Digital Workspace Transformation: information security

Yes…. it has been a while since I posted on this blog, but I’m still alive ;-)

For a 2016 starter (what?!? is it June already), I want to ramble on about information security in the digital workspace. With a growing number of digital workspace transformations going on, information security is more important than ever. With the growing variety of client endpoints and methodes of access in the personal and corporate environments, users are becoming increasingly independent from the physical company locations. Making it interesting how to centrally manage storage of data, passwords, access policies, application settings and network access (just examples, not the complete list). For any place, any device, any information and any application environments for your users (or do we want any user in there), it is not just a couple of clicks of this super-duper secure solution and were done.

encrypt-image300x225
(image source blogs.vmware.com)

Storing data on for example Virtual Desktop servers (hello VMware Horizon!) in the data center is (hopefully) a bit more secure than storing it locally on the user’s endpoint. At the same time, allowing users to access virtual desktops remotely puts your network at a higher risk then local only. But it’s not all virtual desktops. We have mobile users who will like to have the presentations or the applications directly on the tablet or handheld. I for instance, don’t want to have to open a whole virtual desktop for just one application. You ever tried a virtual desktop on a iPhone, it is technical possible yes, but works crappy. Erm forgot my Macbook HDMI USB-C converter for this presentation, well I send it to your gmail or dropbox for access with the native mobile apps at your conference room. And the information is gone out of the company sphere…..(a hypothetical situation of course..)

Data Leak

Great ideas all those ways to be in and out of company information. But but but….. these also pose some challenges to which a lot of companies have not started thinking about. Sounds a bit foolish as it is probably the biggest asset of a company, information. But unfortunately it’s a fact (or maybe it could be just the companies I visit). Sure these companies have IT departments or IT vendors who think a bit about security. And in effect mostly make their users life’s miserable with all sort of technical barriers installed in the infrastructure. In which the users, business and IT (!) users, will find all sorts of ways to pass these installed barriers. Why? First of all to increase their productivity while effectively decreasing security, and secondly they are not informed about the important why. And then those barriers can be just a nuisance.

Break down the wall

IT’s Business

I have covered this earlier in my post (https://pascalswereld.nl/2015/03/31/design-for-failure-but-what-about-the-failure-in-designs-in-the-big-bad-world). The business needs to have full knowledge of their required processes and information flows, that support or process in and out information for the services supporting the business strategy. And the persons that are part of the business and operate the services. And what to do with this information in what different ways, is it allowed for certain users to access the information outside of the data center and such. Compliancy to for example certain local privacy laws. Governance with policies and choices, and risk management do we do this part or not, how do we mitigate some risk if we take approach y, and what are the consequences if we do (or don’t).

Commitment from the business and people in the business is of utmost importance for information security. Start explaining, start educating and start listening.
If scratch is the starting point, start the writing first on a global level. What does the business mean by working from everywhere everyplace, what is this digital workspace and such.  What are the risks, how do we approach IAM, what do we have for data loss protection (DLP), is it allowed for IT to inspect SSL traffic (decrypt, inspect and encrypt) etc. etc.
Not to detailed at first it is not necessary, as it can take a long time to have a version 1.0. We can work on it. And to be fair information security and digital workspace for a fact, is continue evolving and moving. A continual improvement of these processes must be in place. Be sure to check with legal if there are no loops in what has been written in the first iteration.
Then map to logical components (think from the information, why is it there, where does it come from and where does it go, and think for the apps, the users) and then when you have defined the logical components. IT can then add the physical components (insert the providers, vendors, building blocks). Evaluate together, what works, what doesn’t, what’s needed and what is not. And rave and repeat…..

Furthermore, a target for a 100% safe environment all the time will just not cut it. Mission Impossible. Think about and define how to react to information leaks and minimize the surface of a compromise.

Design Considerations

With the above we should have a good starting point for the business requirement phase of a design and deploy of the digital workspace. And there will also be information from IT flowing back to the business for continual improvement.

Within the design of an EUC environment we have several software components were we can take actions to increase (or decrease, but I will leave that part out ;-)) security in the layers of the digital workspace environment. And yes, when software defined is not a option there is always hardware…
And from the previous phase we have some idea what choices can be made in technical ways to conform to the business strategy and policies.

