Datacenter Security: How to Balance Business Agility with Great Protection

When IDC consults with enterprise customers or performs worldwide surveys, security is invariably an acute concern. That’s regardless of geography, industry, and identity of respondent (executive, LoB, IT, DevOps, etc.). While the challenge of providing protection and security extends across all places in the network, the problem is especially vexing in the datacenter.

There’s good reason for that, of course. The parameters of the datacenter have been redrawn by the unrelenting imperative of digital transformation and the embrace of multicloud, which together have had substantive implications for workload protection and data security.

As workloads become distributed – residing in on-premises enterprise datacenters, in co-location facilities, in public clouds, and also in edge environments – networking and network-security challenges proliferate and become more distributed in nature. Not only are these workloads distributed, but they’re increasingly dynamic and portable, subject to migration and movement between on-premises datacenters and public clouds.

Data proliferates in lockstep with these increasingly distributed workloads. This data can inform and enhance the digital experiences and productivity of employees, contractors, business partners, and customers, all of whom regularly interact with applications residing across a distributed environment of datacenters. The value of datacenters is ever greater, but so are the risks of data breaches and thefts, perpetrated by malevolent parties that are increasingly sophisticated.

In that cloud is not only a destination but also an operating model, the rise of cloud-native applications and DevOps practices have added further complications. As DevOps teams adopt continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) to keep up with the need for business speed and as developers leverage containers and microservices for agility and simplicity, traditional security paradigms – predicated on sometimes rigid controls and restrictions – are under unprecedented pressure. For enterprises, the choice seems to be between the agility of cloud and cloud-native application environments on one side and the control and safety of traditional datacenter-security practices on the other.

Perhaps that isn’t true, though. There is a way to move forward that gives organizations both agility and effective security controls, without compromise on either front. Put another way, there needn’t a permanent unresolved tension between the need for business agility and the require for strong security, capable of providing the controls that organizations want while aligning more closely with business outcomes.

The first step toward this goal involves achieving visibility. If you can’t see threats, you can’t protect against them. This visibility must be both pervasive and real-time, capable of sensing and facilitating responses to anomalies and threats that span users, devices, applications, workloads, and processes (workflow). From a network standpoint, visibility must be available within datacenters – into north-south and east-west traffic flows –between them, and out to campus and branch sites as well as to clouds. The visibility should extend up the stack, too, all the way to application components and behavior, giving organizations views into potentially malicious activity such as data exfiltration and the horizontal spread of malware from server to server.

Once visibility is achieved, organizations can leverage the insights it provides to implement policy-based segmentation comprehensively and effectively, mitigating lateral propagation of attacks within and between datacenters and preventing bad actors from gaining access to high-value datacenter assets.

The foundations of visibility and policy-based segmentation, in turn, facilitate a holistic approach to threat protection, helping to establish an extensive network of capabilities and defenses that can quickly detect and respond to threats and vulnerabilities before they result in data loss or prohibitively costly business disruptions.

While it might seem that cloud-era business agility and effective security are irreconcilable interests, there is a path forward that merges the two in unqualified alignment.

For more information, see the Cisco-IDC webinar: https://engage2demand.cisco.com/lp_datacenters_18976?DTID=odiprl000517&CCID=cc000159&OID=wbrsc019628.

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