Private Cloud, Virtualized Data Centers Need Specific Security Plans: Gartner

Gartner analysts say security must evolve as organizations move away from virtualized servers in the data center towards private cloud computing environments.

Security principles will remain fundamentally the same across virtualized data centers and private cloud environments, but how security services are provisioned and delivered will have to change, said Gartner analysts on Nov. 8.

Most organizations will first virtualize servers in the data center as a "steppingstone" before shifting to the private cloud, according to Thomas Bittman, a Gartner vice-president.

Security must be integrated from the outset and not "bolted on" later as organizations shift from virtual data centers to private clouds, said Bittman.

Virtual security will continue to be a hot IT topic, with Gartner predicting that 40 percent of security controls within enterprise data centers will be virtualized by 2015, up from 5 percent in 2010.

To secure private clouds, IT managers have to design a set of on-demand, elastic and programmable services that are tied to logical attributes to create adaptive trust zones, according to the analysts. Security must be an integral, but separately configurable part of the client environment, the analysts said.

Private clouds are likely to be deployed incrementally, not all at once, and will be carved out of existing data centers, said analysts. Security in the private cloud would need to exchange and share policies with other data center security infrastructure, for both virtual or physical, wrote Gartner's team of analysts. Security controls placed across either infrastructure would "intelligently cooperate" for workload inspection, said Gartner.

Policies where the physical host is separated to isolate it, or "tied" to physical attributes, such as the server, Internet Protocol (IP) address, or Media Access Control (MAC) address, "break down" with private cloud computing, said Neil MacDonald, vice-president at Gartner and a Gartner Fellow. Policies approving or denying actions should not be based on physical components in the cloud because workloads and information are no longer restricted to specific devices, said the analysts.

Security should be delivered as a set of "on demand" services to protect workloads and information, and integrated into cloud provisioning and management processes, said Gartner analysts. Appropriate security policies that handle provisioning, moving, modifying, cloning, and retiring should be associated to server and desktop workloads, according to analysts.

Security policies should not be administered on a single virtual machine basis, said Gartner. Instead, security policies will be used to logically organize workloads into trusted zones, such as based on similar security requirements or trust levels, the analysts said. As policies are linked to groups of VMs and not physical servers, the zones adapt as individual machines and new workloads are provisioned and moved, said Gartner.

According to the research firm, private clouds will require security services that can separate workloads with different trust levels. By 2015, 70 percent of organizations will allow server workloads of different trust levels to share the same physical hardware, unless expressly prohibited by regulatory or compliance rules, estimated Gartner.

Just as there is a strict separation of duties and concerns between physical and virtualized infrastructure, IT operations and security must be separated on multiple levels in a cloud-based environment, said analysts.

Ideally, security policies designed to protect workloads should be federated to public cloud providers, said Gartner. While there are no currently established standards, analysts cited VMware's vCloud API as an example.