If we think of the VMware portfolio and the technical software layers were we need to think about security, we can go from AirWatch/Workspace ONE, Access Point, Identity Manager, Security Server, Horizon, AppVolumes to User Environment Management. And And….Two-Factor, One Time Password (OTP), Microsoft Security Compliance Manager (SCM) for Windows based components, anti-virus and anti-malware, networking segmentation and access policies with SDDC NSX for Horizon. And what about Business Continuity and disaster recovery plans, and SRM, vDP.
Enterprise Management with vROPS and Log Insight integration to for example SIEM. vRealize for automating and orchestrating to mitigate work arounds or faults in manual steps. And so on and so on. We have all sorts of layers where to implement or help with implementing security and access policies. And how will all these interact? A lot to think about. (It could be that a new blog post series subject is born…)

But the justification should start at the business… Start explaining and start acting! This is probably 80% of the success rate of implementing information security. And the technical components can be made fit, but… after the strategy, policies, information architecture are somewhat clear….

And the people in the business are supporting the need for information security in the workspace. (Am I repeating myself a bit ;-)

Ideas, suggestions, conversation, opinions. Love to hear them.

vROPS: Beware of a Whole Lotta Metrics creating the Spaghetti Incident

When doing consultancy at organisations I often find a vRealize Operations, vROPS (or vCOPS) initial deployment left alone because of the IT operations department responsible persons are overwhelmed by the information you (can) receive from vROPS (manager and optionally other suite components). Mostly this is because of the lack of time invested in getting to know the product as admins are busy with reacting to operational actions/issues and operational processes. The downside of this is that perfectly useful pieces of information, recommendations and actions are left alone and the virtual infrastructure (and the IT admins) suffers from neglect. Which in turn only increases the stated problem and were all going down the same roundabout round and round without getting to leave at the vROPS successful exit. This is what we don’t want.

But start at the why we want vROPS in the first place:

  • Continual visibility gained across virtual and physical infrastructure.
  • Pro-actively identify and solve emerging issues with predictive analytic and smart alerts and re-mediation.
  • Reclaim unused resources and capacity, getting the other VM’s happier while saving on unnecessary investments (assets and people).
  • Unified IT Management, complete visibility in one place, across applications, cloud, storage and network devices; with an open and extensible Operations Manager architecture.

With the latter, that extensible OPS architecture, start moderately! Just adding products and management pack after management pack will get you in a spaghetti incident. And lots of metrics, alerts and headaches…..

To help from overwhelming information here are a few pointers you can follow in deployment of vROPS in your environment:

  • Determine beforehand what you want to learn and like to see from your environment. What policies do you currently have for your virtual infrastructure and their application workloads, are those sufficient, and is the information presented out-of-the-box close to these policies.
  • Get to know the out-of-the-box insights and policies that vROPS offers. Stop here and take a breather before wanting to customize every aspect.
  • After implementation let vROPS gather metric data for minimal one week, but preferably longer, before there can be trusted analytic’s.
  • Start with virtual infrastructure components and then move to next levels.
  • Determine what information you would like next to vSphere and in what particular phase you want to introduce this information. Again; go easy here and take your time. Introduce one adapter (or other vROPS components) at a time. Familiarize yourself with the specific insights offered by this specific adapter (for example what is collected) and after a proven success move on to a next. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the basic vROPS Architecture and where collectors and data flow moves in the architecture. A model that I created recently with the data flow in a vROPS basic architecture can be helpful in understanding:

vROPS 6 - Data Flow

  • When designing a vROPS architecture with multiple physical sites, determine where you users connect to and where the data needs to go. When trying to achieve a single pane use a distributed architecture with remote collectors for the connected physical locations. When using a per physical site vROPS instance the users connect to that local vROPS UI with data of that collected site. There is no single pane and metric data is not transferred between instances, ergo complexity your IT operations needs to handle accordantly.

– vROPS is to be enjoyed as it gives you very valuable information and let’s IT ops get from reactive mode to a proactive mode, not get headaches from!

Sources: vmware.com

 

vCenter Server Appliance 6.0 in VMware Workstation

For demo’s, presentations, breaking environments or just killing time I have a portable testlab on my notebook. Yes I know there are also options for permanent labs, hosted labs and Hands-on labs for these same purposes. Great places for sure, but that is not really what I wanted to discuss here.

As I am break.. ehhh rebuilding my lab to vSphere 6.0 I wanted to install VCSA 6.0 in VMware workstation. Nice, import a my vmware downloaded VCSA-versionsomething.ova (after e-mail address number ####### registered over there) and we are done! …….. Well not quite.
First the vCenter download contains the OVA, but it is a little bit hidden. The guided installer will not help you here. You will need to mount or extract the downloaded ISO and look for vmware-vcsa in the vcsa/ folder.

