Data Centre Virtualisation Held Back For Want Of Security Skills


The race to cut costs and streamline data centres is leaving security issues behind as the challenges outstrip the native skills of the implementers, says Eric Doyle

The Next Generation Data Centre (NGDC) which runs on virtualised servers and services sounds like a good idea because of the manageability it promises and the cost savings. Many companies are already well on the way but there appears to be a choke on growth.

Crossbeam Systems believes it has detected where the problem lies following a questionnaire it put out in February. The headliner is that 94 percent of the respondents named network security as the main problem which has caused their deployments to stall and be put on ice for 12-18 months.

Abstracting virtually everything

In a NGDC, part of the concept is to virtualise wherever possible and this includes the security and networking elements. Although, like many surveys, Crossbeam’s justifies its line of business and places what it offers in context, there are some other interesting results in the body of the research.

One of these little nuggets is that businesses may get virtualised but nothing really changes. The respondents were split into two categories: vice presidents and those who work for a living. In true Dilbert tradition, the vice presidents seem to think the projects are nearing their security goals while the techies know that the truth is a different matter.

According to the survey, the virtualisation of application servers and storage is much closer to their implementers’ goals than the completeness of the network security plans. Where the app plans are about three quarters finished, network security is still lodged at around half-way there.

Crossbeam’s UK director of product marketing Peter Doggart said, “There is a lack of security skills, and of trust, in the virtual technology out there. For the past decade staff have been involved with physical security appliances, such as firewalls, anti-malware applications and intrusion detectors. Anything else was dealt with by other departments. Now the security guys have to take on more responsibility and to do this they have to  talk to the applications managers and other specialists to bring all the security elements together.”

This is where Crossbeam is making its money because it has specialised in integrating the components of a secured network into a single appliance. The company believes that IT departments are planning their application server deployments and storage virtualisation because it is relatively straightforward. But security is different and networks need “rethinking”.

Crossbeam’s approach replaces the appliance farm of single-vendor point solutions with a harmonised  “network in a box” which allows the customer to choose from several vendors products. The intricacies of integrating these disparate products into a manageable whole is one of the hurdles that is holding back the NGDC initiatives, Doggart said.

Outside the pressure cooker

So where does the problem lie? The survey settles for budget constraints and this lack of expertise as the top reasons. Naturally, the vice presidents and directors, who were among the 529 respondents, listed expertise gaps as the top problem but the managers and engineers claimed tightened budgets were holding things back.

The real problem is that departments are under pressure to reduce costs and energy consumption as quickly as possible and this does not sit well with security. It appears that IT planners should take time out to step back and re-appraise their deployments. Doggart agrees but adds that this does not mean that advancements come to a grinding halt.

“If a management team adopts a more long-term approach to rethink their strategies, they could buy time by outsourcing some of the work. This would keep the company in line with retaining its competitive edge and virtualisation goals, and buy time to ensure that the private cloud of a NGDC will be secured against attack,” he said.

It could also provide the time to allow the security experts within the companies to attend courses to extend their expertise into a fully virtualised data centre context.

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