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ITD: Intelligent Traffic Director

Data traffic has grown dramatically in the recent years, leading to increased deployment of network service appliances and servers in enterprise, data center, and cloud environments. To address the corresponding business needs, network switch and router architecture has evolved to support multi-terabit capacity. However, service appliance and server capacity remained limited to a few gigabits, far below switch capacity.

ITD (Intelligent Traffic Director) is a hardware based multi-Tbps Layer 4 load-balancing, traffic steering and clustering solution on Nexus 7xxx series of switches. It supports IP-stickiness, resiliency, NAT (EFT), VIP, health monitoring, sophisticated failure handling policies, N+M redundancy, IPv4, IPv6, VRF, weighted load-balancing, bi-directional flow-coherency, and IPSLA probes including DNS. There is no service module or external appliance needed. ITD provides order of magnitude CAPEX and OPEX savings for the customers. ITD is available on Nexus 7000/7700 series in NX-OS 6.2(8) or later. It is available for demo on Nexus 5k/6k. ITD is much superior than legacy solutions like PBR, WCCP, ECMP, port-channel, layer-4 load-balancer appliances.

Example use-cases: Read More »

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Scaling Application Security with ITD

Ready to scale your enterprise beyond limits?  How about slashing a whole layer of datacenter infrastructure, saving piles of cash in the process?  Or perhaps you’re interested in simplifying your enterprise while adding features, or trying to speed things up without spending money.  Sound too good to be true?  Well, thanks to a new technology from Cisco, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Cisco Intelligent Traffic Director (ITD) is poised to disrupt data center load balancing. Combined with best-in-class products, such as Imperva SecureSphere, organizations can deploy and manage massively scalable applications securely with unprecedented ease and cost effectiveness.

What is ITD?

Cisco recently released a new feature, Intelligent Traffic Director (ITD) for the Nexus 7k switches that promises to be a disrupting force in the world of load balancing.  There has been an exponential growth in data traffic in the recent years leading to a growth in the deployment of network service appliances in enterprise, datacenter and cloud environments. To address the corresponding business needs, network switch and router architecture has evolved to support multi-terabit capacity. However, service appliance capacity remained limited to few gigabits, an order of magnitude far below switch capacity.

Cisco Intelligent Traffic Director (ITD) is an innovative solution that tries to bridge performance gap between the switch and service appliance(s). It allows customers to deploy service appliance(s) from any vendor with no network or topology changes. With a few simple configuration steps on a Cisco Nexus 7000 / 7700 series switch, customers can create a service appliance cluster and deploy multiple appliance(s) to scale service capacity with ease. The servers or appliance(s) do not have to be directly connected to the Nexus switch.

Application Security
Gartner published a paper called Web Application Firewalls are Worth the Investment for Enterprises in Feb, 2014 that makes the case that “Firewalls and intrusion prevention systems don’t provide sufficient protections for most public-facing websites or internal business-critical and custom Web applications.” Gartner advises enterprises to use a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to protect critical external and internal applications from attacks and threats.

Like other service appliances, a WAF appliance benefits from ITD’s ability to manage large scale traffic loads. Imperva SecureSphere WAF works with ITD, and the combination provides highly scalable application security.

I mention SecureSphere because Imperva was positioned as the only Leader in the Gartner 2014 Magic Quadrant for Web Application Firewalls. Some key capabilities of the SecureSphere WAF are:

  • Block attacks with laser precision
    Accuracy is critical with application security. If you have false positives, you block customers; if you have false negatives, you let the bad guys in.
  • World-renowned application security research
    Security is constantly evolving. To get ahead and stay ahead in the continuous fight against threats, Imperva has a dedicated security research team, the Application Defense Center (ADC), which provides regular signature and policy updates, and up-to-date threat intelligence for Imperva SecureSphere.
  • Shut down malicious sources and bots
    Imperva’s ThreatRadar Reputation Services help detect bad actors using IP reputation feeds of known malicious sources, anonymizing services, phishing URLs, TOR (“The Onion Router”), as well as IP geolocation data.
  • Stop application DDOS and business logic attacks
    Business logic attacks include things like posting comment spam in forums and message boards, scraping web content, and disabling access to your website. All of this can reduce competitive edge, frustrate customers, and damage reputation.
  • Instantly patch website vulnerabilities
    It takes organizations an average of 6 months to patch an application vulnerability once it’s discovered. SecureSphere integrates with vulnerability scanners to virtually patch applications. This allows businesses to stay protected, and fix the vulnerability on their own timeline, thus reducing the window of exposure and the associated costs.
  • Gain forensics insights with customizable reports
    Graphical reports enable organizations to quickly analyze security threats and meet compliance requirements.
  • Speed up deployment without risk
    SecureSphere protects applications without impacting performance and without requiring extensive network changes. It offers flexible inline, non-inline, and proxy deployment options that meet organizations’ diverse requirements. SecureSphere’s Fail-Open capabilities combined with unique, transparent bridge mode saves time and labor with drop-in deployment that requires no changes to existing applications or network devices, and delivers multi-Gigabit throughput while maintaining sub-millisecond latency.

Scaling Application Security

Using ITD in VIP Mode to load balance provides a fast and economical way for organizations to provide highly scalable and available infrastructure.  By leveraging ITD, an enterprise can deploy a single IP address (the VIP), which is then load balanced across many SecureSphere WAFs, with each one protecting the back-end webservers. This is done right from the 7K – There’s no need for an external load balancer in the middle.

Why is this better than other Load Balancers?

