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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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Putting VDI Security Concerns to Bed and……….


………..New Cisco Data Center Security Enhancements

The workplace is changing fast. Workers are becoming increasingly mobile. The introduction of employee-owned consumer devices like tablets, is becoming the norm; in fact, the average number of devices used by knowledge workers is between 3 and 4 and rising. While IT organizations acknowledge the productivity, business agility and cost benefits these developments can bring, they are also concerned by the associated challenges. Not surprisingly, numerous industry research papers point to device, application and data security, and regulatory compliance as the biggest challenges for mobility and BYOD projects.

To address these security concerns many IT organizations are applying desktop virtualization or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technologies to ensure management and protection of the applications, data and content centrally in the data center, regardless of which device is used. But how can IT ensure that VDI deployments themselves are secure?

Today, Cisco announced new data center security enhancements that further protect VDI deployments. These new innovations enable more scalable, secure access to hosted virtual desktops and more robust protection of data center resources. These innovations also ensure that business critical applications and virtual desktops hosted within the data center can be better protected from other virtual desktops that have become compromised or infected. (Read also today’s blog from John N. Stewart , Cisco Sr.VP, Chief Security Officer  “Does Virtualization Improve Security ? “)

Deploying a data center infrastructure that has the built-in security capabilities to address these challenges needs to be an integral part of any VDI design. The Cisco VXI Smart Solution  is a comprehensive, secure desktop virtualization solution that addresses these security concerns in both Citrix XenDesktop and VMWare View deployments; you can find more information on the designs here.

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Defending the Data Center

It’s no secret that enterprise data centers are in a state of transformation – they always are. There’s a constant need to scale data center operations to meet the seemingly insatiable demand for connection and throughput speeds, as well as the number of concurrent sessions. In fact, experts anticipate that these performance demands will increase by as much as 30X over the next few years.  While that statistic alone is remarkable enough, that’s just part of the story.  Adding to the dramatic changes is the trend toward virtualization – with over half of all workloads expected to be virtualized by next year; and the fact that employees currently use an average of more than three mobile devices to access enterprise networks.

All of these trends are fundamentally changing data center operations today. And while the obvious impact of these changes is the need for performance scalability to meet the increasing demands, they also inherently change how data centers are secured. It’s this second impact that is often overlooked. While security is certainly important to data center administrators, it isn’t their only concern.  Oftentimes their primary focus is maintaining business-IT alignment and avoiding chokepoints that can degrade performance and jeopardize their SLAs.  As a result, security is frequently put on the backburner while the entire operation continues to upscale – opening the door to the perfect storm for a major security breach.

Unfortunately, most security products are “bolted on” as an afterthought, so they’re not capable of meeting the robust and dynamically changing needs of enterprise data centers. But Cisco handles security very differently than the rest of the industry. By leveraging the SecureX Architecture, Cisco security solutions are built into the network fabric. 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic and 35 percent of the world’s email traffic flows through Cisco networks, putting Cisco in the best position to see and proactively protect against threats before they affect customers’ networks. Cisco gains intelligence from throughout the network to enable more informed security decisions, and has used that intelligence to integrate security throughout the network infrastructure to provide comprehensive policy enforcement.

To this end, today Cisco made a series of product announcements that help provide modern data centers with what they need to remain secure, while enabling them to meet their business needs:

  • Cisco ASA Software Release 9.0, which is a major release of the core operating system which powers the entire line of ASA security appliances, adding data center-class performance and next-generation firewall capabilities
  • The Cisco ASA 1000V Cloud Firewall, a new multi-tenant edge firewall that uses the same base ASA code that runs the physical ASA appliances, but is optimized for virtual and cloud environments
  • Cisco IPS 4500 Series Sensors, a new series of standalone enterprise-class IPS appliances that provide up to 10 Gbps of IPS throughput in a single blade –four times the performance density of the closest competitor
  • Cisco Security Manager 4.3, which delivers several important capabilities for up to an 80% improvement in operational efficiency, as well as northbound APIs that enable customers to more efficiently deploy comprehensive security solutions

