Industry Trends

Power, Performance and the Cloud

By John Maddison | September 13, 2017

While the continued growth of the cloud is assured, there seems to be little evidence that there will be a lot of organizations that will be moving their entire infrastructure into the public cloud anytime soon. What we will be seeing is a dramatic growth in hybrid network architectures. Which means that increasing volumes of data and workflows will need to move securely between different network ecosystems.

This presents a growing challenge for security, especially in terms of power and performance.

We are all seeing it. The digital transformation of business, and society as a whole, is driving an exponential growth in data volume. And as consumers become more accustomed to digital speeds, and accessing information or performing transactions with the tap of a screen, the pressure on business in terms of time to respond is accelerating.

To meet this demand, organizations are completely redesigning their networks. We are seeing unprecedented growth in virtualized networks, distributed data centers, and a variety of cloud-based services, from infrastructure to data management applications. Anyone involved in the IT industry for a while has seen versions of this before: the swing between consolidated and highly distributed networks. This time, however, there is a twist. While some experts predict an eventual consolidation of networks into the cloud, which cloud are they referring to?

At the same time, some decisions need to be made so fast that making the round trip from the device to the cloud just isn’t feasible. As a result, we are likely to see a hybrid network of endpoint devices, physical networks, and public and private cloud infrastructures for quite some time.

The immediate challenge, of course, is one of logistics. Tracking data and services, processing increasing volumes of data, managing multiplying applications, monitoring a growing number of endpoint and IoT devices, and meeting the digital demands of consumers have stretched the capacity of most IT teams. And given the predatory nature of cybercriminals, this sort of challenge has the sharks circling the boat. An effective security solution that can extend deep visibility and control across the distributed network landscape is essential. Unfortunately, it is also increasingly difficult to achieve, both in terms of consistency and correlation, and in avoiding security becoming a bottleneck right when any disruption in services can mean the difference between effectively competing and struggling to survive.

There are a lot of security vendors today offering cloud-enabled security tools, devices and platforms. What is lacking is a comprehensive security approach that can tie the hybrid nature of networks together into a single, holistic security strategy without compromising performance. Many of the security tools on the market continue to operate in isolation, which diminishes effective cross-platform visibility. Cloud-based tools don’t necessarily work well in more traditional, physical environments. And nearly all of them collapse in terms of performance when deep inspection is required, which is nearly all the time given the increasingly sophisticated nature of threats and the fact that more than half of all network traffic is now encrypted.

When considering security solutions for your hybrid cloud environment, here are some critical areas to look at in terms of security performance:

Infinite scalability in the cloud

One of the advantages of the cloud is on-demand infrastructure and services. Security is the same. Nearly every cloud-based security offering enables virtually infinite scalability. Experiencing a dramatic spike in data? No problem. Let’s just spin up more security. The challenge is that even basic security requires about 100 times more processing power than simply routing data. And spinning up addition resources can be expensive.

Now, there are some vendors that will tell you that because all virtualized security tools have to run on the same virtual device and CPU that performance differences found on physical security devices do not translate to the cloud. Which is simply not true. Security tools that run side by side on the same hardware still perform differently, especially when you add deep inspection such as IPS or sandboxing.

It’s not the CPU. It’s the code.

Fast security devices aren’t just fast because they have specialized CPUs or over-engineered hardware. They are fast because they have exceptional and highly optimized code. For example, FortiGate physical firewalls run on specialized CPUs. But for that code to be translated to a chip it sometimes undergoes months or years of rigorous optimization. Which means that in a generic cloud environment it is still going to run extremely fast and efficiently. Which also means you will need to spin up fewer devices as your cloud traffic increases.

Consistent security across the cloud

There isn’t just one cloud. Most organizations with a cloud strategy are using a variety of cloud services. They have private cloud environments – usually multiple data centers, one or more public cloud networks running workloads or processing data, and a variety of additional cloud-based application and storage services. Implementing a variety of security tools from a number of different manufacturers to secure a complex cloud environment simply virtualizes the multi-vendor security dilemma many organizations already face in their physical networks – resulting in overburdened IT staff having to manage and hand-correlate data between devices.

As much as possible, organizations need to select tools that can interoperate seamlessly across and between different cloud environments. Centralized management and ubiquitous visibility translates into both faster and more effective security, shortening the time to detect and closing the gap between detection and response.

Traffic between public and private networks

Data doesn’t just stay in the cloud. While the majority of data is processed inside a specific data center environment, we are seeing an increase in the volume of data moving between public and private networks, as well as between physical and virtual environments. Distributed data processing, complex or inter-related workflows, and the transition from raw data to valuable information means that data is always on the move. Pipelines between different network ecosystems are getting larger and faster. And the information traversing those networks, whether data, voice, or video is highly time-sensitive.

This is where workhorse security devices are necessary. Organizations need high-performance security tools placed at these intersections that can process massive amounts of traffic – much of it encrypted – and that can perform deep security inspection without compromising transaction speeds. But to be effective, these devices need to also be seamlessly integrated into your cloud-based security, enabling a consistent security architecture that works as a single integrated system, regardless of where those tools are deployed.

To secure today’s hybrid cloud networks, organizations need to deploy security tools that enable extended visibility, centralized policy orchestration, and coordinated control across the network. And they need to provide that with tools, whether physical or virtual, that have been designed to meet today’s growing power and performance requirements.

Learn more about Fortinet’s cloud security solutions.