VMware goes deeper into the security world with vShield Zones, but it’s dark and dangerous out there

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In October 2008 VMware acquired the security vendor Blue Lane Technologies, which offered an interesting inline patching technology for physical and virtual environments.
Rumors say that this was a very opportunistic acquisition considering the economical turmoil and the limited capabilities of Blue Lane to stay profitable.

True or not, the VMware desire to drive virtualization through security and become a leader in that market is evident.
The company already offers a software patching component, Update Manager (OEM’ed from Shavlik Technologies), but will also release a new host intrusion prevention system (HIPS) built on Determina technology, and all its products will benefit the revolutionary point of inspection/prevention that VMsafe APIs will provide.

Last week during the VMworld Europe 2009 (see virtualization.info live coverage of day 1 and day 2), VMware officially announced that the Blue Lane VirtualShield is now relabeled as vShield Zones.
The product will be available later this year, probably as part of the upcoming vSphere 4.0 platform.

For some reasons VMware is deeply changing the message associated to this product: instead of saying that vShield Zones can act as a proxy, intercepting, blocking and/or correcting several layer 7 attacks, the company is describing it more as a security wrapper (similar to VMware ACE) that can enforce the security compliance on any give virtual machine no matter the virtual network it is deployed into.

In other words VMware seems to suggest that this tool can compete and even replace traditional firewalls, making useless those network architectures that include DMZs. Uh-oh.

VMware continues to make the same mistakes already done with ACE: it believes that it can sell security to the server admin guys or that can sell virtualization to the security guys. It’s not the case.

Server, network and security departments are culturally and functionally different departments. Each one has its own language, its own ecosystem of trusted vendors, its own perception of the corporate infrastructure and its own approach to solve challenges.
Because of these differences usually there’s a lot of friction between these groups. These guys don’t go out for lunch together and they certainly don’t share their wonderful experience around virtualization.

VMware failed to sell ACE in the last 5 years despite it’s a great product because it never took into account these differences.
The result is that today ACE technologies are almost given away for free as part of VMware Workstation.

Now VMware wants 100% virtual infrastructures without corporate firewalls and DMZs. It won’t work.
Even just the idea of using vShield Zones side by side with the corporate Check Point firewall won’t work: the security guys already have huge issues in keeping the policies and the object database consistent across all the products they manage.
Virtualization to them is just another level of complexity and insecurity to deal with.

The more VMware extends the more complex becomes for them to understand where to stop.
VMsafe APIs are going to be one of the best thing ever happened in the history of security. Besides that every time VMware releases a security product on its own it enters a very dangerous, foreign domain.

If the company wants to play the security vendor role it should consider a neat change in its approach.