Managing the Sheer Complexity of Data Center Security

The modern IT system is one of the most complex entities in the business landscape. Every device, server and component tied to the network must be managed and monitored. That’s a significant job for any IT department, but things can become especially complicated when it comes to enterprise data centers. Intricate and dynamic, the construction and maintenance of a data center environment must ensure essential business operations. In today’s breach-plagued landscape, that environment must also be secure. Unfortunately, this presents a challenge for many teams.


Consider the data center’s job. It needs to support the real and virtual services that carry out daily operations. The rise of cloud services, the popularity of mobile devices and the bandwidth required in the age of Big Data have put a considerable amount of new demands on the traditional data center. It must support a large and diverse user base that typically relies on both in-house office desktops and employee-owned mobile devices anywhere in the world. In addition, virtualization has increased the number of hosts requiring connectivity.


All too often existing network architectures are simply not designed to handle these rapid technological advancements. The typical network is relatively static, with teams trying to reduce service disruption as much as possible. Today’s server environment must be dynamic and flexible. However, modifying network architecture can be a complex and often lengthy undertaking creating conflict when the business demands security and swiftness around the clock.


This mismatch between market requirements and network capabilities has led countless IT departments to re-evaluate their traditional network architectures – and many are finding that Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is the answer to managing the complexity of a secure and reliable data center.


Simplifying the Secure Data Center


SDN simplifies networking by enabling workflow automation. It is uniquely suited to deal with data center complexity for several reasons. External systems can use automated networking to dynamically create, provision, and manage security infrastructure via an application programming interface (API). Because the decision-making element, or programming, is separated from the physical hardware, dynamic modifications can support new business requirements.


Dynamic and adaptable, SDN complements high-bandwidth applications and helps meet business needs swiftly and reliably – including data center security. Security admins can work with operations staff to protect the network without impacting ongoing operations.


To accomplish all this, the SDN system must interact in automated and non-automated ways with the controls to ensure teams don’t override each other or accidentally influence a policy. When it comes to protecting data and operations, SDN can deliver security provisioning, monitoring, detection and policy enforcement, in three key ways: Automation, Semi-Automation and Manual.


Automated Response: Instead of waiting for human event analysis and response, automatic security actions can be taken based on recognized events and behaviors. Security automation can also expand to provide more dynamic protection in established, repeatable business operations. For instance, teams can establish a rule that recognizes a certain operation runs every Tuesday in a certain sequence and only in that timeframe and sequence. Any deviation will immediately be flagged as illegitimate. That kind of automated response can strengthen security while reducing manual, human involvement, which takes more time and tends to happen post-attack.


Semi-Automated Response: In this case, a mix of automated and manual activity is performed. A security team might want to push one button to provision security functions from one place to every place it’s required; however, they’d still like a team member to interact with that policy on occasion. In that type of situation, semi-automated options can strike a balance between automated convenience and human alteration.


Manual Response: Opting for manual activity will involve more hands-on effort than automated security.  It is beneficial for large environments with multiple admins and layers because manual methods give users the ability to create policies and complete other functions with full control.


IT departments should design security infrastructures to support the dynamic operations while accommodating the rise in components such as mobile devices. Furthermore, the infrastructure must be fueled by advanced threat intelligence and tools that offer comprehensive and timely protection. Without consistent, ongoing updates on emerging threats and risks, no organization can claim true security.


While data center security will always have its challenges, implementing SDN can reduce the complexity behind a secure and reliable data center by supporting the dynamic needs of today’s businesses. With collaboration, security and operations teams can ensure critical operations run continuously and data remains secure while closing the door to cybercrime.