One Small Step for Visibility, one Giant Leap to the Public Cloud!

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Public Clouds are here, so what is holding back enterprises?

A significant force in information technology today is the rapid evolution of the public cloud, especially Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Attributes such as economies of scale, usage-based pricing, agility and elasticity are compelling enterprises to evaluate compute, network and storage infrastructure offered by a public cloud provider.

Read the full blog on Gigamon’s Web site here.

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IT Product Testing: Methodology Matters

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(This article first appeared in Network Computing on April 19, 2016.)

Comparative tests of complex enterprise products are hard to come by, which makes solution testing an invaluable step in selecting the right hardware and software for IT and networking initiatives. Most engineers agree that there is no more effective way to ensure that their decisions accurately and effectively address performance and business imperatives than rigorous side-by-side comparison of capabilities. When done properly, such testing makes it possible to make technical decisions with confidence, even in the absence of case studies and peers who can share real-world experience with the technologies in question.

Read the full article on Network Computing’s Website here.

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It’s Time to Automate Visibility

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(This article was originally published in APMDigest on Nov 6, 2015)

As any network administrator can tell you, network traffic doesn’t stand still. It is constantly changing and increasing in complexity. Networks have fundamentally changed, and the demands put on them by new technology, customers, mobility, and other factors are forcing IT to develop networks that are more agile and dynamic than ever before. While it seems like IT departments are bombarded with new challenges, there are three major trends that are making it difficult to gain visibility into networks: the increased adoption of virtualized infrastructure, enterprise mobility and the rise in encrypted traffic.

Read the full article on APMDigest here.

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Software-Defined Visibility: When Automation Meets Visibility

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(This article first appeared on Gigamon’s blog on April 20, 2015.)

In its predictions for 2015, Gartner posits that “today’s digital business must act rapidly to respond to fundamental changes in competitive challenges, customer demands and technology use models — all happening simultaneously”[1].  Agility is no longer an option; it is a building block for modern IT.

At Gigamon, we have always had a singular focus on visibility. Visibility that uncovers blind spots, detects threats that are lurking somewhere in the infrastructure, helps security administrators and networks administrators to detect issues proactively before their clients/users report them. The formidable reach of our Unified Visibility Fabric becomes even more appealing when one considers the vast ecosystem of technology partners that we work with to deliver accurate, intelligent access to network traffic and flow records in real-time. Visibility is undoubtedly the foundation to detect blind spots and hidden threats in the infrastructure.

But what if the applications and various IT applications/appliances that receive traffic from the Visibility Fabric also had a way to dynamically respond to events they detect by programming the Visibility Fabric without waiting for administrative intervention? What if, for instance, a security appliance detects a threat pattern and had the capability to auto-adjust traffic to react and respond to threats? That is the motivation behind a new paradigm that we are launching today at RSA 2015 called ‘Software-Defined Visibility’ (SDV). SDV exposes a programmatic interface to the entire Visibility Fabric using open REST-based Application Programmer Interfaces (APIs).

Read the full article on Gigamon’s blog.

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Visibility Your Way

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(This article was first published on Gigamon’s blog on Jan 28, 2015.)

Driven by increasingly complex and seemingly undetectable security threats, by infrastructure blind spots created by encapsulated and encrypted traffic, and the desire to embrace SDN technology, data center operators are acknowledging the value and criticality of pervasive and end-to-end visibility to deliver essential infrastructure monitoring. So, how do you establish pervasive visibility that enables your monitoring and management strategy while remaining within the constraints of your budget?

Gigamon, the market leader in traffic visibility, is introducing an additional option for visibility by extending its rich software called “GigaVUE-OS” to white box hardware manufactured by two of the leading suppliers, QCT (Quanta Cloud Technology) and Agema Systems, Inc.

Read the full article on Gigamon’s blog here.

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Uncovering the Next Infrastructure Blind Spot: SSL

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(This article first appeared on Gigamon’s blog on Oct 28, 2015.)

Visibility: the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as the “capability of affording an unobstructed view”. In the world of business, visibility delivers relevant insight, which can be the difference between just-in-time action and a missed opportunity. This is why traffic-based visibility powers the business of NOW! Yet, the nature of traffic visibility is such that underlying shifts in payload types and patterns requires solutions that can readily adapt to these shifts and provide an unobstructed view of traffic to the administrator.

