vCloud vs. vSphere: VMware explains security changes

The vCloud suite, expected to ship next month, will include vSphere as part of three basic vCloud software types

In unveiling its VCloud suite at its annual conference this week, VMware took pains to explain how the security model for it differs significantly from that of its existing vSphere cloud computing virtualization operating system both in terms of functionality and naming conventions.

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VMware's foundation security technology up until now has been called vShield, and it's basically a technical approach in vSphere that involves a set of APIs (typically for an extra fee charged) in its Edge and App data-center products to support agentless use of third-party security products. The vShield model also includes VMware's native security, such as its firewall functionality, that can be used in vSphere.

The vCloud suite, expected to ship next month, will include vSphere as part of three basic vCloud software types, says Jonathan Gohstand, director of product marketing for networking and security. And it will include vDirector management, too. But VMware is stepping away from using the vShield moniker, preferring to call it "vCloud Networking and Security," or VCNS.

In addition, what has been called vShield Endpoint (the API from VMware that has been used to support agentless anti-malware scanning with third-party software products, for example), is being pushed directly into the hypervisor, and there will no longer be a separate API fee charged for using this, Gohstand says.

VCloud's VCNS as a whole is going to be discussed more in terms of capabilities intended for standard use or high-availability, which would include failover, he points out. VCNS is also encompassing software-based networking such as vxLAN, introduced by Cisco and VMware last year. But it does not yet include any components that might later be made available through the Nicera acquisition concluded by VMware just last week, Gohstand emphasizes.

The vShield APIs in vSphere have sought to define agentless use of security technologies because agent-based software in a virtualized environment can lead to performance issues such as the well-known "anti-virus storms" when agent-based software kicks off a scanning process that proves to be overwhelming . VMware's vShield agentless architecture is designed to lessen the load in that process by assigning the third-party security software a separate place as a security module that can link into tiny hooks to conduct a scan on data.

Several vendors, including McAfee, have sought to convince VMware to expand its APIs to go beyond agentless since there are times when agent-based software is said to be more effective, especially with malware isolation and removal.

Gohstand acknowledges these concerns, and though he says VMware expects to continue with its agentless approach in APIs because it does see the "demand for offloading" the security function, he adds that VMware recognizes there "could be a hybrid" approach in which both agentless and agent-based capabilities would be supported in third-party software.

The VCNS APIs are going to be broadened in the future. Gohstand also says that VMware is taking a more open approach to working with third-party security vendors to ensure their products work in the VMware security model with vCloud. Until now, VMware has worked primarily in a tight ecosystem in which it chose security-industry partners (such as Trend Micro) very selectively to work on technical issues. But now VMware anticipates a less constricted approach with security vendors in getting products to support VCNS in vCloud.

"The doors are opened," Gohstand says. He says the idea is that security vendors should be able to more easily create software to support VCNS APIs. VMware will be keeping an eye on this based on the willingness of vendors to join the VMReady software developer program for networking and security, take mandatory training and submit products for automated testing.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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