Comments on Oracle’s Acquisition of Sun

On Monday at the RSA conference I learned that Oracle is purchasing Sun Microsystems. I was so busy/exhausted from the conference that I forgot about it until this week. This is pretty exciting! Whether it’s really a good or a bad thing depends upon your perspective. Technology-wise it’s a good match, but the corporate cultures are very dissimilar. I have spoken with a few current Sun employees who are really worried about what life will be like at the Big-O. However I heard very much the same concern from many PeopleSoft employees, and the catastrophic fallout anticipated as part of that merger never happened; with the current economic situation, it probably won’t happen this time either. I also have to say this is a much better fit, with Oracle being the acquirer, than it would have been with IBM or HP. The product lines are more complimentary than IBM’s or HP’s, and I suspect there will be fewer layoffs than if either of those companies had made the acquisition. Sun’s people may not like the culture, but I have been hearing complaints from current and ex-Sun employees for years that they were unable to win market share despite having really innovative technologies, and there will be a sense of pride in having the products you worked on effectively marketed and sold. When I worked at Oracle way back when, it was amazing to watch the sales dynamic that was going on. If the customer was making a $20M purchase of hardware and software, let’s say $17M of that was for the hardware. However, the customer’s motivation for the purchase was they needed a solid database platform. That meant the $3M Oracle purchase is what mattered to the customer, and how well Oracle performed on the hardware was the deciding factor in the purchase. This meant the smaller database software company held sway over the larger hardware vendors. For years Oracle has used this incredible leverage over their hardware partners and ‘squeezed’ them on pricing. Now Oracle is the huge company with great margins, but the market dynamic is really changing, and commoditization is moving right up the stack and squeezing their core business as well. It’s not just about the database any longer. Look no further than Cisco getting into the Server/Switch business and offering a unique take on virtualization and provisioning. Several people I spoke with at the RSA conference all said the same thing: Oracle needs to own more of the data center in the coming years if they want to continue their growth curve. I believe Mr. Ellison meant “We’ll engineer the Oracle database and Solaris operating system together. With Sun we can make all components of the IT stack integrated and work well.” quite literally, and it reflects Oracle’s long-term growth strategy. Bundling Solaris with whatever virtualization technologies are at their disposal, InfiniBand Switches, and a full array of servers, gives Oracle a chip-to-web-app presence in the data center that makes the LAMP stack look like a child’s toy. From a security perspective, Oracle now has some really compelling technologies at their disposal. Trusted Solaris is the most secure general purpose OS in the world. Sun’s data encryption and authentication/key management may not be best of breed, but they are solid products that could generate considerable revenue in the hands of Oracle’s professional service arm. And while it is really difficult to secure a JVM properly, it can be done, and the beauty of the Java programming language is that it flat out has the best object model I have ever used. I can properly encapsulate and protect objects, and the language syntax is far easier to read and analyze for coding and security flaws than C++ or other commonly used environments. If Oracle decides to knit these components together within their Data Vault variant of the Oracle database, you will have all of the elements for a very secure development environment. One of the rumors that I was hearing was that Oracle would kill off MySQL. This has been covered in some of the blogs as well. I personally think this is nonsense. MySQL is a very well-designed database. It is modular and cannot only be tuned like an Oracle database, but is instead configured more like a Linux kernel to meet the user’s specific needs. MySQL has a rabid following and what I am estimate at around 15 million installations around the world. When you couple this with the BEA pieces in place and the Java programming language and associated tools/platforms Sun has, you have a really phenomenal web application development suite. Oracle no longer has to ‘compete’ with MySQL – now they have a real answer to PostgreSQL (No, Oracle Lite fans, that was not the answer) without undermining their core database business. What Oracle really needs to do is provide a PL/SQL parser/pre-processor for MySQL, thus providing developers not only the option to use existing SQL/PSM, but the Oracle-specific procedural language most DBAs are familiar with. This would keep the existing MySQL users happy, and offer a migration path into the core Oracle database platform should they outgrow MySQL’s capabilities. Also keep in mind that Oracle purchased Innobase InnoDB, which is not really a database, but rather an underlying storage engine that is commonly used by MySQL. One of the cool things about MySQL is that you can configure it with different storage backends, such as clustering or ISAM. So Oracle owns MySQL and one of the commonly used storage technologies for it, and that platform has strong user affinity – now they just need to find a way to leverage that and make money from it. Letting that community wither and die just does not make sense. To me this looks like a very complimentary acquisition. Share:

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Innovation, the RSA Conference, and Leap Years

On Thursday at the RSA Conference, I had the opportunity to attend a lunch with the conference advisory board: Benjamin Jun of Cryptography Research, Tim Mather of RSA, Ari Juels of RSA Laboratories, and Asheem Chandna of Greylock Partners. It was an interesting event, and Alex Howard of TechTarget did a good job of covering the discussion in a recent article. As with many things associated with the RSA Conference, it took me a bit of time to digest and distill all the various bits of information crammed into my sleep-deprived brain. I find that these big events are an excellent opportunity to smash my consciousness with far more data than it can possibly process, and eventually a few trends emerge. No, not this year’s “hot technology”, but macro themes that seem to interweave the disparate corners of our practice and industry. It might run contrary to many of the articles I read, or conversations I’ve had, but I think this year’s subtext was “innovation”. (And not because I presented on it with Hoff). Every year when I run into people on the show floor, the first question they tend to ask is “see anything new and interesting?” Finding something new I care about is pretty rare these days for two reasons. First, if it’s in my coverage area I sure as heck had better know about it before RSA. Second, most of the advances we see these days are evolutionary, and earth-shattering new products are few and far between. That doesn’t mean I don’t think we’re innovating, but that innovation is more pervasive throughout the year and less tied to any single show floor. One really interesting bit that popped out (from Asheem) was that the Innovation Station had only 14 applicants last year, and over 50 this year. I think in these days of tight marketing budgets for startups, a floor booth is hard to justify, and perhaps some of the total crap was weeded out, but security startups are far from dead (just look at my Inbox). But more interesting than innovation in startups is innovation from established players. For the first time in a very long time I’m seeing early tendrils of real innovation leaking from some of the big vendors again. We talked about it for a few minutes at the lunch, but it’s obvious that the security industry was able to coast for a few years on its core approaches. Customers were more focused on performance and throughput than new technologies, thus there was little motivation for big innovation. The limited market demand pushed innovation into the realm of startups, where new technologies could incubate until the big companies would snatch them up. Our financial friends at Marker Advisors even talked about this trend in a recent guest post, and how “traditional” buying cycles are now disrupted by technology turnover and changing client requirements. It all ties in perfectly to Hoff’s Hamster Sign Wave of Pain. On the other side, we’re seeing some of the most dramatic attack innovation since the discovery of the buffer overflow. And for the first time, these attacks are causing consistent, real, measurable, and widespread losses. We’ve seen major financial institutions breached, the plans for the Joint Strike Fighter stolen (‘leaked’ doesn’t nearly convey the seriousness), and malware hitting the major news outlets (with often crappy reporting). There is evidence that all aspects of our information society are deeply penetrated and fallible. Not that the world is coming to an end, but we can’t pretend we don’t have problems. This combination of buying cycles, threat innovation, growing general awareness, and product and practice innovation creates what may be the most interesting time in history to work in security. We’ve never before had such a high profile, faced such daunting challenges, and seen such open opportunities. Merely building on what we’ve done before doesn’t have a chance of restoring the risk balance, and there’s never been better motivation for big financials, the government, and big manufacturing (you know, the guys with all the money) to invest in new approaches. I’d call it a “Perfect Storm” if that phrase wasn’t banned by the Securosis Guide of Crappy Phrases, Marketing Hyperbole, and Silly, Meaningless Words (after “holistic” and before “synergy”). Frankly, we don’t have any choice but to innovate. When market forces like this align the outcome is inevitable. Tim Mather referred to the National Cyber Leap Year, a program by the government to engage industry and push for game-changing security advancements. Not that the Leap Year program itself will necessarily succeed, but there is clear recognition that innovation is essential to our survival. We can’t keep layering the same old crap onto hot newness and expect a good result. Those of you who hate change are going to be seriously unhappy. Those who revel in challenges are in for a wild ride. The good news is there’s no way we can lose – it isn’t like society will let itself break down completely and go all Road Warrior. Especially since Mel turned into an anti-semitic whack job. (Image courtesy Share:

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How Do You Deploy Your Patches?