By combining Cisco ITD and SecureSphere’s advanced capabilities to monitor and secure HTTP traffic, several key advantages are apparent:

  • Eliminates the need for external load balancers, freeing up large amounts of budget and resources
  • You get the advantages of a proxy-type load balancer (1 single VIP represents many webservers), but still get ‘fail-open’ bridges on WAFs
  • ITD proxies traffic without interfering with the TCP Source IP Address , allowing SecureSphere to leverage the source IP, User and Session details for blocking and alerting.
  • To work with SecureSphere, ITD requires no modification to HTTP Headers (e.g., X-Forwarded-For), which can break applications and slow down traffic

What does this mean for the future of high performance WAF deployments?

By teaming up the Cisco Nexus 7K with SecureSphere WAFs, organizations can cost effectively deploy scalable, high-availability  WAF farms to handle large amounts of traffic to webservers.  As the web traffic increases, WAFs can be seamlessly added to the pool to scale up with the enterprise. Since every port on the 7K can be used as a load balancer this provides the potential to scale up to multi-terabits of throughput to a SecureSphere WAF cluster.

In conclusion, ITD and SecureSphere provides simple, cheap, fast, scalable, and reliable security infrastructure. Sort of like having your cake, with icing, and cherries on top – and eating it, too.

Feedback or Query: For feedback, query or EFT/PoC/demo please email: ask-itd@external.cisco.com

ITD White paper:  At a glance

Configuration Guide: Config guide

 

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The Three Pillars to Cisco’s Secure Data Center Strategy: Part 3 Visibility

In this last part of this series I will discuss the top customer priority of visibility.  Cisco offers customers the ability to gain insight into what’s happening in their network and, at the same time, maintain compliance and business operations.

But before we dive into that let’s do a recap of part two of our series on Cisco’s Secure Data Center Strategy on threat defense. In summary, Cisco understands that to prevent threats both internally and externally it’s not a permit or deny of data, but rather that data needs deeper inspection. Cisco offers two leading platforms that work with the ASA 5585-X Series Adaptive Security Appliance to protect the data center and they are the new IPS 4500 Series Sensor platform for high data rate environments and the ASA CX Context Aware Security for application control.  To learn more go to part 2 here.

As customers move from the physical to virtual to cloud data centers, a challenge heard over is over is that they desire to maintain their compliance, security, and policies across these varying instantiations of their data center. In other words, they want to same controls in the physical world present in the virtual – one policy, one set of security capabilities.  This will maintain compliance, overall security and ease business operations.

By offering better visibility into users, their devices, applications and access controls this not only helps with maintaining compliance but also deal with the threat defense requirements in our overall data center.  Cisco’s visibility tools gives our customers the insight they need to make decisions about who gets access to what kinds of information, where segmentation is needed, what are the boundaries in your data center, whether these boundaries are physical or virtual and the ability to do the right level of policy orchestration to maintain compliance and the overall security posture.  These tools have been grouped into three key areas: management and reporting, insights, and policy orchestration.

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The Three Pillars to Cisco’s Secure Data Center Strategy: Part 2 Threat Defense

In part one of our series on Cisco’s Secure Data Center Strategy, we did a deeper dive on segmentation.  As a refresh, segmentation can be broke into three key areas. The first, the need to create boundaries is caused because perimeters are beginning to dissolve and many environments are no longer trusted forcing us to segment compute resources, the network and virtualized attributes and environments. Along with segmenting physical components, policies must be segmented by function, device, and organizational division. Lastly, segmenting access control around networks and resources whether they are compute, network, or applications offers a higher level of granularity and control. This includes role-based access and context based access.  Ensuring policy transition across the boundaries is of primary concern. To learn more on segmentation go here.

Today we will dive deeper into Cisco’s security value-add of threat defense.

Technology trends such as cloud computing, proliferation of personal devices, and collaboration are enabling more efficient business practices, but they are also putting a strain on the data center and adding new security risks.  As technology becomes more sophisticated, so are targeted attacks, and these security breaches, as a result, are far more costly.  The next figure is from Information Weeks 2012 Strategic Security Survey and illustrates top security breaches over the previous year.

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The Three Pillars to Cisco’s Secure Data Center Strategy: Part 1 Segmentation

Last week Cisco announced several new products in it’s Defending the Data Center launch. These included the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance Software Release 9.0, Cisco IPS 4500 Series Sensors, Cisco Security Manager 4.3, and the Cisco ASA 1000V Cloud Firewall, adding enhanced performance, management, and threat defense capabilities. Core to this launch was also Cisco’s new strategy for developing Secure Data Center Solutions, a holistic approach similar to what Cisco previously did with Secure BYOD. This new strategy integrates Cisco security products into Cisco’s networking and data center portfolio to create validated designs and smart solutions. Organizations that lack bandwidth and resources or the know how to test and validate holistic designs can simply deploy template configurations based on pre-tested environments that cover complete data center infrastructures. These designs enable predictable, reliable deployment of solutions and business services and allow customers infrastructures to evolve as their data center needs change.

In developing this strategy we interviewed numerous customers, partners and field-sales reps to formulate the role of security in the data center and how to effectively get to the next step in the data center evolution or journey, whether you are just beginning to virtualize or have already advanced to exploring various cloud models. Three security priorities consistently came up and became the core of our strategy of delivering the security added value. They are Segmentation, Threat-Defense and Visibility.  This blog series, beginning with segmentation, will provide a deeper dive into these three pillars.

Segmentation itself can be broken into three key areas. Perimeters are beginning to dissolve and many environments are no longer trusted, forcing us to segment compute resources, the network, and virtualized environments to create new boundaries, or zones. Along with segmenting physical components, policies must include segmentation of virtual networks and virtual machines, as well as by function, device, and logical association. Lastly, segmenting access control around networks and resources whether they are compute, network or applications offers a higher level of granularity and control. This includes role-based access and context based access.  Let’s discuss even deeper.

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