Cloud security starts on the ground, not the sky

The major security vendors have a strong presence at VMworld 2011, VMware Inc.'s [NYSE: VMW] annual user conference. And it's not surprising, given that security remains a top-of-mind concern for many enterprises considering embracing cloud computing.

In its 2011 State of Security survey released this week, Symantec Corp. reported that virtualization has joined mobile computing and social media as the top three trends driving security challenges in Canada, according to respondent organizations. And the budget is following. The highest growth area in Canadian IT security budgets is security for private cloud initiatives with 38 per cent increasing their spend, and public cloud not far behind at 34 per cent. On the staffing side, 42 per cent of organizations were adding staff to handle cloud security concerns.

Sean Doherty, vice-president and security group CTO with Symantec [NASDAQ: SYMC], said the most common security concern customers have about cloud computing is that, by giving data to a third party, the data is out of sight. They fear loss of control.

"We have requests for support around encryption and key management, and we also see requests to be able to provide visibility into the compliance of the cloud service provider to certain standards," said Doherty.

While computing models have shifted over the years, virtualization isn't a new phenomenon, said Doherty, and the responsibility for security hasn't shifted. It still lies with the IT organization, and Symantec's role is to make sure it has the tools it needs to manage virtual, cloud and physical environments by providing visibility and tools to remediate issues. "Most of our customers have a mixture of physical and virtual environments, and we need to create solutions that address both," said Doherty. "We work with VMware and other hypervisor vendors to ensure they support functions that will increase our ability to deliver security."

Service level agreements (SLAs) are another concern organizations have with moving to a cloud security vendor, said Tom Moss, director of products and services at Trend Micro Inc., as most of the SLAs they offer fall short of the major compliance regulatory requirements major enterprises must meet.

"Most cloud providers are focused on performance issues and data availability, and they're trying to address the widest possible architecture with the environment they have, so it's not really appropriate to build security controls around each customer," said Moss.

That puts the responsibility for security back, again, on the organization. Moss said Trend Micro's focus is on host-level encapsulation, so that applications and data hosted in the cloud have all the necessary security controls built-in before they're deployed into the hosted environment. The Deep Security offerings encrypt data before it goes to the cloud, and include monitoring and audit tools to detect and prevent unauthorized access. Secure Cloud allows customers to keep their same policy-based encryption as if the data was in their data centre.

"Organizations can continue to enforce policy if the machine is physical, virtual or in the cloud," said Moss. "We're trying to educate people about the limits of what cloud providers can offer and where they need to augment workloads pushed to the cloud with their own security controls." The hybrid cloud model VMware is advocating also helps address some of these security issues, said Symantec's Doherty. Organizations can choose what data can go to the cloud, even temporarily on a flex basis, and what must stay in the data centre.

"This is why I think we'll see VMware very active pushing-out a network of not just global big-name hosting providers, but also people with local coverage, so a company in Germany can choose a German data centre to flex into," said Doherty.

It's a matter of risk management and education, said Warren Shiau, director of technology research with Leger Marketing, and the fact that the hybrid model is where organizations want to go instead of the full public cloud shows they're concerned about security.

"I don't think the concerns with public cloud have been addressed, and some of them probably won't go away because there are just times when a company needs that data in house, and it can't go into someone else's hands," said Shiau.

Security is a big topic and it's become clear it will take multiple approaches to get it right, said VMware president Paul Maritz. The vendor is working closely with its partners to do that, but Maritz said the other key to the security puzzle will be building a track-record of performance over time.

"I believe (security concerns) will be less of an issue going forward," said Maritz. "We can only address it with a history of doing it." Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

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