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Avoiding obstacles to keep vSphere environments secure

When new vulnerabilities arise in your data center, you may surprise yourself at how staying creative and adaptable can sometimes reveal the best solution to the problem.

During a recent visit to a restaurant, the indoor play area sparked a few ideas about problem solving in a vSphere environment. In the world of IT, especially the rapidly changing world of virtualization, there are some important lessons we can learn from children at play.

The play area had a small footprint, with multiple levels, ladders, slides and a near-infinite combination of potential collision points for the energetic toddlers. The population density of that cube would be the envy of any resource-conscious city planner.

To my amazement, budding play stoppages were overcome with near-instantaneous fixes requiring virtually no complex communications among the participants. They just invented solutions as problems presented themselves, while not being hindered by inflexible rules or protocols. For example, the string of children coming down a slide should have gotten caught in a major pile-up caused by the kid determined to climb up the tube. However, the child going up just widened his stance to let the others slide down unimpeded.

Adapt quickly

Not once did I see any child refer to a decision matrix or flow chart or discuss what needed to happen; they swiftly made adjustments and kept going.

When a possible slowdown appeared, the children made an incremental adjustment and kept the momentum going. Not once did I see any child refer to a decision matrix or flow chart or discuss what needed to happen; they swiftly made adjustments and kept going.

Granted, playgrounds are not the same as large organizations. However, I believe the ability and willingness to develop solutions on the spot, rather than trying to predict every possible scenario in advance, have merit. They allow flexibility and a quick response from the collective knowledge of those present. Furthermore, decisions are made using the most current information available, not data and scenarios that have become stale and inflexible.

How can we apply this lesson to administration in a vSphere environment? Security standards are constantly being revised and improved, and that includes standards that affect VMware products. For example, PCI DSS version 3.0 is now the latest standard for data security in the payment card industry. Yet VMware's Compliance Checker for PCI lists only version 1.2. Do we stop moving forward? By no means! We change and adapt and get better, all the while enjoying and learning new things! Even if those around us may not be moving forward, we need to do so as individuals and thus lead in an organization.

Focus on the big picture

At the play area, the only rules were these: "Kids 3 and under are allowed" and "Parents are welcome."

Everyone was there to have fun. Any problem that could interrupt that fun was quickly mitigated. Participants inherently knew the big picture and instinctively made decisions to keep the fun going, regardless of their age or status on the playground.

Likewise, virtualization security is not a static environment. Every day there are new vulnerabilities. These threats can be at any level of the environment, from the virtual machine to the network and storage levels. Rather than trying to cover every possible scenario with a policy or procedure, we should look at the big picture of confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA) for maintaining the most secure and productive environment.

Keeping the CIA triad in the forefront will allow everyone to use their creative powers to produce elegant, more innovative solutions. Giving system administrators, storage experts, network specialists and business analysts freedom to develop solutions will ultimately produce superior products with better security at every level.

Don't lose sight of your goal

By far the majority of kids in the play area had fun as long as their parents let them stay. The only ones who had to leave early were those who got upset about something, and their parents had to take them out -- and deal with the ensuing tantrum.

Ultimately, those children lost sight of the goal: Have fun. Don't get distracted by some issue or conflict. Everyone has a role, sometimes defined at a very granular level. If that is the case in your situation, use your specialization to contribute to the CIA triad. Your knowledge of a particular aspect of your virtual environment may inspire you to develop the exact solution to keep your environment secure and productive. Continue to follow the goal of CIA in your particular arena.

Whatever aspect of VMware products we are using -- either system hosting, storage, networking or management -- don't let obstacles cause you to freeze or lose focus on the big picture. Use your creative powers to adapt, improve, secure and above all else, have fun with your unique virtualization environment!

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