Gartner’s Four Models for Micro-Segmentation
Gartner has recently updated the micro-segmentation evaluation factors document (“How to Use Evaluation Factors to Select the Best Micro-Segmentation Model (Refreshed: 5 November 2018).
This report details the four different models for micro-segmentation, but it did not make a clear recommendation on which was best. Understanding the answer to this means looking at the limitations of each model, and recognizing what the future looks like for dynamic hybrid-cloud data centers. I recommend reading this report and evaluating the different capabilities, however for us at Guardicore, it is clear that one solution model stands above the others and it should not be a surprise that vendors that have previously used other models are now changing their technology to use this model: Overlay.
But first, let me explain why other models are not adequate for most enterprise customers.
The Inflexibility of Native-Cloud Controls
The native model uses the tools that are provided with a virtualization platform, hypervisor, or infrastructure. This model is inherently limited and inflexible. Even for businesses only using a single hypervisor provider, this model ties them into one service, as micro-segmentation policy cannot be simply moved when you switch provider. In addition, while businesses might think they are working under one IaaS server or hypervisor, the provider may have servers elsewhere, too, known as Shadow IT. The reality is that vendors that used to support Native controls for micro-segmentation have realized that customers are transforming and had to develop new Overlay-based products.
More commonly, enterprises know that they are working with multiple cloud providers and services, and need a micro-segmentation strategy that can work seamlessly across this heterogeneous environment.
The Inconsistency of Third-Party Firewalls
This model is based on virtual firewalls offered by third-party vendors. Enterprises using this model are often subject to network layer design limitations, and therefore forced to change their networking topology. They can be prevented from gaining visibility due to proprietary applications, encryption, or invisible and uncontrolled traffic on the same VLAN.
A known issue with this approach is the creation of bottlenecks due to reliance on additional third-party infrastructure. Essentially, this model is not a consistent solution across different architectures, and can’t be used to control the container layer.
The Complexity of a Hybrid Model
A combination of the above two models, enterprises using a hybrid model for micro-segmentation are attempting to limit some of the downsides of both models alone. To allow them more flexibility than native controls, they usually utilize third-party firewalls for north-south traffic. Inside the data center where you don’t have to worry about multi-cloud support, native controls can be used for east-west traffic.
However, as discussed, both of these solutions, even in tandem, are limited at best. With a hybrid approach, you are also going to add the extra problems of a complex and arduous set up and maintenance strategy. Visibility and control of a hybrid choice is unsustainable in a future-focused IT ecosystem where workloads and applications are spun up, automated, auto-scaled and migrated across multiple environments. Enterprises need one solution that works well, not two that are sub-par individually and limited together.
Understanding the Overlay Model – the Only Solution Built for Future Focused Micro-Segmentation
Rather than a patched-together hybrid solution from imperfect models, Overlay is built to be a more robust and future-proof solution from the ground up. Gartner describes the Overlay model as a solution where a host agent or software is enforced on the workload itself. Agent-to-agent communication is utilized rather than network zoning.
One of the negative sides to third-party firewalls is that they are inherently unscalable. In contrast, agents have no choke points to be constrained by, making them infinitely scalable for your needs.
With Overlay, your business has the best possible visibility across a complex and dynamic environment, with insight and control down to the process layer, including for future-focused architecture like container technology. The only solution that can address infrastructure differences, Overlay is agnostic to any operational or infrastructure environments, which means an enterprise has support for anything from bare metal and cloud to virtual or micro-services, or whatever technology comes next. Without an Overlay model – your business can’t be sure of supporting future use cases and remaining competitive against the opposition.
Not all Overlay Models are Created Equal
It’s clear that Overlay is the strongest technology model, and the only future-focused solution for micro-segmentation. This is true for traditional access-list style micro-segmentation as well as for implementing deeper security capabilities that include support for layer 7 and application-level controls.
Unfortunately, not every vendor will provide the best version of Overlay, meeting the functionality that its capable of. Utilizing the inherent benefits of an Overlay solution means you can put agents in the right places, setting communication policy that works in a granular way. With the right vendor, you can make intelligent choices for where to place agents, using context and process level visibility all the way to Layer 7. Your vendor should also be able to provide extra functionality such as enforcement by account, user, or hash, all within the same agent.
Remember that protecting the infrastructure requires more than micro-segmentation and you will have to deploy additional solutions that will allow you to reduce risk and meet security and compliance requirements.
Micro-segmentation has moved from being an exciting new buzzword in cyber-security to an essential risk reduction strategy for any forward-thinking enterprise. If it’s on your to-do list for 2019, make sure you do it right, and don’t fall victim to the limitations of an agentless model. Guardicore Centra provides an all in one solution for risk reduction, with a powerful Overlay model that supports a deep and flexible approach to workload security in any environment.
Want to learn more about the differences between agent and agentless micro-segmentation? Check out our recent white paper.