Gigamon Side Story

The modern data center is a lot like modern air transportation. Not nearly as sexy as it used to be, the food isn’t nearly as good as it used to be, and more choke points than we used to deal with.

With 10 Gigabit Ethernet Fabrics available from vendors like Cisco, Juniper, Brocade, et all, we can conceive of these great, non-blocking, lossless networks that let us zip VMs and data to and fro.

And then reality sets in. The security team needs to inspection points. That means firewalls, IPS, and IDS devices. And one thing they’re not terribly good at? Gigs and gigs of traffic. Also scaling. And not pissing me off.

Pictured: Firewall Choke Points

This battle between scalability and security has data center administrators and security groups rumbling like some sort of West Side Data Center Story.

Dun dun da dun! Scalability!

Dun doo doo ta doo! Inspection!

So what to do? Enter Gigamon, the makers of the orangiest network devices you’ll find in a data center. They were part of Networking Field Day 2, which I participated in back in October.

Essentially what Gigamon allows you to do is scale out your SPAN/Mirror ports. On most Cisco switches, only two ports at a time can be spitting mirrored traffic. For something like a Nexus 7000 with up to 256 10 Gigabit Interfaces, that’s usually not sufficient for monitoring anything but a small smattering of your traffic.

A product like Gigamon can tap fibre and copper links, or take in the output of a span port, classify the traffic, and send it out an appropriate port. This would allow a data center to effectively scale traffic monitoring in a way that’s not possible with mere mirrored ports alone. It would effectively remove all choke points that we normally associate with security. You’d just need to scale up with the appropriate number of IDS/IPS devices.

But with great power, comes the ability to do some unsavory things. During the presentation Gigamon mentioned they’d just done a huge install with Russia (note: I wouldn’t bring that up in your next presentation), allowing the government to monitor data of its citizens. That made me less than comfortable (and it’s also why it scares the shit out of Jeremy Gaddis). But “hey, that’s how Russia rolls” you might say. We do it here in the US, as well, through the concept of “lawful interception“. Yeah, I did feel a little dirty after that discussion.

Still, it could be used for good by removing the standard security choke points. Even if you didn’t need to IPS every packet in your data center, I would still consider architecting a design with Gigamon or another vendor like them in mind. It wouldn’t be difficult to consider where to put the devices, and it could save loads of time in the long run. If a security edict came down from on high, the appropriate devices would be put in place with Gigamon providing the pipping without choking your traffic.

In the mean time, I’m going to make sure everything I do is SSL’d.

Note: As a delegate/blogger, my travel and accommodations were covered by Gestalt IT, who vendors paid to have spots during the Networking Field Day. Vendors pay Gestalt IT to present, so while my travel (hotel, airfare, meals) were covered indirectly by the vendors, no other remuneration (save for the occasional tchotchke) from any of the vendors, directly or indirectly, or by Gestalt IT was recieved. Vendors were not promised, nor did they ask for any of us to write about them, or write about them positively. In fact, we sometimes say their products are shit (when, to be honest, sometimes they are, although this one wasn’t). My time was unpaid. 

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One Response to Gigamon Side Story

  1. Pingback: Networking Field Day 2: The Links

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