Posts Tagged ‘Hypervisor’

Flying Cars & Why The Hypervisor Is A Ride-On Lawnmower In Comparison

September 23rd, 2011 18 comments

I wrote a piece a while ago (in 2009) titled “Virtual Machines Are Part Of the Problem, Not the Solution…” in which I described the fact that hypervisors, virtualization and the packaging that supports them — Virtual Machines (VMs) — were actually kludges.

Specifically, VMs still contain the bloat (nee: cancer) that are operating systems and carry forward all of the issues and complexity (albeit now with more abstraction cowbell) that we already suffer.  Yes, it brings a lot of GOOD stuff, too, but tolerate the analog for a minute, m’kay.

Moreover, the move in operational models such as Cloud Computing (leveraging the virtualization theme) and the up-stack crawl from IaaS to PaaS (covered also in a blog I wrote titled: Silent Lucidity: IaaS – Already A Dinosaur?) seems to indicate a general trending toward a reduction in the number of layers in the overall compute stack.

Something I saw this morning reminded me of this and its relation to how the evolution and integration of various functions — such as virtualization and security — directly into CPUs themselves are going to dramatically disrupt how we perceive and value “virtualization” and “cloud” in the long run.

I’m not going to go into much detail because there’s a metric crapload of NDA type stuff associated with the details, but I offer you this as something you may have already thought about and the industry is gingerly crawling toward across multiple platforms.  You’ll have to divine and associate the rest:

Think “Microkernels”

…and in the immortal words of Forrest Gump “That’s all I’m gonna say ’bout that.”


* Ray DePena humorously quipped on Twitter that “…the flying car never materialized,” to which I retorted “Incorrect. It has just not been mass produced…” I believe this progression will — and must — materialize.

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Patching the (Hypervisor) Platform: How Do You Manage Risk?

April 12th, 2010 7 comments

Hi. Me again.

In 2008 I wrote a blog titled “Patching the Cloud” which I followed up with material examples in 2009 in another titled “Redux: Patching the Cloud.

These blogs focused mainly on virtualization-powered IaaS/PaaS offerings and whilst they targeted “Cloud Computing,” they applied equally to the heavily virtualized enterprise.  To this point I wrote another in 2008 titled “On Patch Tuesdays For Virtualization Platforms.

The operational impacts of managing change control, vulnerability management and threat mitigation have always intrigued me, especially at scale.

I was reminded this morning of the importance of the question posed above as VMware released a series of security advisories detailing ten vulnerabilities across many products, some of which are remotely exploitable. While security vulnerabilities in hypervisors are not new, it’s unclear to me how many heavily-virtualized enterprises or Cloud providers actually deal with what it means to patch this critical layer of infrastructure.

Once virtualized, we expect/assume that VM’s and the guest OS’s within them should operate with functional equivalence when compared to non-virtualized instances. We have, however, seen that this is not the case. It’s rare, but it happens that OS’s and applications, once virtualized, suffer from issues that cause faults to the underlying virtualization platform itself.

So here’s the $64,000 question – feel free to answer anonymously:

While virtualization is meant to effectively isolate the hardware from the resources atop it, the VMM/Hypervisor itself maintains a delicate position arbitrating this abstraction.  When the VMM/Hypervisor needs patching, how do you regression test the impact across all your VM images (across test/dev, production, etc.)?  More importantly, how are you assessing/measuring compound risk across shared/multi-tenant environments with respect to patching and its impact?


P.S. It occurs to me that after I wrote the blog last night on ‘high assurance (read: TPM-enabled)’ virtualization/cloud environments with respect to change control, the reference images for trust launch environments would be impacted by patches like this. How are we going to scale this from a management perspective?

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More On High Assurance (via TPM) Cloud Environments

April 11th, 2010 14 comments
North Bridge Intel G45
Image via Wikipedia

Back in September 2009 after presenting at the Intel Virtualization (and Cloud) Security Summit and urging Intel to lead by example by pushing the adoption and use of TPM in virtualization and cloud environments, I blogged a simple question (here) as to the following:

Does anyone know of any Public Cloud Provider (or Private for that matter) that utilizes Intel’s TXT?

Interestingly the replies were few; mostly they were along the lines of “we’re considering it,” “…it’s on our long radar,” or “…we’re unclear if there’s a valid (read: economically viable) use case.”

At this year’s RSA Security Conference, however, EMC/RSA, Intel and VMware made an announcement regarding a PoC of their “Trusted Cloud Infrastructure,” describing efforts to utilize technology across the three vendors’ portfolios to make use of the TPM:

The foundation for the new computing infrastructure is a hardware root of trust derived from Intel Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), which authenticates every step of the boot sequence, from verifying hardware configurations and initialising the BIOS to launching the hypervisor, the companies said.

Once launched, the VMware virtualisation environment collects data from both the hardware and virtual layers and feeds a continuous, raw data stream to the RSA enVision Security Information and Event Management platform. The RSA enVision is engineered to analyse events coming through the virtualisation layer to identify incidents and conditions affecting security and compliance.

The information is then contextualised within the Archer SmartSuite Framework, which is designed to present a unified, policy-based assessment of the organisation’s security and compliance posture through a central dashboard, RSA said.

It should be noted that in order to take advantage of said solution, the following components are required: a future release of RSA’s Archer GRC console, the upcoming Intel Westmere CPU and a soon-to-be-released version of VMware’s vSphere.  In other words, this isn’t available today and will require upgrades up and down the stack.

Sam Johnston today pointed me toward an announcement from Enomaly referencing the “High Assurance Edition” of ECP which laid claims of assurance using the TPM beyond the boundary of the VMM to include the guest OS and their management system:

Enomaly’s Trusted Cloud platform provides continuous security assurance by means of unique, hardware-assisted mechanisms. Enomaly ECP High Assurance Edition provides both initial and ongoing Full-Stack Integrity Verification to enable customers to receive cryptographic proof of the correct and secure operation of the cloud platform prior to running any application on the cloud.

  • Full-Stack Integrity Verification provides the customer with hardware-verified proof that the cloud stack (encompassing server hardware, hypervisor, guest OS, and even ECP itself) is intact and has not been tampered with. Specifically, the customer obtains cryptographically verifiable proof that the hardware, hypervisor, etc. are identical to reference versions that have been certified and approved in advance. The customer can therefore be assured, for example, that:
  • The hardware has not been modified to duplicate data to some storage medium of which the application is not aware
  • No unauthorized backdoors have been inserted into the cloud managment system
  • The hypervisor has not been modified (e.g. to copy memory state)
  • No hostile kernel modules have been injected into the guest OS
This capability therefore enables customers to deploy applications to public clouds with confidence that the confidentiality and integrity of their data will not be compromised.

Of particular interest was Enomaly’s enticement of service providers with the following claim:

…with Enomaly’s patented security functionality, can deliver a highly secure Cloud Computing service – commanding a higher price point than commodity public cloud providers.

I’m looking forward to exploring more regarding these two example solutions as they see the light of day (and how long this will take given the need for platform-specific upgrades up and down the stack) as well as whether or not customers are actually willing to pay — and providers can command — a higher price point for what these components may offer.  You can bet certain government agencies are interested.

There are potentially numerous benefits with the use of this technology including security, compliance, assurance, audit and attestation capabilities (I hope also to incorporate more of what this might mean into the CloudAudit/A6 effort) but I’m very interested as to the implications on (change) management and policy, especially across heterogeneous environments and the extension and use of TPM’s across mobile platforms.

Of course, researchers are interested in these things too…see Rutkowska, et. al and “Attacking Intel Trusted Execution Technology” as an example.


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