VCSA Location
Copy the vmware-vcsa file to a writable location (when just mounted the ISO) and rename vmware-vcsa to vmware-vcsa.ova. And now we can import the ova to VMware Workstation. When the import finishes, do not start the VM yet. Certain values that are normally inserted via the vSphere Client or ovftool are to be appended to the VMX file of the imported VCSA. Open the vmx in the location where you let Workstation import the VM. Append the following lines:

guestinfo.cis.appliance.net.addr.family = “ipv4”
guestinfo.cis.appliance.net.mode = “static”
guestinfo.cis.appliance.net.addr = “10.0.0.11”
guestinfo.cis.appliance.net.prefix = “8”
guestinfo.cis.appliance.net.gateway = “10.0.0.1”
guestinfo.cis.appliance.net.dns.servers = “10.0.0.1”
guestinfo.cis.vmdir.password = “vmware-notsecurepassexample”
guestinfo.cis.appliance.root.passwd = “vmware-notsecurepassexample”

Note: Change the net and vmdir/appliance.password options to the appropriate values for your environment.

If not appended when you start the VCSA an error: vmdir.password not set aborting installation is shown on the console (next to root password not set) and network connection will be dropped even if you configure these on the VCSA console (via F2).

Save the VMX file.

And now it is time to let it rip. Start up your engines. And be patience until…lo and behold:

VCSA Running in workstation

And to check if the networking is accepting connections from a server in the same network segment open up the VCSA url in Chrome for example. After accepting the self signed certificate unsecure site (run away!) message you will (hopefully) see:

VCSA in Workstation

Next we can logon to the Web client (click and accept the unsecure connection/certificate) and logon via Administrator@VSPHERE.LOCAL and the password provided in the VMX (in the above example vmware-notsecurepassexample). As a bonus you now know where to look when you forget your lab VCSA password ;-).

VCSA 6 Web Client

(And now I notice the vCenter Operations Manager icon in the Web Client Home screen. Why is this not updated like vRealize Orchestrator :-) )

-Enjoy!

 

 

Design for failure – but what about the failure in designs in the big bad world?

This post is a random thought post, not quite technical but in my opinion very important. The idea formed after some subjects and discussions at last week’s NL VMUG. This blog post’s main goal is to create a discussion, so why don’t you post a comment with your opinion … Here it goes…

Murphy, hardware failures and engineers tripping over cables in the data center, us tech gals and guys all know and probably experienced them. Disaster happens everyday. But what about a state of the art application that ticks all the boxes for functional and technical requirements, but users are not able to use it, because of their lack of knowledge in this field, or because they are clueless why the business has created this thingy (why and how this application or data is supposed to help the information flow of business processes)? Failure is a constant and needs to be handled accordantly, and from all angles.

Techies are used to look at the environment from the bottom up. We design complete infrastructures with failure in our minds and have the technology and knowledge to perfectly execute disaster avoidance or disaster recovery (forget the theoretical RTO/RPO of 0’s here). We can do this at a lower cost (CAPEX) than ever before, and there are more benefits (OPEX and minimized downtime for business processes) than before. But subsequently, we should ask ourselves this: What about failing applications or data which is generated but not reaching the required business processes (the people that are operating or using these processes)?
Designs need to tackle this problem, using design based on the complete business view and connecting strategy, technical possibility and users!

And how will we do this then?

Well, first of all, the business needs to have full knowledge of their required processes and information flows, that support or process in and out data for these services supporting the business strategy. Very important. And to be honest, only a few companies have figured out this part. Most experience difficulties. And they give up. Commitment from the business and people in the business is of utmost importance. Be a strategic partner (to the management). Start with asking why certain choices are made and explain the why a little more often than just the how, what and when!

Describe why and how information and data is collected organized and distributed (in a fail safe and secure method) and what information systems are used. Describe the applications (and their ROI, services, processes and busses), how the information is presented and flows back in the business (via the people or automated systems). How does your solution let the business grow and flourish? Keep clear of too much technical detail – present your story in a way the manager understands the added value, and knows which team members (future users) to delegate to project meetings.

Next up IT, or ICT here in the Netherlands, Information and Communication Technology. I really like the Communication part for this post, businesses must do that a little more often. Start looking at the business from different points of view, and make sure you understand the functional parts and what is required to operate. To prevent people working on their own without a common goal or reason, internal communication is essential. Know the in and outs, describe why and how the desired result is achieved. Connect the different business layers. For this a great part of business IT departments needs to refocus it’s 1984 vision to the now and future. IT is not about infrastructure alone, it is a working part within the business, a facilitator, a placeholder (for lack of other words in my current vocabulary). IT needs to be about aligning the business services with applications and data, the tools and services that support and provides the business. That is why IT is there in the first place, not the business that is (connected or not) there for IT. IT’s business. Start listening, start writing first on a global level (what does the business mean by working from everywhere everyplace), then map possibilities to logical components (think from the information, why is it there, where does it come from and where does it go, and think for the apps, the users) and then when you have defined the logical components, you can add the physical components (insert the providers, vendors, hardware building blocks).

