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Speeding up your applications in the Cloud with Blue Coat MACH5

If you think that moving to cloud-based applications will slow down your business, then take a closer look at Blue Coat’s Mach 5 WAN optimization appliance. It has some nifty features that can really improve cloud performance. While this is an old problem, what is new is how it solves the problem for many companies who are using cloud computing. Putting your apps in the cloud doesn’t mean they have to run slower, in fact, with Mach5, they can be tuned to actually run close to local load times.

Today’s networks are evolving towards more Internet-based cloud deployments using Web applications and protocols, incorporating more multi-media content such as Flash and Silverlight, as well as shared documents and other collaboration tools. There are thousands of software-as-a-service applications today, each catering to an important facet of your business.

Blue Coat believes that the greater adoption of the cloud will lead more companies to bring direct Internet access to branch offices. The company calls this “Branch to Cloud”. The service accomplishes several things: it protects your branch offices from Web-based malware, especially in real-time, moves information back and forth securely, and delivers documents from cloud-based repositories quickly, keeping bandwidth demands lean.

The idea is to install one of their appliances in a local office, and set it up to optimize for cloud delivery as you see in our series of configuration screens. The appliance will cache frequently used content, partial Web pages, images, video and downloaded files, so that subsequent accesses happen quickly.

But the real genius here is what’s missing from their solution. As you can see in our diagram above, you only need a single Blue Coat appliance on your local network – unlike competitors’ gear, you don’t need a matched pair when it comes to software-as-a-service, which is a good thing because that would be difficult to impossible with getting access to most cloud provider’s networks. Blue Coat’s CloudCaching Engine provides asymmetric or “one-sided” WAN optimization by using specialized caching and SSL decryption capabilities.

Better wide-area performance is just one feature of Mach5 and is part of an integrated line of WAN optimization appliances from Blue Coat that also accelerate remote access to email, centralized files, storage and enterprise applications and optimize live and on-demand video by enhancing the user experience and reducing the bandwidth consumption down to a thousandth or less of what it would otherwise be. If you have any of these applications on your network and your users are complaining about sluggish performance, then perhaps you might want to check them out on their website.



How to Make the Private Cloud More Secure

Cloud securitySecurity concerns remain one of the biggest obstacles to cloud computing adoption, even as spending on cloud-based solutions accelerates. Users welcome the affordability and scalability of cloud solutions, but many remain fearful about the potential for network breaches and leaks. These fears typically focus on public cloud offerings, and as such, they open opportunities for securing private cloud environments.

Just as in the physical world, security is a multi-pronged approach in the virtual world as well. You need basic anti-virus/anti-malware protection just like any desktop or server receives across your enterprise; access controls so that a random employee can’t bring down your entire virtual infrastructure; firewalls and intrusion prevention products to keep network-based attackers out; and auditing and compliance tools to make sure your security is up to snuff. That is a lot of gear to handle, and all of it has to come cloud-aware otherwise it won’t be much use. Let’s look at some typical products in each category.

Reflex’ Virtual Management Center is the most comprehensive security solution, with modules in three broad areas (auditing/compliance, firewall/intrusion detection, and access controls). The product is actually four separate protective modules that are knit together with separate reporting and management consoles:

  • vTrust for virtual firewall protection,
  • vCapacity for capacity management,
  • vWatch which handles performance and resource monitoring and
  • vProfile for configuration management

Trend Micro purchased Third Brigade and has incorporated its features into its Deep Security product. The product has a variety of protective modules, including agent or agentless firewall/IDS, anti-malware, and web application protection. As you might suspect from a consumer software company, its Web management interface is very attractive and the dashboard has a lot going on. At a glance you can see your entire VM collection, whether any protective measures have been installed, and what alerts have been reported. You have to use the maps generated by VMware to see a visual picture of your network of VMs and their hosts.

Then there is, which is trying to make the cloud more secure by providing an automated service to centralize and consolidate security management across both private and public clouds and in and outside of your data center, including VMs residing on Rackspace, Amazon’s EC2 and GoGrid. They will manage all of your Window and Linux servers’ existing built-in firewalls. The product uses either agents or talks directly to VMware and other cloud provider APIs to automate secure access. For example, you can open and close RDP ports on a timed schedule to make sure that someone didn’t inadvertently leave them open when they were done with a remote connection.

