Security Management

Author: phion AG

Managing similarities
Web-based business processes are nowadays part and parcel of day-to-day operations in most companies, while networking marches on triumphantly. An ever-increasing number of sites, including even the smallest field office, are being integrated into communication infrastructures so that they can enjoy the benefits of centralised availability of data, simple application deployment and seamless workflows. The upshot for users is that it makes their job easier, and for companies, it boosts productivity. However on the downside it means a task that security and network managers can barely cope with as a result of the explosion in the number of systems requiring support for a whole variety of ‘behind-the-scenes’ tasks.

Companies and managed security providers have inevitably accepted the fact that the number of security gateways increases with every new site and customer. But setting up, configuring and the ongoing operation of these countless systems with their complicated interactions are creating a huge management effort. As a result this casts doubt over the systems’ efficiency on the one hand, while having a negative impact on their smooth operation on the other, given that where a great deal of management is required there is also a greater of scope for error. This situation is then aggravated by the number of connectivity and WAN optimisation systems, which are also growing, as well as by other devices which populate networks in addition to security gateways. They all perform special tasks and are not, strictly speaking, part of IT security, but they still must integrate seamlessly with the entire system concept.

Achieving a dramatic reduction in complexity
It has obviously not escaped the notice of security providers that the complexity of security infrastructures is gradually assuming nightmare proportions. Using enhanced interfaces and simplified operational concepts for these security gateways should make it more efficient to manage these systems, but this is simply not enough in most cases. How easy an individual gateway is to install and maintain does not come into it any more. In any case the sheer number of systems requires a huge investment in time and staff. The issue of integrating adjacent technologies will not even be touched, let alone solved by providing gateways with a more attractive management interface.

A radical approach is needed to enable companies to manage their infrastructure efficiently not just in the short term but in the future as well. In this case there are various courses of action available for permanently reducing the complexity of the task to a manageable level, while also ensuring the system’s efficient operation. The first option is to manage security gateways in a smarter way, leveraging the similarities that systems have, thereby reducing the administrative effort. One step that is just as important is to enable technologies which have been separate to converge as part of a small number of systems administered centrally. In addition, 100% traceability must be guaranteed for changes made to the infrastructure as a lack of transparency is one of biggest causes of errors and avoidable effort.

Managing similarities
The following simple example clearly highlights the crux of security management. If a new housing estate is built, all the houses will initially be identical in terms of d├ęcor and the materials used etc. In this situation it is obviously very easy to make sweeping decisions on how to expand the estate further. But as soon as tenants move in, specific adaptations will be made sooner or later. Implementing extensive measures affecting the whole estate now requires a significantly higher degree of planning. However, the individual apartments are basically not that different from each other and you will be able to find more far-reaching similarities in many areas. But if these similarities are ignored all the apartments will have to be considered as individual, completely different units. On the other hand, the common features they have are no longer enough to be able to treat all the apartments in the same way.

Why does this management of similarities remain an unresolved problem for many security product manufacturers, even though the potential for improvement is obvious? The answer to this is based on the underlying management concepts. Traditional approaches mainly involve either profile-based or device-based management. Profile-based management is ideal for managing a large number of identical gateways. However, it takes some effort to map individual features for each system. In total contrast, device-based management focuses completely on the specific features of the individual devices, but it is not conducive at all to the efficient management of a large number of systems.

Consequently, the ideal solution can only be achieved through combining profile-based management with device-based management, exactly in the way being publicised by phion for instance. Given the fact that phion is a relatively new company, this Austrian solution provider is not encumbered by legacy technologies and so it was able to develop a management concept that is radically different from traditional approaches. Firstly, it allows you to map individual requirements on the gateways, while at the same time supporting efficient, comprehensive management of common features. As a result, the benefits of profile-based and device-based management have been combined and the disadvantages avoided.

Security technology convergence
Being able to manage similarities between security gateways more efficiently is a necessary fundamental step, but only the first one. Company networks are teeming with countless other devices, ranging from routers and switches to WAN optimisers and traffic intelligence systems. The use of all these devices is undoubtedly justified, but their complex interactions hinder the introduction of comprehensive work processes and devour the majority of the IT department’s capacity.

In view of this situation, the trend within security technology is clearly shifting towards convergence. This means that technologies which are adjacent and logically complement each other are being integrated into solutions and comprehensive management concepts. This obviously includes first and foremost security and high availability functions. But elements such as traffic intelligence and WAN optimisation should not be disregarded either, especially with the ongoing process of adding subsidiary offices to networks. Traffic intelligence ensures that communication links are not disrupted even if lines are disconnected and that important data traffic always reaches its destination. WAN optimisation, on the other hand, guarantees that the volume of data traffic is kept as low as possible using different procedures in order to speed up response times.

This is why netfence gateways have already combined from the very start security with high availability and traffic intelligence. Integrating additional WOC functionality offers companies the chance to provide their subsidiaries with security and reliable communication in a single rollout process, as well as to administer their infrastructure using a single central management approach.

Nowadays, the efficiency of the entire security infrastructure is determined more than ever by how efficiently it is managed, both from a financial and functional perspective. But this alone is not enough. Only if the key adjacent technologies also converge in the security solutions deployed can the entire infrastructure be managed sensibly in financial and technical terms.