Sounds familiar? There are frameworks out there to use. Use your Google-Fu: Enterprise Architecture. Is this for enterprise size organizations only? No, any size company must know the why and why and why. And do something about it. And a simplified version will work for SMB size companies. Below is an example of a simplified model and what layers of attention this architectural framework brings to your organization.

Design for Failure

And…in addition to this, start using the following as a basis to include in your designs:

The best way to avoid failure is to fail constantly

Not my own, but from Netflix. This cannot be closer than the truth. No test or disaster recovery plan testing in iterations of half year or year. Do it constantly and see if your environment and business is up to the task to not influence any applications that will go down. Sure, there will be influences that for example the services running at 100% warp speed, but your users still able to do things with the services is better than nothing at all. And knowing that your service operates with a failure is the important part here. Now you can do something about not reaching the full speed, for example scale out to allow a service failure but not at a degraded service speed. Or know which of your services can actually go down without influencing business services for a certain time-frame. This is valuable feedback that will need to go back to the business. Is going down sufficient for the business, or should we try and handle this part so it does not go down at all. Just don’t use it at the infrastructure level only, include the data, application and information layers as well.
Big words here: trust and commitment. Trust the environment in place and test if it succeeds to provide the services needed even when hell freezes over (or when some other unexpected thing should happen). Trust that your environment can handle failure. Trust that the people can do something with or about the failures.
Commitment of the organization not to abandon when reaching a brick wall over and over, but to keep going until you are all satisfied. And trust that your people can fail also. Let them be familiar with the procedures and let a broader range of people handle the procedure (not just the current users names mapped to the processes, but within defined and mapped roles to services, multiple people can operate and analyze the information). Just like technical testing, your people are not operating 24x7x365, they like to go on leave and sometimes they tend to get ill.

Back to Netflix. For their failure generating Netflix uses Chaos Monkey. With that name an other Monkey comes to mind, Monkey Lives: http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Monkey_Lives.txt. Not sure where the idea came from, but such a service and name cannot be a coincidence only (if you believe coincidence exists in the first place). But that is not what this paragraph is about.
The Chaos Monkey’s job is to automatically and randomly kill instances and services within the Netflix Infrastructure architecture. When working with Chaos Monkey you will quickly learn that everything happens for a reason. And you will have to do something about it. Pretty Awesome. And the engineers even shared Chaos Monkey on Github:
https://github.com/Netflix/SimianArmy/wiki/Chaos-MonkeyIt must not stop at the battle plan of randomly killing services; fill up the environment with random events where services will get into some not okay state (unlike a dead service) and see how the environment reacts to this.

 

VMware Utility Belt must have tools – RVTools 3.7 released

March 2015 RVTools version 3.7 is released. 

This, in my opinion, is the tool each VMware consultant must have in his VMware utility belt together with the other standard presented tools. At this time RVTool is still free, so budget is no constrain to use this tool. More important it’s lightweight, very simple in usage and shows much wanted information in a ordered overview or allows for exporting the information in Excel format to analyse this offline. 

Before using this tool, it is important to understand the tool is used to make a point in time snapshot of the infrastructure configuration items in place. In short what is configured and what is the current operational state. No more, no less. The information can then be used in for example operational health checks or AS IS starting point in projects (consolidation or refresh projects) in the analysis/inventory phase. See more use cases further below, and I am sure there can be some more examples out there.

No trending or what if’s for example, that is something you will have to do yourself or use other solutions/tools available for the software defined data center. VMware has some other excellent tools for SDDC management and insights in your virtual environment (for example vRealize Operations and Infrastructure Navigator). But that is a complete other story.

What is RVTools?

RVTools is a Windows .NET application which used the VI SDK (which is updated to 5.5 in this release) to display information about your VMware infrastructure.
A inventory connection can be made to vCenter or a single host, to get as is information about hosts, VM’s, VM Tools information, Data stores, Clusters, networking, CPU, health and more. This information is displayed in a tabpage view. Each tab represents a specific type of information, for example hosts or datastores.

RVTools can currently interact with Virtual Center 2.5, ESX Server 3.5, ESX Server 3i, Virtual Center 4.x, ESX(i) Server 4.x, Virtual Center 5.0, Virtual Center Appliance, ESXi Server 5.0, Virtual Center 5.1, ESXi Server 5.1, Virtua lCenter 5.5, ESXi Server 5.5 (no official 6.0 in this version).

