Home > De-Perimeterization, Security Innovation & Imagination > Evan Kaplan and Co. (Aventail) Take the Next Step

Evan Kaplan and Co. (Aventail) Take the Next Step

So Aventail’s being acquired by SonicWall?  I wish Evan Kaplan and his team well and trust that SonicWall will do their best to integrate the best of Aventail’s technology into their own.  It’s interesting that this news pops up today because I was just thinking about Aventail’s CEO today as part of a retrospective of security over the last 10+ years.

I’ve always admired Evan Kaplan’s messaging from afar and a couple of months ago I got to speak with him for an hour or so.  For someone who has put his stake in the ground the ground for last 11 years as a leader in the SSL VPN market, you might be surprised to know that Evan’s perspective on the world of networking and security isn’t limited to "tunnel vision" as one might expect.

One of my favorite examples of Evan’s beliefs is this article in Network World back in 2005 that resonated so very much with me then and still does today.  The title of the piece is "Smart Networks are Not a Good Investment" and was a "face off" feature between Evan and Cisco’s Rob Redford.

Evan’s point here — and what resonates at the core of what I believe should happen to security — is that the "network" ought to be separated into two strata, the "plumbing" (routers, switches, etc.) and intelligent "service layers" (security being one of them.)

Evan calls these layers "connectivity" and "intelligence."

The plumbing should be fast, resilient, reliable, and robust providing the connectivity and the service layers should be agile, open, interoperable, flexible and focused on delivering service as a core competency.   

Networking vendors who want to leverage the footprint they already have in port density and extend their stranglehold single vendor version of the truth obviously disagree with this approach.  So do those who ultimately suggest that "good enough" is good enough.

Evan bangs the drum:

Network intelligence as promoted by the large network vendors is the
Star Wars defense system of our time – monolithic, vulnerable and
inherently unreliable. Proponents of smart networks want to extend
their hegemony by incorporating application performance and security into a unified, super-intelligent infrastructure. They want to integrate everything into the network and embed security into every node. In theory, you would then have centralized control and strong perimeter defense.

Yup.  As I blogged recently, "Network Intelligence is an Oxymoron."  The port puppets will have you believe that you can put all this intelligence in the routers in switches and solve all the problems these platforms were never designed to solve whilst simultaneously scale performance and features against skyrocketing throughput requirements, extreme latency thresholds, emerging technologies and an avalanche of compounding threats and vulnerabilities…all from one vendor, of course.

While on the surface this sounds reasonable, a deeper look reveals
that this kind of approach presents significant risk for users and
service providers. It runs counter to the clear trends in network
communication, such as today’s radical growth in broadband and wireless networks
, and increased virtualization of corporate networks through use of
public infrastructure. As a result of these trends, much network
traffic is accessing corporate data centers from public networks rather
than the private LAN, and the boundaries of the enterprise are
expanding. Companies must grow by embracing these trends and fully
leveraging public infrastructure and the power of the Internet.

Exactly.  Look at BT’s 21CN network architecture as a clear and unequivocal demonstration of this strategy; a fantastic high-performance, resilient and reliable foundational transport coupled with an open, agile, flexible and equally high-performance and scalable security service layer.  If BT is putting 18 billion pounds of their money investing in a strategy like this and don’t reckon they can rely on "embedded" security, why would you?

vendors are right in recognizing and trying to address the two
fundamental challenges of network communications: application
performance and security. However, they are wrong in believing the best
way to address these concerns is to integrate application performance
and security into the underlying network.

The alternative is to avoid building increasing intelligence into the physical network, which I call the connectivity lane, and building it instead into a higher-level plane I call the intelligence plane.

The connectivity plane covers end-to-end network connectivity in its broadest sense, leveraging IPv4 and eventually IPv6
. This plane’s characteristics are packet-level performance and high
availability. It is inherently insecure but incredibly resilient. The
connectivity plane should be kept highly controlled and standardized,
because it is heavy to manage and expensive to build and update. It
should also be kept dumb, with change happening slowly.

He’s on the money here again.  Let the network evolve at its pace using standards-based technology and allow innovation to deliver service at the higher levels.  The network evolves much more slowly and at a pace that demands stability.  The experientially-focused intelligence layer needs to be much more nimble and agile, taking advantage of the opportunism and the requirements to respond to rapidly emerging technologies and threat/vulnerabilities.

Look at how quickly solutions like DLP and NAC have stormed onto the market.  If we had to wait for Cisco to get their butt in gear and deliver solutions that actually work as an embedded function within the "network," we’d be out of business by now.

I don’t have the time to write it again, but the security implications of having the fox guarding the henhouse by embedding security into the "fabric" is scary.  Just look at the number of security vulnerabilities Cisco has had in their routing, switching, and security products in the last 6 months.  Guess what happens when they’re all one?   I sum it up here and here as examples.

Conversely, the intelligence plane is application centric and policy
driven, and is an overlay to the connectivity plane. The intelligence
plane is where you build relationships, security and policy, because it
is flexible and cost effective. This plane is network independent,
multi-vendor and adaptive, delivering applications and performance
across a variety of environments, systems, users and devices. The
intelligence plane allows you to extend the enterprise boundary using
readily available public infrastructure. Many service and product
vendors offer products that address the core issues of security and
performance on the intelligence plane.

Connectivity vendors should focus their efforts on building faster, easier to manage and more reliable networks. Smart networks
are good for vendors, not customers.

Wiser words have not been spoken…except by me agreeing with them, of course 😉  Not too shabby for an SSL VPN vendor way back in 2005.

Evan, I do hope you won’t disappear and will continue to be an outspoken advocate of flushing the plumbing…best of luck to you and your team as you integrate into SonicWall.


  1. June 13th, 2007 at 04:46 | #1

    Are there any independent SSL VPN's left?

    Was just reading on Christofer Hoff's blog (you see I can spell your name), where he clued me in to the fact that Aventail was acquired by SonicWall for about 25 million in cash. We had spoken to the Aventail

  2. June 15th, 2007 at 15:46 | #2

    Port Puppets Please Stand Up

    I generally stay out of the line of fire when there’s a religious war raging. I was going to stay out of this one, too, but the temptation is just too much (and the flesh is weak, etc). I admit

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