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The firewall is NOT dead!

Finally, someone makes some sense when talking about firewalls. ScottL over at Juniper has an excellent post about why firewalls are still around. Even though this is a sneaky way to talk about their new SRX Series gear; he highlights a topic which I have debated recently with security vendors: The firewall is not dead!

As Scott pointed out, the traditional “firewall” no longer exists (at least shouldn’t). Instead modern firewalls fulfill many purposes. These purposes include intrusion detection, routing, anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-malware, VPN, remediation, etc…  In fact I can’t recall working on a firewall recently that simply separated the ‘outside’ from the ‘inside’. The current firewalls I manage have multiple zones with complex routing and security rules between them.

However no matter how much is done with them one fact remains: the firewall acts as a barrier between zones. True, many of these zones no longer exist in the physical world, but are instead virtual (I resist using the term ‘cloud’ here). However at its basic function the firewall is very little different from what existed back in the 90’s.

For anyone out there looking to secure their perimeter I recommend continuing the ‘old’ methodology of using the firewall as the foundation.  Yes it is true that determine what ports to open for new applications and services can be a pain. Just remember, a slight pain in deployment is much better than an agonizing death caused by a preventable perimeter breach.

My take on Microsoft’s vision of cloud computing

March 30, 2009 Leave a comment

                Recently I went to the Microsoft TechNet Event in Minneapolis, MN. It has been a while since I’ve attended one of these sessions, however I found this one interesting because it focused upon cloud computing. More specifically it focuses upon how Microsoft envisions cloud computing.

                Could computing is a fairly new term for me. I’ve heard the term thrown around in the last year used in various ways. Until attending this session I had no idea what it entailed. Since the Microsoft session I have read white papers from other vendors regarding cloud computing. The one unifying factor from all vendors’ vision of cloud computing has one thing in common: they all think it will be the future, yet none know what it is. Since realizing this I don’t feel so bad about any previous ignorance about the term cloud computing. I will speak on other vendors’ ideas of cloud computing another day. Today I will focus upon my impression of Microsoft’s vision.

                The presenter billed cloud computing as a way for Microsoft to provide small and medium businesses with enterprise offerings. Data centers require cooling, power, security, fire suppression, cabling, etc… In addition physical servers must be purchased and deployed. An OS must be installed upon those servers. Software must then be installed, configured, tested, deployed upon those servers. This is an over-simplification of the process. Even with the over-simplification the point was made that it takes a lot of resources (money) for companies to deploy a data center.

                Instead of doing this a company can come to Microsoft with an application or service that needs a home. Microsoft is building their cloud computing environment upon a platform called Azure (blue). I won’t pretend to understand the inner-workings of Azure, and the technical side is beyond the scope of this post. Instead I found Microsoft’s point of view was they would provide the underlying services which customers require. There is a database environment. The surprising thing here is the database environment is hierarchal, instead of relational. There will be environments for the other standard business needs such as email, content management, .NET applications, etc… Everything a customer may need hosted can be put upon the Microsoft cloud. Once in the Microsoft cloud customers can access their data from anywhere over a secure connection.

                As the speaker presented all of this I could not help but think “This sounds like a rebranding of Application Service Providers (ASP’s)”.  I was not the only one who had these thoughts. Someone from the audience asked what makes cloud computing different from ASP’s. The answer was that these services are available on-demand. Machines can spin or down upon demand. Within minutes of receiving the order Microsoft will have a working environment for the customer. Billing can be done for time used, as opposed to a set monthly rate. There were a couple more minor differences mentioned, but none that actually seemed to matter. I am still convinced that Microsoft’s current vision of cloud computing is a direct descendent of ASP’s. The only difference is that Microsoft is the ASP being pushed.

                 I’m not saying this vision of cloud computing is wrong. The more I research cloud computing, the more I find that nobody understands where it will go. I do however think Microsoft’s vision of cloud computing seems too centered around them providing services for everyone. In my mind cloud computing should be vendor agnostic. In contrast Microsoft is touting Azure as the future of cloud computing. I’m still in the air as to whether Microsoft will be successful with this path. However no matter what happens I understand that it is important for IT professionals to understand what cloud computing means for any current or future vendors they deal with.

Categories: Cloud Computing, Microsoft