IBM LinuxONE; what’s in a name?

So the new IBM LinuxONE has now been officially launched. And not to put too fine a point on it, the Lustratus opinion is that it is pretty much the best Linux server around. In fact, to really stiEmperor_300x230ck my neck out, the LinuxONE could become the premier Linux server of choice in the next 5 years. As long as IBM doesn’t trip over its own feet to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on what IBM’s got. The LinuxONE currently comes in two sizes, the full-scale enterprise Linux server (Emperor) and an entry level server (Rockhopper). Cunning use of penguins to stress the link to Linux ūüėČ . LinuxONE offers a range (if two is a range) of Linux servers with outstanding reliability, security and non-disruptive scalability coupled with probably the best data and transaction handling facilities in the world. Bold words, but there is proof (see later).

But the LinuxONE also offers the openness and productivity support expected in the Linux world. Customers can choose between Red Hat, SuSE and Ubuntu environments, a range of hypervisors such as KVM and PR/SM, familiar languages such as Python, Perl, Ruby, Rails and Node.js, various databases like Oracle, DB2, MongoDB, MariaDB. In addition, LinuxONE adopts open technologies extensively, including Openstack, Docker, Chef and Puppet.  Even the financiang for the LinuxONE is more aligned with Linux and Cloud expectations, with a usage-based fixed monthly charge or even a rental option being offered. The LinuxONE is even the basis of an IBM community cloud being rolled out now.

So how can anything go wrong? And anyway, how can I make those claims about reliability, security and so on? Well of course, the secret is that the IBM LinuxONE is based on the IBM mainframe, arguably the most proven server the world has ever known for reliability, availability, data and I/O handling, transaction processing and enterprise serving. To this base, IBM has been able to build on its extensive experience over the last few years of running Linux workloads and serving Linux needs with z/Linux, providing the ideal launchpad for delivering the ultimate Linux servers. Fortunately IBM has not tried to resist the march of open technologies, taking the opportunity to bring open, non-IBM and IBM offerings together with the aim of delivering the premier Linux server environment.

The ‘but’ is that IBM cannot manage to tear itself away from its pride in the mainframe. Rightly, IBM is very proud of its mainframe technology and its long history of success under the most demanding environments. Perfectly understandable. And so I suppose it is only natural that IBM would want to refer in all its marketing literature to the fact that the LinuxONE is an enterprise Linux mainframe, and to stress that it IS a mainframe, albeit with significant Linux and open technology support added. But from the outside, this makes no sense. let’s split the world up into three camps; mainframe fans, those who do not know about mainframes and the mainframe ‘haters’. Perhaps ‘haters’ is a bit strong, but there is absolutely no doubt that there are a significant number of companies across the world who for various reasons see ‘mainframe’ as almost a derogatory word; old-fashioned, expensive, etc.. So how will the three markets react to the LinuxONE? IBM mainframe fans don’t need to be told it is a mainframe; they know, and they will also usually have an IBM rep who will be pointing it out with great frequency! The uninitiated who know nothing of mainframes would not see any plus or minus from being told the LinuxONE is a mainframe; they will simply want to look at what the LinuxONE can do for them, what tools and environments it supports etc.. But the third category can only see the ‘mainframe’ word as negative.

I can almost hear some people pointing out that this is a silly argument. That anyone who starts to look at the LinuxONE and who knows anything will quickly work out it is essentially an IBM mainframe. But I would submit that is not the point. Reaction to the mainframe word is to put the third group off from taking a closer look. Once they do look, as long as the server has the tools and offers the capabilities they need, and they can carry it forwards in their company without overtly exposing the ‘mainframe’ word, the strength of the LinuxONE offering will carry it through.

So I make this plea to IBM. Please, please, remove ‘mainframe’ from all the literature. Replace it with ‘server’ or ‘Linux server’ or enterprise Linux server’ or whatever. LinuxONE should be associated with being the best, most reliable, most productive, most scalable, most effective and safest range of Linux servers in the world, not with being a Linux-enabled mainframe.

Why enterprise mobile applications need an mBroker – part 2

mobile marketingThis is the second in a series of posts about the mBroker, an essential component of enterprise mobile application deployments.

The previous post discussed the general need for broking services to handle differences in mobile and corporate application environments. In this post we will look more closely at the security issues that mBrokers address.

