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Guest View: Content security in the cloud

Aravindan Anandan | Aug. 20, 2013
In an age where the cloud is king, unified threat management solutions are lagging behind

The growth of cloud computing and the explosion of mobile devices are forcing dramatic changes in the way that networks are designed, conceived, and secured. Content security in particular faces novel challenges, as mobility and Web 2.0 applications make web traffic volumes highly unpredictable, with massive spikes and troughs from one moment to the next.

Today, the cloud era means different things to different people and organisations. For many, it is primarily about the opportunity to cloud-source technical business functions that in the past were performed in-house. The SaaS model delivers benefits including lower, more predictable costs and improved value from existing network infrastructure.

Others, with distributed networks and multiple data centres, see even greater returns in the form of reduced overall infrastructure needs and improved productivity. For these, the cloud era is about the virtualisation of data centres and the migration of key resources and applications to the cloud.

For large enterprise organisations, the emergence of the cloud represents an opportunity to develop and deploy a new generation of applications that use the cloud's massive computing resources to monetise big data and engage millions of users simultaneously.

Whatever the cloud era means to any particular organisation, one thing is certain: It means a dramatic increase in the sheer volume of data passing into and out of networks at any given moment - a growing amount of it critical to business operations. This is partly the result of increasing dependence on cloud-based resources and applications for day-to-day business operations. But it is also a consequence of the enormous growth in the use of mobile devices in the workplace, and of the Web 2.0 applications that their users access continuously.

To maintain network security, content-filtering solutions must examine all the business-critical traffic that these activities create. This can lead to a kind of arms race, where in order to maintain acceptable network performance, organisations must purchase ever larger appliances and provision ever greater resources to content filtering.

In addition to this legitimate, business-critical traffic, the volume of non-productive traffic is also growing exponentially. Today's smartphones and tablets - ubiquitous in the workplace - are very heavily dependent on traffic to and from the cloud for their every function. And users seldom recognise how much bandwidth they may be consuming, or how much traffic they are forcing through the content filter.

On 19 September 2012, the day that Apple released iOS 6 in the US, corporate networks in the US experienced severe slowdowns as thousands of iPhones and iPads downloaded the 660MB operating-system update. Not only did the update consume a huge portion of available bandwidth, it also forced content-filtering solutions to scan each and every download for malware, bogging down network traffic and interfering with business productivity.


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