They can also close ports without locking out legitimate server admins who need to get in on an as-needed basis without having to bother the overall security administrator to temporarily grant this access.

Tier 3′s Environment Engine can help the automation of various Microsoft and Linux server deployments. Each deployment can be configured to be private, shared publicly or limited sharing to specific individuals. You can add multiple VMs so that an entire Web app can be brought up with a single command, even though it is deployed across multiple Web, database, and app servers on different VMs. You can script out an entire installation, adding monitoring, backups, firewall rule sets – in short, you can replicate in the cloud your entire computing environment.

As you can see, the number of individual products and services that are available to handle cloud computing is a huge space, and only growing as the important of the cloud picks up for many IT managers. You should try out some of these services and experiment with the kinds of protective features that you need to feel comfortable with your cloud deployment.

We have just touched on a few of the products in this space and feel free to share the ones that you recommend as well.



Do We Need A Desktop OS Anymore?

Mozy cloud storageMicrosoft fought a long battle to achieve a near monopoly of the desktop Operating System market that may stand forever. But does it even matter? Do we even need a desktop OS anymore?

As we see what is happening with Windows 8 and Metro, I am coming to the conclusion that the answer to this question is “no.” We may be reaching the point where the desktop OS is no longer important, eclipsed by the developments of the browser and ironically a victim of better integration of the Web by Microsoft and others.

My prediction is that Windows 8 will become the OS/2 of the modern era: an OS that is elegant but instantly made obsolete by events, designed for the wrong chip (in the case of Windows 8, the mobile ARM CPUs) and based on a cellphone design ethos that no one could care less about. Yeah, but it has a great new set of APIs!

It wasn’t all that long ago that Internet Explorer became almost indistinguishable from Windows Explorer. And with the rise of Chromebooks and how much of our time is spent online, the days of the particular desktop OS is almost irrelevant now. Who really cares what OS we run?

Remember when the desktop OS did things like keep track of directories, protect us from viruses (and Windows still doesn’t really do that all that well), make copies of files to removable media, and handle printing? Yes, I know I still can’t print my Web pages out with any kind of fidelity, and if I have an iPad, printing is almost an afterthought. But is that the browser’s fault or my OS?

Now that you can get gigabytes of free file storage in the cloud (thanks Mozy!), do you really care what is on your hard drive? Well, some of us dinosaurs (and I count myself among them) still cling to our hard drives but soon they will be totems from another era, much the way many of you look upon 5 inch floppy disks, or even 8 inch ones if you can recall back that far. Wow, we could carry an entire 360 kB of something around with us! (Of course, we didn’t have mp3s or videos either, but still.) And all this cloud storage is happening as hard drives are getting so cheap that they will be giving them away in cereal boxes soon: a 2 TB drive can be had for less than $50.

Meanwhile, Adobe has big plans for Flash, where it will take over the kinds of OS-like services that I mentioned above (ditto on the protect us from malware issue too, at least so far). And Google is trying mightily to rejigger HTML with its Dart Web programming language. And VMware has a new version of its View too, which is probably the OS that I really will end up spending most of my time with going forward. Whatever comes of these efforts, it almost doesn’t matter whether we are running Windows or Mac or Linux. Because we don’t need them anymore for our online lives.

Now stop and reconsider that last paragraph. Whom have we trusted for the next OS? It isn’t Microsoft, and it isn’t Apple. It is a bunch of folks from the valley that have never built an OS before (well, give Google half credit). Think about that for a moment.

Back at the dawn of the computing era in the 1980s we all wrote dBase apps (and saved them on those darn floppies too). Then we moved up to use Lotus Notes, before the Web took root. Then we branched out in a dozen different directions, using all sorts of programming languages that used HTTP protocols. That was the beginning of the end for the desktop OS.

Now we’ll still have desktops of one sort or another. And yes, Windows isn’t going away, much as Microsoft is determined to pry every last copy of XP from our cold, shaking hands. But when Adobe, Google and VMware all get done with their stuff, it won’t matter what will be running on our desktops. If we even have them around much longer.