Mobile applications are often written in the REST style using JSON as a format, because these mechanisms are simple, lightweight and perfect for the limited resources available to mobile devices. However, when these applications need to use corporate applications and APIs it can open a number of security holes. For starters, in the corporate SOA world integration is usually addressed through SOAP-based messages and web services. SOAP messages are usually encrypted, and there are extensive security protocols built into the web services standards specifications such as WS-Security. But the REST style of programming has little in the way of security protection; after all, REST is basically calling up URLs in a similar fashion to when you are surfing the net. This means that data may be ‘in the open’ and therefore exposed to prying eyes, and also intercepting the data and injecting malicious content is relatively easy.

The mBroker security services address these issues. For example, policies can be put in place so that sensitive information can be detected and secured, and the traffic can be scrutinized on entry to the corporate network for any injected threats or attacks. For example, content might be restricted to a small set of QueryString parameters, headers may be inspected to identify the type of data expected, and so on.

The other tricky aspect of securing enterprise mobile applications is the authentication and identity management area. As touched on in Part 1, OAuth is a loose standard providing a mechanism for delivering a level of authorization in the mobile world. In essence, resource owners authorize other services to use only that set of resources required for the task. The idea is that instead of having to log in everywhere, exposing your userid and password to different third party systems, the OAuth mechanism enables you to share a token with the service providers that restricts access. However, OAuth is quite new. OAuth was a typical web-based user-driven project which has now been developed, with OAuth 2.0, into a wider reaching standard specification. Not all of the web community are in favour of this wider direction, and the fact that OAuth 2.0 is not backward compatible with OAuth has not helped the situation at all. As a result different third party environments may not support OAuth at all or may support different levels.

Again, this is ideal territory for the mBroker. The mBroker can provide consistent OAuth implementation across all services, as well as bridging between OAuth and non-OAuth forms of authentication as required.

So mBrokers provide the mechanism to ensure that mobile enterprise applications do not compromise your corporate security goals.

The REAL concern over Cloud data security

Recently I have been involved in a discussion in the LinkedIn Integration Consortium group on managing data in a Cloud Computing environment, and the subject has turned to security.

I had maintained that data security concerns may sometimes result in companies preferring to look at some sort of internal Cloud model rather than risk putting their data in the Cloud-

the concept that I find is intriguing larger companies is the idea of running an INTERNAL cloud – this removes a lot of the concerns over data security, supplier longevity etc.

This generated a reaction from one of the other discussion participants, Tom Gibbs of DiCOM Grid.

I hate to poke at other commentators but security is an overarching issue for IT and telcom as a whole. No more and probably less of an issue with cloud or SaaS.

It’s almost amusing to watch legacy IT managers whine that b/c it isn’t local it isn’t secure. I’m sorry but this is totally naive.

This brings up an important point. What Tom is saying is that the Cloud provider will almost certainly offer top-notch security tools to protect data from unauthorized access or exposure, and therefore what’s the problem?

The answer is that the executive concern with putting data outside the corporate environment is likely to be more of an emotional rather than logical argument. With so many topical examples of confidential information being exposed, and executives knowing that regulations/legislation/corporate policies often make them PERSONALLY responsible for protecting information such as personal details of clients/customers/citizens, for example, the whole thing is just too scary.

IT folk may see this as naive, just as Tom says. After all, modern security tools are extremely powerful and rigorous. But of course this depends on the tools being properly applied. In the UK, for example, there have been a number of high-profile incidents of CDs or memory sticks containing confidential citizen information being left on trains and exposed to the media. The argument allowing data to be taken off-site was based around the fact that policy required all such data to be encrypted, making it useless if it fell into anyone else’s hands.¬†These encryption algorithms were top-notch, and¬†provide almost total protection. BUT the users who downloaded the information in each of these cases did¬†not bother to encrypt it –¬†in other words, if the procedures had been followed then¬†there would have been no¬†exposure but because¬†people did not implement the procedures then the¬†data was¬†exposed.

These situations have not only proved extremely embarrassing to the data owners involved, but have resulted in heads rolling in a very public fashion. So the concerns of the executive moaning about risk are visceral rather than rational – ‘Moving my data outside of the corporate boundary introduces personal risk to me, and no matter how much the experts try to reassure me I don’t want to take that risk’. Of course less sensitive information will not be so much of a concern, and therefore these worries will not affect every Cloud project. But for some executives the ‘security’ concern with moving data into the Cloud,¬†while not logically and analytically based, is undeniably real.


Ultramatics works with IBM to defuse SOA security threat

Ultramatics has just announced SOA SafeGuard product, which is designed to shut one of the major SOA security holes – the opportunity to inject virus and other malware threats through XML file sharing.

