Virtualization has certainly taken off, but less attention gets directed to how to better manage virtualization, to gain better security using virtualization techniques, and also to find methods for compliance and regulation of virtualized environments -- but without the pitfalls of complexity and confusion.
We seem to be at a tipping point in terms of everyone doing virtualization, or wanting to do it, or wanting to do even more. IT managers experimenting with virtualization are seeking to reduce costs, to improve the efficiency in use of their assets, or for using virtualization to address the issues they might have with energy cost, energy capacity or sometimes even space capacity in the data center. But the paybacks from virtualization can be lost or mitigated when management and complexity are not matched. Poorly run or mismanaged virtualized environments are a huge missed opportunity.
Now's the time when virtualization best practices are being formed. The ways to control and fully exploit virtualization are in demand, along with the tools to gain analysis and insights into how systems are performing in a dynamic, virtualized state.
To help learn about new ways that systems log tools and analysis are aiding the ramp-up to virtualization use, I recently spoke with Charu Chaubal, senior architect for technical marketing, at VMware; Chris Hoff, chief security architect at Unisys, and Dr. Anton Chuvakin, chief logging evangelist and a security expert at LogLogic.
Here are some excerpts:
The reasons people are virtualizing are cost, cost savings and then cost avoidance, which is usually seconded by agility and flexibility. It’s also about being able to, as an IT organization, service your constituent customers in a manner that is more in line with the way business functions, which is, in many cases, quite a fast pace -- with the need to be flexible.
Adding virtualization to the technology that people use in such a massive way as it's occurring now brings up the challenges of how do we know what happens in those environments. Is there anybody trying to abuse them, just use them, or use them inappropriately? Is there a lack of auditability and control in those environments? Logs are definitely one of the ways, or I would say a primary way, of gaining that visibility for most IT compliance, and virtualization is no exception.
As a result, as people deploy VMware and applications in a couple of virtual platforms, the challenge is knowing what actually happens on those platforms, what happens in those virtual machines (VMs), and what happens with the applications. Logging and LogLogic play a very critical role in not only collecting those bits and pieces, but also creating a big picture or a view of that activity across other organizations.
Virtualization definitely solves some of the problems, but at the same time, it brings in and brings out new things, which people really aren't used to dealing with. For example, it used to be that if you monitor a server, you know where the server is, you then know how to monitor it, you know what applications run there.
In virtual environments, that certainly is true, but at the same time it adds another layer of this server going somewhere else, and you monitor where it was moved, where it is now, and basically perform monitoring as servers come up and down, disappear, get moved, and that type of stuff.
The benefits of virtualization today ... is even more exciting and interesting. That's going to fundamentally continue to cause us to change what we do and how we do it, as we move forward. Visibility is very important, but understanding the organizational and operational impacts that real-time infrastructure and virtualization bring, is really going to be an interesting challenge for folks to get their hands around.
When you migrate from a physical to a virtual infrastructure, you certainly still have servers and applications running in those servers and you have people managing those servers. That leaves you with the need to monitor the same audit and the same security technologies that you use. You shouldn't stop. You shouldn't throw away your firewalls. You shouldn't throw away your log analysis tool, because you still have servers and applications.
They might be easier to monitor in virtual environments. It might sometimes be harder, but you shouldn't change things that are working for you in the physical environment, because virtualization does change a few things. At the same time, the fact that you have applications, servers, and they serve you for business purposes, shouldn't stop you from doing useful things you're doing now.
Now, an additional layer on top of what you already have adds the new things that come with virtualization. The fact that this server might be there one day, but be gone tomorrow -- or not be not there one day and be built up and used for a while and then removed -- definitely brings the new challenges to security monitoring, security auditing in figuring out who did what where.
The customers understood that they have to collect the logs from the virtual platforms, and that LogLogic has an ability to collect any type of a log. They first started from a log collection effort, so that they could always go back and say, "We've got this data somewhere, and you can go and investigate it."
We also built up a package of contents to analyze the logs as they were starting their collection efforts to have logs ready for users. At LogLogic, we built and set up reports and searches to help them go through the data. So, it was really going in parallel with that, building up some analytic content to make sense of the data, if a customer already has a collection effort, which included logs from the virtual platform.
All the benefits that we get out of virtualization today are just the beginning and kind of the springboard for what we are going to see in terms of automation, which is great. But we are right at the same problem set, as we kind of pogo along this continuum, which is trying really hard to unite this notion of governance and making sure that just because you can, doesn't mean you should. In certain instances the business processes and policies might prescribe that you don't do some things that would otherwise be harmful in your perspective.
It's that delicate balance of security versus operational agility that we need to get much better at, and much more intelligent about, as we use our virtualization as an enabler. That's going to bring some really interesting and challenging things to the forefront in the way in which IT operates -- benefits and then differences.