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VMWare’s VMSafe: Security Industry Defibrilator….Making Dying Muscle Twitch Again.

Nurse, 10 cc’s of Adrenalin, stat!

As I mentioned in a prior posting, VMware’s VMsafe has the potential to inject life back into the atrophied and withering heart muscle of the security industry and raise the prognosis from DOA to the potential for a vital economic revenue stream once more.

How?  Well, the answer to this question really comes down to whether you believe that keeping a body on assisted life support means that the patient is living or simply alive, and the same perspective goes for the security industry.

With the inevitable consolidation of solutions and offerings in the security industry over the last few years, we have seen the commoditization of many markets as well as the natural emergence of others in response to the ebb and flow of economic, technological, cultural and political forces.

One of the most impacting disruptive and innovative forces that is causing arrhythmia in the pulse of both consumers and providers and driving the emergence of new market opportunities is virtualization. 

For the last two years, I’ve been waving my hands about the fact that virtualization changes everything across the information lifecycle.  From cradle to grave, the evolution of virtualization will profoundly change what, where, why and how we do what we do.

I’m not claiming that I’m the only one, but it was sure lonely from a general security practitioner’s perspective up until about six months ago.  In the last four months, I’ve given two keynotes and three decently visible talks on VirtSec, and I have 3-4 more tee’d up over the next 3 months, so somebody’s interested…better late than never, I suppose.

How’s the patient?

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on the security implications of virtualization and simply summarize by suggesting that virtualization up until now has quietly marked a tipping point where we see the disruption stretch security architectures and technologies to their breaking point and in many cases make much of our invested security portfolio redundant and irrelevant.

I’ve discussed why and how this is the case in numerous posts and presentations, but it’s clear (now) to most that the security industry has been clearly out of phase with what has plainly been a well-signaled (r)evolution in computing.

Is anyone really surprised that we are caught flat-footed again?  Sorry to rant, but…

This is such a sorry indicator of why things are so terribly broken with "IT/Information Security" as it stands today; we continue to try and solve short term problems with even shorter term "solutions" that do nothing more than perpetuate the problem — and we do so in a horrific display of myopic dissonance, it’s a wonder we function at all.   Actually, it’s a perfectly wonderful explanation as to why criminals are always 5 steps ahead — they plan strategically while acting tactically against their objectives and aren’t afraid to respond to the customers proactively.

So, we’ve got this fantastic technological, economic, and cultural transformation occurring over the last FIVE YEARS (at least,) and the best we’ve seen as a response from most traditional security vendors is that they have simply marketed their solutions slimly as "virtualization ready" or "virtualization aware" when in fact, these are simply hollow words for how to make their existing "square" products fit into the "round" holes of a problem space that virtualization exposes and creates.

Firewalls, IDS/IPSs, UTM, NAC, DLP — all of them have limited visibility in this rapidly "re-perimeterized" universe in which our technology operates, and in most cases we’re busy looking at uninteresting and practically non-actionable things anyway.  As one of my favorite mentors used to say, "we’re data rich, but information poor."

The vendors in these example markets — with or without admission — are all really worried about what virtualization will do to their already shrinking relevance.  So we wait.

Doctor, it hurts when I do this…

VMSafe represents a huge opportunity for these vendors to claw their way back to life, making their solutions relevant once more, and perhaps even more so.

Most of the companies who have so far signed on to VMsafe will, as I mentioned previously, need to align roadmaps and release new or modified versions of their product lines to work with the new API’s and management planes. 

This is obviously a big deal, but one that is unavoidable for these companies — most of which are clumbsy and generally not agile or responsive to third parties.  However, you don’t get 20 of some of the biggest "monoliths" of the security world scrambling to sign up for a program like VMsafe just for giggles — and the reality is that the platform version of VMware’s virtualization products that will support this technology aren’t even available yet.

I am willing to wager that you will, in extremely short time given VMware’s willingness to sign on new partners, see many more vendors flock to the program.  I further maintain that despite their vehement denial, NAC vendors (with pressure already from the oncoming tidal wave of Microsoft’s NAP) will also adapt their wares to take advantage of this technology for reasons I’ve outlined here.

They literally cannot afford not to.

I am extremely interested in what other virtualization vendors’ responses will be — especially Citrix.  It’s pretty clear what Microsoft has in mind.  It’s going to further open up opportunities for networking vendors such as Cisco, f5, etc., and we’re going to see the operational, technical, administrative, "security" and governance lines  blur even further.

Welcome back from the dead, security vendors, you’ve got a second chance in life.  I’m not sure it’s warranted, but it’s "natural" even though we’re going to end up with a very interesting Frankenstein of a "solution" over the long term.

The Doctor prescribes an active lifestyle, healthy marketing calisthenics, a diet with plenty of roughage, and jumping back on the hamster wheel of pain for exercise.


  1. March 3rd, 2008 at 05:17 | #1

    Well said. I was in Cannes last week when VMworld launched VMSafe and the booth buzz from Nand, Mendel and Diane's presos was incredible. It seemed that VMware was signaling the end of the deep packet/signature/tuning era when it comes to virtsec. It felt like the IT industry's equivalent of the Beatles first performance on Ed Sullivan. IMHO VMworld Europe was a historic event for network security (and the tired industry)for the reasons you mentioned.

  2. March 3rd, 2008 at 16:31 | #2

    Virtualization Security Gut-Check

    The Hoff-man pontificates yet again:Firewalls, IDS/IPSs, UTM, NAC, DLP — all of them have limited visibility in this rapidly re-perimeterized universe in which our technology operates, and in most cases we're busy looking at uninteresting and practica…

  3. March 3rd, 2008 at 23:45 | #3

    More on VMsafe: it's a cool adrenalin shot full of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan

    Virtualization is mind-blowing stuff, but I have never seen the metaphors get so intricate or the prose get so purple as the blog posts on VMsafe over the past week. Either VMsafe (see our previous post) has touched a nerve,

  4. March 4th, 2008 at 19:19 | #4

    VMWorld was fun. I guess the security people going to have something to look up to these days.

  5. March 6th, 2008 at 13:51 | #5

    More on VMsafe from Chris Hoff

  6. March 6th, 2008 at 13:53 | #6

    More on VMsafe from Chris Hoff

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