This is good news for SOA implementers, but also introduces an interesting new stress point for IBM. Back in 2007 I was on a podcast where I identified the five SOA security traps, one of which was the XML problem. To summarize, most virus and other threat detection solutions look at the datastreams coming into the system and identify threat signatures that indicate the presence of some noxious code, but unfortunately¬†they cannot see inside the XML wrapper, so¬†to all intents and purposes the contents of¬†any attached XML file are invisible. This offers the opportunity for malicious agencies to pop in some nasty code into¬†the XML content and¬†smuggle it¬†through the security gates to the enterprise. Of course, it is not immediately obvious how this would help, in that getting this code executed might not be so easy, but hackers are smart….therefore it is best to close this exposure.

One way to close the window is simply to forbid any XML file sharing, but since industries such as healthcare now more or less rely on this to conform to industry standards and regulations, this is not really practical. The new Ultramatics product claims to be able to protect from these types of intruders. It runs on the IBM DataPower XI50 Integration Appliance, providing a hardware-based shield that can see into the XML files and weed out anything unpleasant. This solution will be very valuable to many SOA companies worried about security.

But there is¬†something else interesting in the product details.¬†The datasheet for the product says it can be used (in conjunction with IBM’s MQSeries) to:

Create a SOA ESB that can perform routing, transformation and protocol mediation functions

This is intriguing. Of course, the idea of an¬†ESB appliance is not new, but the interesting point is that IBM is supplying this capability through the Ultramatics product…..I wonder¬†if the other IBM ESBs, WebSphere ESB and WebSphere Message Broker, see this is encroachment?


Secure mainframe SOA-in-a-box

I was reading the announcement from Layer7 about its ‘SOA-in-a-box’ for IBM mainframe users, and a number of things struck me.

First, I am SO PLEASED to see someone remembering that CICS is not the only mainframe transaction processing environment in use today. A significant number of large enterprises, particularly in the finance industry, use IBM’s IMS transaction processing system instead. With the strength and penetration of CICS in mainframe enterprises, it sometimes seems like these users have become the forgotten tribe, but investments in IMS are still huge in anyone’s numbers and it is a smart move to cater to them. I am sure that the fact that this solution serves IMS as well as CICS users will be a big plus.

The other point that struck me was that I have felt for some time that, with the security/intrusion detection/firewall/identity management market seeing such a shift to security appliances, it was time vendors thought of piggy-backing functionality onto these platforms. Of course, one reason for having an appliance is to provide a dedicated environment to address issues such as security, but in truth these appliances are rarely used to anywhere near capacity. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to optimize the use of the available processing power rather than slavishly locking it away where it can;t help anyone.

Finally, I have to admit my first reaction to this announcement was to worry about how good connectivity would be to the mainframe. Dealing with mainframes is an arcane area, and I was not aware that Layer7 had any special expertise or credentials here, but I see that GT Software is apparently providing the mainframe integration piece. This makes me a lot happier, since this company has been dealing with mainframes for 20 years. In fact, Lustratus did a review recently on GT Software’s Ivory mainframe SOA tool, which is apparently what is included in the Layer7 box.

Anyway, on behalf of all those IMS users out there, thanks Layer7!


Can SOA be bad for your health?

Recently I featured in a podcast and wrote an article on the 5 SOA Security traps, and one particularly sticks in my mind.

The issue is about flexibility – a good thing, most people agree, but in security / governance terms it can be a two-edged sword, and so it proves to be in the case of SOA.

The problem comes down to security domains. IT implementations can be thought of as a group of structures with varying levels of security – all the way from a community village where anyone can wander in anywhere, up to castles with moats, drawbridges and even boiling oil! Imagine for example a company with a particular silo application which is highly sensitive and must be absolutely secure. This could be implemented on a high-availability cluster with hardware encryption, and even have physical access controlled by putting it in a room with locks on the door and a guard! Well, OK, this might a little over the top, but the point is the company can take whatever measures it sees fit to implement a high level security domain – think castle.

Now along comes SOA, with its philosophy of flexibility and shared, reusable services. Instead of running silos, applications become a linked set of services and logic, and the wonderful flexibility of SOA means these services could be running anywhere across the enterprise, on any platform and in any technology environment. So supposing there is a shared ‘create customer’ service, and the high-security application switches to using this service instead of its own redundant create customer code. Now, since the security is only as good as the weakest link, the security domain is broken. Someone just drilled a hole in the castle wall.

Of course, companies can take measures to ensure this disaster does not befall their critical apps. Procedures can be put in place to protect the integrity of the security domains, restricting changes to these applications and blocking them from SOA-based distribution. But many people are unaware of the exposure, and sometimes programmers, with the best intentions, might accidentally end up compromising operations. In the end, it is up to management to put in place any education programs, working practices and policies and then to enforce them. But at least forewarned is forearmed.