Many security and network administrators are facing up to an underlying shift in enterprise traffic: a growing portion of it is encrypted within SSL. According to an independent study done by NSS Labs, anywhere from 25%-35% of enterprise traffic is encrypted in SSL and is growing further every month. In some verticals, that number is already higher. By itself, this statistic would not cause a flutter but this is exacerbated by other findings on the state of today’s security and performance monitoring infrastructure:

  • Although inline devices such as ADCs, firewalls etc. have integrated SSL support, out-of-band monitoring and security tools often do not have the ability to access decrypted traffic to perform security and performance analysis. This allows SSL traffic to fly under the radar, creating a potential security loophole.
  • Consequently, performance management tools and many out-of-band security tools are either completely blind to SSL traffic or get overloaded if they decrypt SSL. In discussions with many of our customers, they have pointed out a drop in performance by almost 80% if the tool decrypts SSL.
  • Many security administrators are using larger ciphers for increased security today. A study by NSS Labs noted a performance degradation of 81% in existing SSL architectures.
  • Hackers and cybercriminals are increasingly using SSL sessions to dodge network security defenses. Indeed, a Dec. 9, 2013 Gartner report titled “Security Leaders Must Address Threats From Rising SSL Traffic” by Jeremy D’Hoinne and Adam Hils, “Gartner believes that, in 2017, more than half of the network attacks targeting enterprises will use encrypted traffic to bypass controls, up from less than 5% today”.

In short, the very technology that was supposed to ensure confidentiality is now being exploited by nefarious actors. These are precisely the reasons that have driven us at Gigamon to come with the next innovation in visibility—the industry’s first and only visibility solution with integrated SSL support. With built-in hardware to decrypt SSL sessions at high performance, this new capability provides visibility into a critical blind spot facing administrators today. It is not without reason that analysts, customers and our technology ecosystem partners who have been privy to this development are all agog with excitement!

Read the full article on Gigamon’s blog.

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Dawn of a New Era: Active Visibility for Multi-Tiered Security

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(This article was first published on Gigamon’s blog)

What keeps the enterprise security team up at night? Fear that their enterprise would be the next target of a breach or a security attack. Per Gartner, an estimated $18 Billion will be spent by enterprises world-wide on various security products/services in 2014. Yet breaches and the negative consequences of vulnerabilities continue to proliferate … self-replicating malware, denial-of-service attacks, exploiting security vulnerabilities in products, cyber-espionage, theft of critical data and more. Surely, this begs the question as to why “secured” networks are so exposed!

The reality is that the envelope of threats has expanded significantly today. No longer can one rely on reactive security; one has to be proactive. Attacks can come from multiple sources, can originate from the inside of an enterprise or at the perimeter. A multi-tiered security approach is required to protect against different types of attacks by using intelligent real-time traffic inspection across both inline and out-of-band security appliances. These security appliances/software could include firewalls, IPS, malware detectors, IDS, Data Loss Prevention, anti-virus software and other SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) approaches. In this scenario, the security team is faced with important questions: how does one make sure that inline tools (e.g. IPS and firewalls) do not become a single point of failure? How does the security administrator ensure that critical links that have tight maintenance windows are continuously monitored? How do security and network teams cooperate to ensure that inline security tools do not become network bottlenecks? As networks and applications continue to grow along with the volume and pace of information, these security solutions can quickly be pushed beyond their limit, eventually compromising enterprise security.

Until now! Say hello to the age of Active Visibility for Multi-Tiered Security. Gigamon today announced a new approach that allows security teams to address the aforementioned challenges by combining high availability and intelligent traffic distribution across multiple inline and out-of-band security tools to ensure continuous security monitoring. The combination of high-performance compute and advanced traffic intelligence for traffic distribution across multiple security devices addresses the aforementioned risks to reduce the threat envelope, mitigate risk and maximize asset utilization. For example, the ability to take traffic from a single network link and intelligently replicate it across multiple inline security and out-of-band security tools means that all of these specialized security tools can concurrently inspect the same traffic in real-time. Moreover, the built-in fail-safe/fail-open high-availability capabilities ensure that continuous security monitoring can finally be achieved. No critical link is now a single point of failure. A failure of a single security tool in a chain of security devices will no longer create a domino effect that exposes the enterprise. And although inline security tools operate at very different rates compared to the network, the approach allows traffic to be intelligently load balanced across multiple instances of a security device such as an IPS to allow scalable security practices to be put in place. As you would see from today’s press release, this revolutionary approach has been publicly endorsed by several of Gigamon’s security ecosystem partners such as FireEye and ForeScout.

