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Paul Judd, Fortinet: Trimming the excess

April 2008 by Marc Jacob

The security industry can’t resist injecting some warmongering language in everything it seems to debate. We’ve talked about ‘arms races’ against the hacking ‘hordes’, and how businesses should best ‘deploy’ a security ‘arsenal’ replete with ‘weaponry’ that will ‘destroy threats’. I doubt businesses themselves are so jingoistic about sharpening their bayonets and lining the trenches. What they want to engage in is peace and quiet, using intelligent solutions to respond to threats efficiently rather than creating pandemonium.

Yet while the industry amplifies the sound of machine gun fire across the heads of its customer base, the common response will continue to be to tool up, build stockades and start getting jumpy. Perhaps this is why most datacentres today groan with the weight of incremental security infrastructure investments, wrapping organisations like gigantic comfort blankets against the spectre of potential disaster. We’ve seen the broader virtualisation trend emerge as a welcome antidote to datacentre excess, but as a brand new development within this we also have ‘virtualised security’ to contribute to the efficiency drives, green targets and overall cost reduction initiatives that run throughout all organisations.

The compulsion to reduce the excessive complexity and sheer size of many security infrastructures is one of the reasons why Unified Threat Management (UTM) solutions have been cemented as the fastest growing sector of the security industry today. According to analysts IDC, UTM will continue to grow, accounting for half of the entire market by 2011. I mention it because virtualised security has its logical roots set firmly within UTM development. Better security effectiveness, higher cost savings, easier management and optimum space/power consumption are the driving forces behind both technologies, and in combination its benefits are multiplied.

Numerous security players have been trying to get in on the act, by enabling their individual security functions to be virtualised. It’s all very laudable, but limited. Virtualising UTM on the other hand, (i.e. integrated security functions such as IPS, AV, antispam, firewall, content filtering etc.) and the critical switching and routing functions that operate in tandem, represent a far more powerful proposition.

The capabilities exist for all security and networking functions to be virtualised onto a single platform. Clearly when a single platform virtualises multiple functions then this becomes extremely compelling should ‘green’ or just plain economic objectives signify any kind of priority- but beware of being run over by the bandwagon. Virtualisation (and for that matter, UTM) relies upon a combination of proprietary hardware and software components to offer the most efficient performance available.

Early adopters for virtualised UTM have been the organisations with the biggest networks and traffic demands. HEAnet, the service provider operating Ireland’s research and education network, is charged with providing numerous security functions for over 800,000 users and has accomplished this feat with a solution that occupies just two datacentre racks.

The MSSP (Managed Security Service Provider) market is also investing heavily in the technology. These service providers seek to meet the need for security services, often delivered on a ‘per seat, per month’ basis. Rather than construct distinct security architectures for each of the services they offer (managed firewall, managed IPS, managed AV etc.), the use of virtualised UTM is a beautiful methodology for dramatically reducing their capital and operating costs, as well as providing the most flexible services possible to customers.

Maybe it’s naïve to wish for peace when the threats out there represent real and present danger. Being over-specialised, over-specified and over-spent are the common shortcomings of national defence strategies, and the same can be said of too many organisations. The silver bullet solution might just be virtualised UTM…

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