Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trusted Cloud

As an executive you’re familiar with the value propositions for the agility and economics that cloud computing ostensibly provides. While appealing, these advantages have a significant barrier to their realization that can be summed up in a single word, Trust. There are many concepts that are used to deliver Trust in the enterprise environment today. Since the decision to use a cloud for the delivery of IT services is best done by starting with the knowledge and experience gained from previous work, this paper will illuminate methods and technologies that are mainstream in the Enterprise today and how they can be leveraged to acquire the maturity level necessary for cloud readiness.

Key Components
While the Trust concept itself is somewhat subjective we will attempt to address how technology patterns can be combined to achieve what is often the most challenging effort to undertake, a finite definition of what Trust means to all stakeholders involved. This is critical in that it must be agreed upon in delivering a trusted solution so that service levels and risk can be well understood and monitored for compliance. To begin with, there are physical levels of trust that are well defined and understood, for instance, moving enterprise applications for the Federal government to FISMA compliant data centers. This, coupled with deployment of secure enterprise networks, assures that the data center provides the means necessary to run these applications in an outsourced fashion. Another key component of providing this type of service are the Identity and Access Management (IAM) solutions that assure appropriate access to these systems occur in a consistent fashion. Like many other applications, these IAM technologies are offered, via Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), ‘as a Service’, e.g. the ‘aaS’ you often see when referring to various Cloud architectures. Perhaps the most critical component available and in place in many enterprises today is Virtualization. The advantages of ‘virtualizing’ hardware infrastructure are not new but the capabilities necessary to do so on an x86 architecture have made great strides in providing a hypervisor that has little to no overhead from running operating systems and applications on the ‘bare metal’ itself.

Taking Key Components to the Cloud
The key components previously discussed have reached a certain maturity level in most enterprises, however, even when coupled with newer technologies like a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system, lack the level of control necessary to ‘templatetize’ these seemingly disparate technology patterns into a coherent whole that can be outsourced to a cloud service provider. In this section we will look at an approach to tie these key components together in such a way as to fashion them into a holistic ‘Trusted’ entity that can be repeated and measured.

The overarching continuum that will provide this level of Trust within Cloud architectures lies in Service Oriented Architecture and a concept we’ll call ‘Cloud Orchestration’. This concept which performs virtualization on top of Intel Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) enabled servers, extends the compliant physical layer of trust into the automated provisioning of ‘Virtual Applications’ or collections of virtual machines initialized to bring about a certain business function, e.g. Business Process Management System (BPMS), object –relational cache or a Portal/Web 2.0 presentation layer. Because the physical boundaries of the data center are mapped to a physical set of servers that host what is now a ‘Trusted’ hypervisor by way of Intel TXT, you can provision what are essentially, ‘Secured Virtual Enclaves’ of these Virtual Applications. These Virtual Applications leverage the clustering and load balancing mechanisms inherent to the applications for availability while also creating a truly ‘on demand’ elasticity capability. This also allows the instances of the Virtual Applications to exist in an unmanaged or ‘zero touch’ state, eliminating needs such as physical access and change control governance.

We’ve now mentioned SOA in several facets of this architecture but let’s take it a step further to try and crystallize a couple of key points. So far we’ve asserted that you can take a reference architecture stack like Cisco UCS/Nexus and deploy it with a trusted, virtualization layer using a virtualization technology stack like VMWare’s vCloud Director and its inherent service oriented capabilities, complete with virtual TCP/IP addressing. Because all of these functions are enabled via XML it is now possible to leverage this virtual ‘container’ in ways that blend what was historically considered a ‘management band’ activity with a business policy that drives these operations in a trusted fashion. A perfect example of a use case that requires this type of solution is the requirement to provide true multi-tenancy in a cloud environment where Top Secret, Secret and other protection levels must be provided, with a combination of application stakeholders from government and industry, forming a scenario known as a ‘Community Cloud’. The usage model for these combined technologies also eliminates the need for ‘self service’ provisioning of new virtual compute capabilities since a portal/business process flow for ‘Add New Project’ would possess inherent policy based provisioning.

Leveraging Security and Policy for Control
While this combination purports to solve the ‘inner sanctum’ challenges to support some of the more complex cloud use cases, what will be used to orchestrate the virtualization, provide secure access to virtualized applications and produce the required ‘Audit Band’ to operate with the necessary control to Trust your Cloud? The technology that is the lynchpin for this overall solution is a service gateway which can be run in a tamper proof hardware form factor or as a virtualized software application. This enables the positioning of the service gateway at multiple vantage points for policy based control of how management, application and audit services are offered. It does this by combining a number of technology standards, TLS, X.509, WS-Security, WS-Policy, WS-Trust, SAML, LDAP, XACML, etc. along with policy to generate artifacts, essentially chains of trust, to the Audit Band.

This alphabet soup of standards has a diffuse set of meaningful usage patterns in concert with one another to accomplish the same goals of security, privacy and trust. The example of XACML policy elements, (Policy Administration Point, Policy Decision Point, Policy Enforcement Point and Policy Information Point) too is a good analogy for how all of these items provide this level of trust enforced and orchestrated by the service gateway. Applications such as an LDAP data store or an XACML administration solution allow for expressing who will have access to what and in what fashion but it is the collection of these (and others) applied in the correct combination at each route the data travels that extends the irrefutable chain of trust from the aforementioned compliant data center and physical computing assets, through the hypervisor and into the application layer. Policy administration solutions will provide answers to who is allowed to do what, complete with point in time states, while the service gateway will produce searchable audit artifacts from these operations to enable near real time visibility into who did what and when. Because all communication between logical application tiers will occur over XML via services, the application data payload itself becomes subject to overarching ‘Policy’ which can redact for de-classification or re-route based on content in order to provide more human centric dissemination of information.

Establishing the necessary level of control for Trust will be the barrier to moving applications to a cloud environment. Leveraging a services gateway to orchestrate your cloud renders a number of disruptive benefits that can be achieved:

1. The security to run applications anywhere in the compliant cloud infrastructure in a multi-tenant fashion while maintaining policy enforcement will be the key to realizing the power usage efficiency promised by the cloud

2. Continuity of Operations, Disaster Recovery and Failover also become intrinsic to the solution

3. Due to the repeatable architectural concepts described herein, cloud provider hosting becomes a more commoditized procurement process based on well understood physical access controls

4. Configuration management of cloud applications becomes a process of delivering signed, trusted iterations of virtual machines to perform within virtual applications

5. Leveraging existing SOAs such as Identity and Access Management, other API’s from packaged enterprise application suites or custom built business logic preserves your existing investments and while also offering those services in the cloud

6. Open Source software applications, once considered a security risk, are now viable solutions by leveraging the highly available, self-healing, unmanaged, ‘zero touch’ nature of the virtualized ‘middle tier’ used to provide cloud services

7. Productive application stack for modernization of all legacy investments including SOA middleware components that can remain as enterprise located assets which, over time, will require diminishing levels of costly, proprietary enhancements

8. Assuring the information lifecycle for protection of sensitive data where it matters allows for more freedoms in consuming public internet data in the presentation tier that will be demanded for rich internet applications

9. Designing transparency into the architecture allows for well understood lines of sight along the axes of Trust relative to parties involved to achieve desired compliance visibility while simplifying the effort needed to produce attestation

Beyond these benefits, cloud orchestration can provide ‘Trust as a Service’ to stakeholders and enable the promised agility of the cloud to improve service levels where complex security and audit capabilities are required. All of this while bringing capital and operational expenditures to a predictable, achievable price point allowing you to focus on new ways to deliver value.

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