Delivered in the form of an inline “bypass” module and an advanced traffic intelligence GigaSMART® module with embedded ports on Gigamon’s GigaVUE-HC2 platform, the approach arms security teams with tremendous infrastructure insight and response capabilities in real-time. The new front-facing GigaSMART® modules increase the compute power of the GigaVUE-HC2 so that a single 2 RU compact unit can process up to 200 Gbps across 64 10G ports, while a standard rack full of these systems can process up to a whopping 4.2 Tbps! The implication of this enormous compute power means that an unprecedented level of traffic pre-processing can be done using the various advanced GigaSMART applications to deliver only relevant data to out-of-band security tools. The GigaVUE-HC2 platform is a compact 2 RU platform that is part of Gigamon’s Unified Visibility Fabric architecture that leads the pack in the category of mid-range products for network visibility today.

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Intelligent, Pervasive Network Visibility and the Start of A New Journey

In the world of networking, the topics of SDN and NFV now dominate every discussion– positioning by vendors, analysis by market pundits and evaluation by customers are never complete without a reference to these topics today. It is testament to the progress in the nature of these discussions that the industry now acknowledges the need for more agility to be brought to the networking component in IT infrastructure to mirror similar advances that have happened in the realm of compute and storage.

In addition to SDN and NFV, several important developments have happened in the last three years:

  1. Network speeds have increased dramatically. 10GbE is now mainstream, 40GbE adoption is rapidly increasing and it is a matter of when (not if) 100GbE will be deployed more broadly. Merchant silicon usage in switches and routers tailored for enterprise campus or data center use has ensured more uniformity in available capabilities and the consequent deflation of per-port prices. Cloud computing, 4G/LTE and BYOD have led to investments that have taken advantage of these lower per-port prices to yield much higher network throughput to users.
  2. Tools to administer a network have grown over time. The actual tools vary based on the business need: Application Performance Management (APM), Network Performance Management (NPM), Security appliances, Deep Packet Inspection Engines etc. but in general, every organization is using far more tools today than ever before. Often, the tools need a different view of the same network data.
  3. The network is no longer just a physical entity. Whether it is network virtualization, network functions virtualization (NFV) or merely the use of a virtual switch, it is abundantly clear that network elements no longer exist in just a physical form factor. They can be both physical and virtual.
  4. Organizations want to leverage Big Data in real-time. Insight that is not timely is uninteresting. A Big Data analysis software that directly gets data from the network is best positioned to generate insight in real-time or near real-time.

Any one of these forces is demanding in itself but when all of these four forces combine, the result is a quadruple-whammy for the IT administrator! The gulf between speed of the network and speed of tools has never been more pronounced. The old school way of merely tapping and aggregating SPAN/mirror ports to deliver a fire-hose of data to tools that were already overwhelmed, fail to scale miserably.

Today, I am excited to become part of an organization that has made it a mission to provide Intelligent Traffic Visibility Networking solutions for enterprises, data centers and service providers around the globe. Gigamon® is a leader in providing pervasive traffic visibility across any element of the network infrastructure– physical or virtual, local or remote, 1 Gbps to 100 Gbps links. In addition, the combination of intelligence with traffic visibility delivered through Gigamon’s unique GigaSMART technology ensures that administrators can be highly selective in the type of traffic forwarded to tools along with any associated modification/manipulation to increase tool throughput (and increase ROI) or meet business compliance goals.

The journey starts today!

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Data Security and The Role of the Network

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This blog was originally posted on the Brocade Community page []

Insider attacks. Surveillance. Hackers wanting to break into a network. Today’s ubiquitous and always-on connectivity has meant that IT administrators should take extra precautions to safeguard their information assets from snoopers.

Consider the following:

  1. A recent survey of north American enterprises by Infonetics in January 2014 showed that 60% of respondents rated data security as the biggest barrier to deploy a cloud service. This concern from IT administrators is understandable because reports of data theft continue to fill the airwaves and our newsfeeds.
  2. In today’s global enterprise, multi-site connectivity is delivered over a third-party provider network. In an information-based economy, how does one ensure that data flowing between sites is protected from intrusion?
  3. Many industries have strict regulations around data protection. As enterprise boundaries become more fluid with the use of outsourced providers for anything outside an enterprise’s core competence, it becomes essential for the “outsourcer” to take adequate security measures. The outsourcer can be any provider of a service– a law firm, a marketing event-management firm, a human-resource provider, payroll processor etc.

