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Revisiting Virtualization & Cloud Stack Security – Back to the Future (Baked In Or Bolted On?)

[Like a good w[h]ine, this post goes especially well with a couple of other courses such as Hack The Stack Or Go On a Bender With a Vendor?, Incomplete Thought: Why Security Doesn’t Scale…Yet, What’s The Problem With Cloud Security? There’s Too Much Of It…, Incomplete Thought: The Other Side Of Cloud – Where The (Wild) Infrastructure Things Are… and Where Are the Network Virtual Appliances? Hobbled By the Virtual Network, That’s Where…]

There are generally three dichotomies of thought when it comes to the notion of how much security should fall to the provider of the virtualization or cloud stack versus that of the consumer of their services or a set of third parties:

  1. The virtualization/cloud stack provider should provide a rich tapestry of robust security capabilities “baked in” to the platform itself, or
  2. The virtualization/cloud stack provider should provide security-enabling hooks to enable an ecosystem of security vendors to provide the bulk of security (beyond isolation) to be “bolted on,” or
  3. The virtualization/cloud stack provider should maximize the security of the underlying virtualization/cloud platform and focus on API security, isolation and availability of service only while pushing the bulk of security up into the higher-level programatic/application layers, or

So where are we today?  How much security does the stack, itself, need to provide. The answer, however polarized, is somewhere in the murkiness dictated by the delivery models, deployment models, who owns what part of the real estate and the use cases of both the virtualization/cloud stack provider and ultimately the consumer.

I’ve had a really interesting series of debates with the likes of Simon Crosby (of Xen/Citrix fame) on this topic and we even had a great debate at RSA with Steve Herrod from VMware.  These two “infrastructure” companies and their solutions typify the diametrically opposed first two approaches to answering this question while cloud providers who own their respective custom-rolled “stacks” at either end of IaaS and SaaS spectrums such as Amazon Web Services and Salesforce bringing up the third.

As with anything, this is about the tenuous balance of “security,” compliance, cost, core competence and maturity of solutions coupled with the sensitivity of the information that requires protection and the risk associated with the lopsided imbalance that occurs in the event of loss.

There’s no single best answer which explains why were have three very different approaches to what many, unfortunately, view as the same problem.

Today’s “baked in” security capabilities aren’t that altogether mature or differentiated, the hooks and APIs that allow for diversity and “defense in depth” provide for new and interesting ways to instantiate security, but also add to complexity, driving us back to an integration play.  The third is looked upon as proprietary and limiting in terms of visibility and transparency and don’t solve problems such as application and information security any more than the other two do.

Will security get “better” as we move forward with virtualization and cloud computing.  Certainly.  Perhaps because of it, perhaps in spite of it.

One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be messy, despite what the marketing says.

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