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VMware’s (New) vShield: The (Almost) Bottom Line

September 1st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

After my initial post yesterday (How To Wield the New vShield (Edge, App & Endpoint) remarking on the general sessions I sat through on vShield, I thought I’d add some additional color given my hands-on experience in the labs today.

I will reserve more extensive technical analysis of vShield Edge and App (I didn’t get to play with endpoint as there is not a lab for that) once I spend some additional quality-time with the products as they emerge.

Because people always desire for me to pop out of the cake quickly, here you go:

You should walk away from this post understanding that I think the approach holds promise within the scope of what VMware is trying to deliver. I think it can and will offer customers choice and flexibility in their security architecture and I think it addresses some serious segmentation, security and compliance gaps. It is a dramatically impactful set of solutions that is disruptive to the security and networking ecosystem. It should drive some interesting change. The proof, as they say, will be in the vPudding.

Let me first say that from VMware’s perspective I think vShield “2.0″ (which logically represents many technologies and adjusted roadmaps both old and new) is clearly an important and integral part of both vSphere and vCloud Director’s future implementation strategies. It’s clear that VMware took a good, hard look at their security solution strategy and made some important and strategically-differentiated investments in this regard.

All things told, I think it’s a very good strategy for them and ultimately their customers. However, there will be some very interesting side-effects from these new features.

vShield Edge is as disruptive to the networking space (it provides L3+ networking, VPN, DHCP and NAT capabilities at the vDC edge) as it is to the security arena. When coupled with vShield App (and ultimately endpoint) you can expect VMware’s aggressive activity in retooling their offers here to cause further hastened organic development, investment, and consolidation via M&A in the security space as other vendors seek to play and complement the reabsorption of critical security capabilities back into the platform itself.

Now all of the goodness that this renewed security strategy brings also has some warts. I’ll get into some of them as I gain more hands-on experience and get some questions answered, but here’s the Cliff Note version with THREE really important points:

  1. The vShield suite is the more refined/retooled/repaired approach toward what VMware promised in delivery three years ago when I wrote about it in 2007 (Opening VMM/HyperVisors to Third Parties via API’s – Goodness or the Apocalypse?) and later in 2008 (VMware’s VMsafe: The Good, the Bad, and the Bubbly…“) and from 2009, lest we forget The Cart Before the Virtual Horse: VMware’s vShield/Zones vs. VMsafe API’s
    _
    Specifically, as the virtualization platform has matured, so has the Company’s realization that security is something they are going to have to take seriously and productize themselves as depending upon an ecosystem wasn’t working — mostly because doing so meant that the ecosystem had to uproot entire product roadmaps to deliver solutions and it was a game of “supply vs. demand chicken.”
    _
    However, much of this new capability isn’t fully baked yet, especially from the perspective of integration and usability and even feature set capabilities such as IPv6 support. Endpoint is basically the more streamlined application of APIs and libraries for anti-malware offloading so as to relieve a third party ISV from having to write fastpath drivers that sit in the kernel/VMM and disrupt their roadmaps. vShield App is the Zones solution polished to provide inter-VM firewalling capabilities.
    _
    Edge is really the new piece here and represents a new function to represent vDC perimeterized security capabilities.Many of these features are billed — quite openly — as relieving a customer from needing to use/deploy physical networking or security products. In fact, in some cases even virtual networking products such as the Cisco Nexus 1000v are not usable/supportable. This is and example of a reasonably closed, software-driven world of Cloud where the underlying infrastructure below the hypervisor doesn’t matter…until it does.
    _
  2. vShield Edge and App are, in the way they are currently configured and managed, very complex and unwieldy and the performance, resiliency and scale described in some of the sessions is yet unproven and in some cases represents serious architectural deficiencies at first blush. There are some nasty single points of failure in the engineering (as described) and it’s unclear how many reference architectures for large enterprise and service provider scale Cloud use have really been thought through given some of these issues.
    _
    As an example, only being able to instantiate a single (but required) vShield App virtual appliance per ESX host brings into focus serious scale, security architecture and resilience issues. Being able to deploy numerous Edge appliances brings into focus manageability and policy sprawl concerns.There are so many knobs and levers leveraged across the stack that it’s going to be very difficult in large environments to reconcile policy spread over the three (I only interacted with two) components and that says nothing about then integrating/interoperating with third party vSwitches, physical switches, virtual and physical security appliances. If you think it was challenging before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
    _
  3. The current deployment methodology reignites the battle that started to rage when security teams lost visibility into the security and networking layers and the virtual administrators controlled the infrastructure from the pNIC up. This takes the gap-filler virtual security solutions from small third parties such as Altor which played nicely with vCenter but allowed the security teams to manage policy and blows that model up. Now, security enforcement is a commodity feature delivered via the virtualization platform but requires too complex a set of knowledge and expertise of the underlying virtualization platform to be rendered effective by role-driven security teams.

