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Next Generation Security Services in OpenStack

OpenStack is quickly and steadily positioning itself as a great Infrastructure-as-a-Service solution for the Enterprise. Originally conceived for that proverbial DevOps Cloud use case (and as a private alternative to AWS), the OpenStack framework has evolved to add rich Compute, Network and Storage services to fit several enterprise use cases. This evolution can be evidenced by the following initiatives:

1) Higher number of commercial distributions are available today, in addition to Managed Services and/or DIY OpenStack.
2) Diverse and expanded application and OS support vs. just Cloud-Native apps (a.k.a “pets vs. cattle”).
3) Advanced network connectivity options (routable Neutron topologies, dynamic routing support, etc.).
4) More storage options from traditional Enterprise storage vendors.

This is definitely great news, but one area where OpenStack has lagged behind is security. As of today, the only robust option for application security offered in OpenStack are Neutron Security Groups. The basic idea is that OpenStack Tenants can be in control of their own firewall rules, which are then applied and enforced in the dataplane by technologies like Linux IP Tables, OVS conntrack or, as it is the case with NSX vSphere, a stateful and scalable Distributed Firewall with vNIC-level resolution operating on each and every ESXi hypervisor.

Neutron Security Groups were designed for intra and inter-tier L3/L4 protection within the same application environment (the so-called “East-West” traffic).

In addition to Neutron Security Groups, projects like Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS) are also trying to onboard next generation security services onto these OpenStack Clouds and there is an interesting roadmap taking form on the horizon. The future looks great, but while OpenStack gets there, what are the implementation alternatives available today? How can Cloud Architects combine the benefits of the OpenStack framework and its appealing API consumption model, with security services that provide more insight and visibility into the application traffic? In other words, how can OpenStack Cloud admins offer next generation security right now, beyond the basic IP/TCP/UDP inspection offered in Neutron?

The answer is: With VMware NSX.

NSX natively supports and embeds an in-kernel redirection technology called Network Extensibility, or NetX. Third party ecosystem vendors write solutions against this extensibility model, following a rigorous validation process, to deliver elegant and seamless integrations. Once the solution is implemented, the notion is simply beautiful: leverage the NSX policy language, the same language that made NSX into the de facto solution for micro-segmentation, to “punt” interesting traffic toward the partner solution in question. This makes it possible to have protocol-level visibility for East-West traffic. This approach also allows you to create a firewall rule-set that looks like your business and not like your network. Application attributes such as VM name, OS type or any arbitrary vCenter object can be used to define said policies, irrespective of location, IP address or network topology. Once the partner solution receives the traffic, then the security admins can apply deep traffic inspection, visibility and monitoring techniques to it.

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How does all of the above relate to OpenStack, you may be wondering? Well, the process is extremely simple:

1) First, integrate OpenStack and NSX using the various up-streamed Neutron plugins, or better yet, get out-of-the-box integration by deploying VMware’s OpenStack distro, VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO), which is free for existing VMware customers.
2) Next, integrate NSX and the Partner Solution in question following documented configuration best practices. The list of active ecosystem partners can be found here.
3) Proceed to create an NSX Security policy to classify the application traffic by using the policy language mentioned above. This approach follows a wizard-based provisioning process to select which VMs will be subject to deep level inspection with Service Composer.
4) Use the Security Partner management console to create protocol-level security policies, such as application level firewalling, web reputation filtering, malware protection, antivirus protection and many more.
5) Launch Nova instances from OpenStack without a Neutron Security Group attached to them. This step is critical. Remember that we are delegating security management to the Security Admin, not the Tenant. Neutron Security Groups do not apply in this context.
6) Test and verify that your security policy is applied as designed.

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This all assumes that the security admin has relinquished control of the firewall from the Tenant and that all security operations are controlled by the firewall team, which is a very common Enterprise model.

There are some Neutron enhancements in the works, such as Flow Classifier and Service Chaining, that are looking “split” the security consumption between admins and tenants, by promoting these redirection policies to the Neutron API layer, thus allowing a Tenant (or a Security admin) to selectively redirect traffic without bypassing Neutron itself. This implementation, however, is very basic when compared to what NSX can do natively. We are actively monitoring this work and studying opportunities for future integration. In the meantime, the approach outlined above can be used to get the best of both worlds: the APIs you want (OpenStack) with the infrastructure you trust (vSphere and NSX).

In the next blog post we will show an actual working integration example with one of our Security Technology Partners, Fortinet, using VIO and NSX NetX technology.

Author: Marcos Hernandez
Principal Engineer, CCIE#8283, VCIX, VCP-NV
hernandezm@vmware.com
@netvirt