of that consistency of policy definition and enforcement across those hybrid platforms. So it’s amongst VMware and OpenStack workloads.

That's not only for the application of the security controls and not only for the visibility of the traffic, but also the evidence of assurance of compliance, being able to do mapping back to regulatory frameworks and things like that.

Agentless fashion

There are a couple of different use cases in there, but it’s really that notion where I can do it in an agentless fashion, and I think that’s an important thing to differentiate and point out about our solution. You don’t have to install an agent within the workload. We don’t require a presence inside the OS.

We're doing it just outside of the workload, at the hypervisor level. It’s key that we have the specific tailored integrations to the different hypervisor platforms, so we can abstract away the complexity of applying the security controls where you just have a single pane of glass. You define the security policy and it doesn’t matter which platform you're on, it’s going to be able to do it in that agentless fashion.
We're aware of it, and I think our method of doing the security control application is going to be the one that wins.

Gardner: Of course, the march of technology continues, and we're not just dealing with virtualization. We're now talking about containers, micro-services, composable infrastructure. How will your solution, in conjunction with HPE, adapt to that, and is there more of a role as you get closer to the edge, even out into the Internet of Things (IoT), where we're talking about all sorts of more discrete devices really extending the network in all directions?

Barry: As the workload types proliferate and we get fancier about how we virtualize, whether it’s using a container or a virtualization platform, and then the vast amount of IoT devices that are going to present themselves, we're working closely with the HPE team in lockstep as mass adoption of these technologies happens.
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We have plans in place to solve platform by platform, and we believe taking an approach where we're looking at that specific problem and asking how we're going to attack this thing while keeping that bigger vision of, "We're still going to keep you in that same console and the method in which you apply the security is going to be the same."

Containers are a great example, something that we know we need to tackle, something that’s getting adopted in a fashion far more than I have ever seen with anything else. That’s a pretty exciting one. But at the end of the day, it’s a way of virtualizing a service or micro-services. We're aware of it, and I think our method of doing the security control application is going to be the one that wins.

Gardner: Pretty hard to secure a perimeter when there really isn’t a perimeter.

Barry: Perimeter is quickly fading, it seems.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Get the mobile app. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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