RVTools can export the inventory to Excel and CSV for further analysis. The same tab from the GUI will be visible in Excel.

image

image

There is also a command line option to have (for example) a inventory schedule and let the results be send via e-mail to an administrative address.

Use Cases?

– On site Assessment / Analysis; Get a simple and fast overview of a VMware infrastructure. The presented information is easy to browse through, where in the vSphere Web Client you would go clicking through screens. When there is something interesting in the presented data you can go deeper with the standard vSphere and ESXi tools. Perfect for fast analysis and health checks.

– Off site Assessment / Analysis; Get the information and save the Excel or CSV dump to get a fast overview and dump for later analysis. You will have the complete dump (a point in time reference that is) which you can easily browse through when writing up an analysis/health check report.

– Documentation; The dumped information can be used on or offline to write up documentation. Excel tabs are easily copied in to the documentation.

– (Administrator) reporting; Via the command tool get a daily overview of your VMware infrastructure. Compare your status of today with the point in time overview of the day before or last week (depending on your schedule and/or retention). Use this information in the daily tasks of adding/changing documentation, analysis, reporting and such.

Release 3.7 Notes

For version 3.7 the following has been added:

  • VI SDK reference changed from 5.0 to 5.5
  • Extended the timeout value from 10 to 20 minutes for realy big enviroments
  • New field VM Folder on vCPU, vMemory, vDisk, vPartition, vNetwork, vFloppy, vCD, vSnapshot and vTools tabpages
  • On vDisk tabpage new Storage IO Allocation Information
  • On vHost tabpage new fields: service tag (serial #) and OEM specific string
  • On vNic tabpage new field: Name of (distributed) virtual switch
  • On vMultipath tabpage added multipath info for path 5, 6, 7 and 8
  • On vHealth tabpage new health check: Multipath operational state
  • On vHealth tabpage new health check: Virtual machine consolidation needed check
  • On vInfo tabpage new fields: boot options, firmware and Scheduled Hardware Upgrade Info
  • On statusbar last refresh date time stamp
  • On vhealth tabpage: Search datastore errors are now visible as health messages
  • You can now export the csv files separately from the command line interface (just like the xls export)
  • You can now set a auto refresh data interval in the preferences dialog box
  • All datetime columns are now formatted as yyyy/mm/dd hh:mm:ss
  • The export dir / filenames now have a formated datetime stamp yyyy-mm-dd_hh:mm:ss
  • Bug fix: on dvPort tabpage not all networks are displayed
  • Overall improved debug information

Who?

RVTools is written by Rob de Veij aka Robware. You can find Rob on twitter (@rvtools) and via his website http://robware.net.
Big thank to Rob for unleashing yet another version of this great tool!

As the tool is currently free please donate if you find the application useful to help and support Rob in further developing and maintaining RVTools.

Let’s get ready to cast your vote: vBlog 2015

Like the years before Eric Siebert of vSphere-Land.com is opening the annual vBlog voting for 2015 (http://vsphere-land.com/news/voting-now-open-for-the-2015-top-vmware-virtualization-blogs.html). This year Infinio is the sponsor and the top 50 is going to receive a special custom commemorative coin. All the blogs that are listed on vLaunchpad are on the ballot for the general voting. The top vBlog voting contest helps rank the most popular vblogs based on the community (you) votes and the outcome determines the ranking that is announced on the 19-03 Live show (and published on the vLaunchpad website).

Pascalswereld.nl is included on the voting ballot, but please keep in mind there is a lot of better blogs out there. As Eric states; keep in mind quality, frequency, longevity and length of the blogs out there when voting.
And of course your personal preferences ;-)

Ready to participate?

You can place your vote at: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2032977/TopvBlog2015.

Good luck to all the great bloggers out there!

Sources: http://vsphere-land.com, http://info.infinio.com/topvblog2015

 

vExpert 2015 Announcement

Last year was my first year I was awarded vExpert. This year I can happily repeat the following statement: it’s a great honour to be awarded and to be added to this years list of vExperts. I’m glad to be a part of the community and a big thank you is in order to be selected in this list for 2015.

Looks like a second star to my record of achievements and the year is just starting.

gold-star

The vExpert Listing

The current listing is 1028 rows long. Not sure if this is the official number but hey we are all in this together. The full listing and the announcement blog post can be found over here: http://blogs.vmware.com/vmtn/2015/02/vexpert-2014-announcement-2.html.

Congratulations to all the 2015 vExperts, returning and new ones. Keep up the good work!