With these new product announcements, in addition to the rest of the SecureX Architecture, Cisco makes security a deployment decision, just like the rest of your network, with consistent security that enables policies to work throughout hybrid environments – physical, virtual, and cloud.  Because we’re part of the network fabric, rather than a bolted-on point product vendor, we deliver security when, where, and how you need it to deliver a flexible, comprehensive security solution. As a result, Cisco can provide high levels of network security, while enabling enterprise data centers to maintain business-IT alignment and avoid chokepoints that can degrade performance and jeopardize SLAs.  And since we enable one layer of security policies to work throughout the hybrid environment, we provide a high level of security while significantly decreasing complexity.

For more information, please visit http://www.cisco.com/go/securedc.

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Does Virtualization Improve Security?

We all know that the virtualization and cloud megatrend is a game changer for data centers, leading to profound shifts in everything from IT services and business models to architectures. Business benefits include reduced capital investments, new revenue growth opportunities, and the greater efficiency, agility and scalability demanded by globalization.

Enterprises have held back from making the transition to virtual and cloud environments primarily because of the inherent security risks and concerns.

Targeted attacks and security breaches are getting more sophisticated. The Verizon Security Threat Report for 2011 showed that 3.8 million records were stolen in 2010, and 94% of this data came from servers (an increase of 18%).

As security concerns are the primary barrier to making this transition from virtualized data center to cloud, we must rethink how security fits in to these new architectures and develop new security tools to ensure the secure transfer of information.

For enterprises to confidently seize the business benefits offered by data center virtualization and the cloud, security must be seen as the art of the possible, not as a hindrance.

Watch below as I explore the challenges and leading practices for securing virtualized environments today, and into the future.

Please join me also for  a special webcast  “Defending the Data Center “ today at 10:00 am PDT /1:00 pm EDT /17:00 GMT – To watch register here 

 

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IPv6 in the Enterprise Data Center – Why is it important

Why is it important to start thinking about IPv6 across your entire network especially the data center?
Remember the term Y2K? The panic and haphazardness that was there to ensure every single device and application was compatible with Y2K? I see IPv6 as a similar situation except that there is no impending date forcing you to adopt it.

The more you wait, the more you lose time to develop IPv6 architecture with ease and peace of mind so that things are done right. And if not done way ahead of time, then you may end up doing things quickly to ensure the business is operational with a poorly designed and operated IPv6 network.

The Next Generation Data Center
IPv6 is becoming ever increasingly important and critical with the success and proliferation of mobile devices and other such applications that require enormous addressing needs. Lot of customers are taking the first step to enable IPv6 in their Internet edge, Campus and WAN edges, but very few customer are realizing the importance of enabling IPv6 inside their data centers.

I came across few such customers that are eager to enable IPv6 inside the data center but have not done any planning or design. Before coming to the reasons why they are eager, it is nevertheless important to say that IPv6 is going to be the protocol of the future.

As an Advanced Services Solutions Architect for the Data Center Practices team, one of my jobs is to deliver planning and designing workshop for customers who are looking into building their “next generation data center architecture”. The word Next Generation is enough to tell them that they should start not only planning and design but most importantly start assessing their data center devices and design to enable IPv6.

My Experience with Customers
In this post, I want to share my experience with customers who are seriously planning to take the next step of building the next generation data center, yet are completely skipping IPv6 in their planning phase. For most of these customers, replacing the Catalyst platform with the newer Nexus platform is extent of building the next generation data center in their minds.

Others want to use the newer, cooler features in the Nexus platform like vPC, VDC, OTV and FabricPath. Agreed, that these features and architectures would entitle their data centers to be called “next generation” but the actual plumbing of the new data Center is still the same: IPv4.

Change the Plumbing, its time
In my view, the real next generation architecture is where you enable the new plumbing system inside the data center and be ready to shift to the enormous and powerful protocol when the business needs you to.

Migrating or integrating IPv6 is not a job that will take few days or months. It will take serious planning and effort to ensure that the expertise in-house is familiar and comfortable with the gigantic protocol whose similarity with IPv4 ends at the first three letters used to represent both the protocols: IPv 😉

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