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A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a customer whose business was expanding fast, so he had to add three new servers to his server farm. To save precious floor space, he decided to virtualize a couple of these servers. The results were so encouraging that he virtualized the rest of the servers that had a low utilization rate. Again, everything went fine, and he saved enough floor space so that there would still be room for a dozen additional servers.

What was odd, though, was that the customer did not receive as many firewall or Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) alerts as he used to. It was as if a large chunk of network traffic had just disappeared. After checking all of the firewall, IPS and network monitoring logs, and finding them in normal condition, he realized that his new virtual environment was a blind spot for traditional network security appliances -- they could not see what happened there.

This customer is representative of the growing trend in the data center today. Virtualization makes it possible to deploy multiple virtual servers, each running separate operating systems and applications on one physical server. The results are more efficient usage of existing hardware, reduced power and cooling costs and reduction in data center footprints…and a complex one-stop shop for hackers trying to access valuable data. This is definitely not an ideal location for a "blind spot" on the network. The customer quickly realized that this wouldn't be nearly as plain and simple as he expected.

The task at hand

Virtualization presents a number of challenges to keeping the data center secure -- the first of which is complexity.

The nature of virtual environments -- multiple software architectures running in a single physical server -- gives many organizations a false sense of security. Although the physical architecture is different, virtual machines are still running typical operating systems and applications that require constant patches and updates to remain secure. A virtual environment is just as vulnerable to attacks as any other device connected to the network.

In addition, as with the customer's situation above, when one virtual appliance communicated with another virtual appliance, the communication never left the virtual environment. In other words, it never went through any network security devices that were outside of the virtual environment. So, the network security devices could not see what was happening inside the virtual environment. Not only does this present a major hole in security architecture, it is also not compliant with governance regulations.


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