Data security to ensure only authorized access to data has to be addressed at multiple levels. This includes security measures to handle data-at-rest as well as data-in-flight. Historically, the approach to ensuring such privacy for data-in-flight has primarily been at the application layer. E.g. https, SSL, secure file transfer protocols are all mechanisms to achieve this. All these are absolutely required but isn’t it time we looked at data privacy as a foundational element of the network? Wouldn’t it be so much more efficient if the underlying network could assure the privacy of data in flight via appropriate encryption mechanisms? Not only does such network-level encryption mechanisms make data exchange more secure irrespective of the application; it also prevents eavesdroppers from collecting valuable metadata. In certain cases (e.g. inter-data center links), handling encryption at the network-level is the most optimal way to do this. In other situations, network-level encryption prevents collection of meta-data, which itself could provide valuable clues to the snooper.

Network-level encryption can be done at the Ethernet link-layer using MacSec or at the IP layer using IPsec. MacSec is now standardized as part of IEEE 802.1AE. Similarly, a suite of protocols have been standardized for IPsec as part of several IETF RFCs. Network-level encryption is not new. Now, thanks to concurrent advances in both encryption and semiconductor technologies, the result is the potential to encrypt at high-performance, at scale and at a dramatically lower cost. Administrators can then have a new tool in their portfolio to insure against violations in data security during data-in-flight transfers.

The 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report by Verizon mentions that 66% of data breaches remain undetected for months! As an IT administrator, wouldn’t implementing network-level encryption provide you better peace of mind to protect your enterprise’s valuable data from unauthorized attempts to access it?

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Software Defined Networking: Disruptive Innovation

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Software-defined networking (SDN) has moved from an academic concept to one that drew jeers to one that is now drawing cheers … all in a matter of two years. While some came kicking and screaming to the party, others embraced it headlong. The tipping point has been a few key seminal events:

  • The formation of Open Networking Foundation (ONF) in March which was actively led by industry thought leaders and let momentum to an effort that was until then primarily academic.
  • Public presentation by Google at the Open Networking Summit (ONS) in April 2012 that its internal data center network (called “G-Scale”) is managed using SDN/OpenFlow.
  • An announcement from Internet2 earlier this week that the first 100G open, nationwide Software-Defined Network would be built based on network infrastructure from Brocade and Juniper.

Announcements from industry innovators such as Google and Internet2 naturally garner a lot of attention because they are proving that SDN is far more ready than what many had thought. And may I add, they are not just doing it in a small contained environment but in a very big way!

This naturally begs the question– so, what is the true benefit of SDN? Is it capex reduction? Is it opex reduction? It is about rebalancing power between buyer and supplier? Yes, yes, yes and more.

As growth rate of network bandwidth and IT budgets increasingly diverges, the focus invariably changes to increasing both efficiency and effectiveness of assets. Efficiency of assets, i.e. asset utilization takes on a new meaning. Effectiveness is measured by the flexibility available to redeploy assets on the fly and resulting service velocity, i.e. shortening time to revenue. The assets in question could be compute, storage, network or even software. Naturally, large-scale increases in such efficiency/effectiveness can only be achieved with automation and rethinking previously held beliefs. And that is where SDN promises a path that has not been systemically tread as an industry-wide initiative. While there have been efforts to have proprietary interfaces in the past from various vendors, none have been truly interoperable/interchangeable across various vendor platforms.

Nor has there ever been an attempt before to unbundle control plane from the data plane in a network device and break the monolithic “closed” architecture. By taking the first steps towards creating that “programmable” interface, OpenFlow aspires to do what other technologies have not been able to do so far.

Why now?

2 simple reasons: The confluence of Big data and collaboration is creating a double whammy.

  • If Google were an Internet service provider, it would rank as one of the top ISPs in the world.  Your YouTube video might not be too large by itself but aggregated over millions of consumers via social media does create choke points for large Internet aggregators.
  • Similarly, Internet2 provides a network that is earnestly needed by researchers in data intensive science. Think physics, human genomics, weather forecasting, astronomy, … As if the data sets from these researchers were not large enough, the need to collaborate among researchers exacerbates the need for change.

Looking ahead

Like any emerging technology, SDN is still in its infancy. Yet, it would be foolish to mistake that infancy for lack of promise. Skeptics would be well advised to read The Innovators Dilemma! IT administrators need to start planning today to prepare for an SDN-ready paradigm.

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