Want a secure and agile network?

VMware Global Inc

By Raymond Maisano, Director Specialist Sales, VMware
Thursday, 26 May, 2016

Want a secure and agile network?

Do you want a secure and agile network? Then it's time to adopt virtualisation.

Enterprises cannot gain the security and agility they need from their networks without full-scale automation. And just like with the cloud, automation is impossible without virtualisation.

In fact, the network plays an even more important role in business success as a result of cloud computing’s recent ubiquity. More and more organisations are adopting hybrid cloud models to deal with varying performance, regulatory and cost factors across different use cases.

As they do so, they need a means of adding new workloads and managing existing ones quickly and consistently, without compromising security, despite the high degrees of variance between the different types of cloud involved.

As the ‘glue’ between these clouds, the network has to match the agility and security of the nodes that it connects to one another.

Most organisations view agility and security as opposite sides of the coin, and not without cause. The speed at which business units request applications or workloads is faster than ever before, at a scale which can render rigorous security and compliance checks extremely onerous.

And that, in turn, creates opportunities for errors at all manner of stages — from manually provisioning instances to configuring routers, switches and firewall rules — which only increase exponentially as volume and speed increase.

This is (or at least should be) a golden rule of business and IT alike — you can’t go fast without making mistakes.

Or can you? The fundamental issue with balancing the coin of agility and security on its edge is not the technology itself, but human error. The more automation of scaling and spin-up processes takes place, the lower the risk of mistakes — and the faster the processes can go without making them.

In fact, the pace at which business units now demand applications is an indirect result of automation. The cloud, with its ‘as-a-service’ model for infrastructure and services, whetted the appetite of business users because it could rapidly scale up and down while maintaining completely consistent security policies.

Can one size fit all (endpoints)?

Network virtualisation promises to achieve that same balance between security and agility, except on an enterprise-wide scale. The network encompasses not only clouds, but all endpoints within an organisation, from personal mobile devices to Internet of Things appliances.

Within each category of endpoints, enterprises face increasing variety and complexity — and the number of categories itself will only continue to grow.

That’s a situation which will soon prove untenable for manual network administration.

With network virtualisation, however, the policy comes before the endpoints. Administrators can catalogue their security and compliance requirements from a central console, then apply them whenever a new endpoint is added to the network.

Virtualisation means that the same process of adding one endpoint can be duplicated at large scale, extremely quickly, enabling businesses to quickly scale up within not just one, but across the many clouds that make up hybrid IT footprints.

And because security is intrinsically tied up with connectivity — you can’t have a data breach without a network to leak into — applying policies via the network allows full-scale security coverage without having to accommodate for every unique trait of every endpoint.

When applied to network configuration, automation essentially removes the issue of volume from any business process. A migration to a whole new data centre becomes as simple as migrating between servers under a network virtualisation model, bringing the same visibility and peace of mind that you’d have with much smaller network transactions.

Unlocking the cloud’s true value

As a result, security becomes built into the network, whether it’s at the micro-level or between entities as big as clouds. The micro-segmentation that NSX allows, for example, gives administrators the power to automatically apply encryption at levels based on particular components’ traits.

This raises the security bar without unnecessarily applying encryption, which could otherwise slow down operations and data flow.

At the cloud level, container scheduling can be tweaked so that each container ‘phones home’ to the network virtualisation platform when it’s created. This results in the container connecting to a virtual switch and adopting the same security settings as its peers — regardless of whether it’s in a private or public cloud, and irrespective of its hardware or vendor.

That allows administrators to create a ‘cloud of clouds’ from scratch within hours or even minutes, maintaining vendor agnosticism where required without compromising on the business’s need for speed.

Enterprises have finally concluded that the cloud is as secure as it is agile — which is much more so than traditional on-premise modes of running infrastructure.

But the cloud’s true potential can only be realised once IT leaders acknowledge network virtualisation has the same, if not greater importance within their organisations. The benefits of automating the data centre have already been immense.

They’ll be dwarfed by the results of automating the network that connects those data centres to each other and everything else.

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