While I’ll cover items #1 and #2 in a follow-on post, here’s what VMware can do in the short term to remedy what I think is a huges issue going forward with item #3, usability and management.

Specifically, in the same way vCloud Director sits above vCenter and abstracts away much of the “unnecessary internals” to present a simplified service catalog of resources/services to a consumer, VMware needs to provide a dedicated security administrator’s “portal” or management plane which unites the creation, management and deployment of policy from a SECURITY perspective of the various disparate functions offered by vShield App, Edge and Endpoint. [ED: This looks as though this might be what vShield Manager will address. There were no labs covering this and no session I saw gave any details on this offering (UI or API)]

If you expect a security administrator to have the in-depth knowledge of how to administer the entire (complex) virtualization platform in order to manage security, this model will break and cause tremendous friction. A security administrator shouldn’t have access to vCenter directly or even the vCloud Director interfaces.

Since much of the capability for automation and configuration is made available via API, the notion of building a purposed security interface to do so shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Some people might say that VMware should focus on building API capabilities and allow the ecosystem to fill the void with solutions that take advantage of the interfaces. The problem is that this strategy has not produced solutions that have enjoyed traction today and it’s quite clear that VMware is interested in controlling their own destiny in terms of Edge and App while allowing the rest of the world to play with Endpoint.

I’m sure I’m missing things and that given the exposure I’ve had (without any in-depth briefings) there may be material issues associated with where the products are given their early status, but I think it important to get these thoughts out of my head so I can chart their accuracy and it gives me a good reference point to direct the product managers to when they want to scalp me for heresy.

There’s an enormous amount of detail that I want to/can get into. The last time I did that it ended up in a 150 slide presentation I delivered at Black Hat…

Allow me to reiterate what I said in the beginning:

You should walk away from this post understanding that I think the approach holds promised within the scope of what VMware is trying to deliver. I think it can and will offer customers choice and flexibility in their security architecture and I think it addresses some serious segmentation, security and compliance gaps. It is a dramatically impactful set of solutions that is disruptive to the security and networking ecosystem. It should drive some interesting change. The proof, as they say, will be in the vPudding.

…and we all love vPudding.

/Hoff

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  1. September 6th, 2010 at 10:37 | #1

    Chris,

    Thanks for taking the time to go through the vShield products so diligently! Some quick notes: – final GA version of the product did simplify the user experience. Labs had to use an earlier version to be ready in time for vmworld

    - vShield Manager takes a more security console view. At the labs, we focused on vShield extensions to vCenter and vCloud Director

    On vShield not working with N1K, and being closed, this is not the intent. Our goal is to provide a "disruptively simplified" solution, yet allow co-existence/interoperability/innovation. See my post at communities.vmware.com/community/cto/security

    BTW, this post also has a picture of your "magic quad".

    Cheers,

    /Allwyn

  2. theodore
    September 6th, 2010 at 12:10 | #2

    Your site was mentioned in a theregister.co.uk column on 9/6. Specifically: "In my casting around looking for perspective on vShield and VMware’s security strategy, I found these blog posts by [link]Chris Hoff[link]. He’s a renaissance geek with 20 years of IT security experience and, as he puts it, “a passion for virtualization and all things cloud.” He had me at “My life? It’s like Blade Runner meets Beautiful Mind w/some Patrick Swayze Roadhouse violence mixed in.”"

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