Last week I posted an outline for a patch management cycle to base Project Quant metrics on. Based on some feedback, I think we need to hear from those of you who actually do this for a living (you really don’t want to know the crappy process we used back in my sysadmin days). If you have a moment, please pop over to the forums and let us know what you are using for your process. (If you want to leave anonymous feedback, instead of the forums you can leave it as a comment on the main post; this is a weird limitation of our platform). Thanks Share:

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LogLogic acquires Exaprotect

Another interesting news item during the RSA show that I am just getting time to comment on is LogLogic’s announcement they have acquired Exaprotect. When LogLogic announced a partnership with Exaprotect a few months back, my initial reaction was “Who”? Actually, I had heard of the company, but knew very little about the technology. I had not heard any of the companies I speak with on a regular basis mention them, so I had not been paying very close attention to this small firm. When I went to Exaprotect’s website to see what products they offered, I really was unable to tell. It looked like a carbon copy of the LogLogic product benefits summary! It is amazingly difficult to understand what differentiates one product from another on corporate web sites when they are all attempting to cover the current market drivers, and do so at the expense of explaining what they actually do. The company is not very well known by those of you who do not follow this space closely, but they do offer a security event management product, along with a couple of other interesting pieces in the areas of configuration management and policy management. The reason this acquisition is important is two-fold. First, this is the removal of the last line of distinction between log management vendors and SEM vendors. ArcSight, LogLogic, eIQ Networks, Q1Labs, LogRhythm, NitroSecurity, and so on are all covering log management and security analysis. Granted, the degree to which each vendor provides the respective capability varies, and each has its own strengths. All in all, these systems collect disparate events, analyze the events in relation to some policy, and provide storage and reporting. The difference was the type of events collected, the speed with which the analysis was conducted, and the audience for the results. These distinctions were usually split down the middle, either near-real-time security response or a forensic analysis and event correlation. What we will see in the coming quarters is adjustment in vendor architectures for these offerings to be efficiently merged into seamless offerings, continuing to provide evolutionary updates to near-real-time and forensic offerings, and looking for ways to differentiate from their competitors. The second reason is that it spotlights the technical and value path this market segment is (and needs to be) headed down. The tough question, now that the vendors collect just about every relevant piece of security & operational data available, is what do you do with that data? How do you differentiate yourself? How do you provide the customer more value? Sure we are going to see new features appended to the core offerings, a la database protection, but the more important feature/functions will have to do with configuration management, business process verification, and policy management/enforcement. Configuration management provides the vendors with a big missing piece of preventative control and baselining of systems that are critical for most compliance efforts. It’s not that difficult to implement, fits nicely within a log management architecture, and offers value to several buying centers. Policy management, provided the vendors actually can take a business policy and automatically map that to the underlying data streams available, will also provide a huge leap in value to customers and speak to non-technical audiences. The final piece of the puzzle is a flexible analytics engine, so policy verification can be performed in an appropriate time-frame in the specific customer environment, in order to verify business continuity and efficacy. I use the word ‘verification’ because enforcement is not really the customer requirement, and more importantly blocking is not typically the appropriate way to remediate problems – the solution is often more complex. All three of these offerings show SEM moving up the stack and making sense of business processing and compliance in the business context. I look at the LogLogic acquisition as a step necessary to compete, not just the in basic SEM infrastructure of near-real-time event processing, but in all three of the evolutionary ways security event management is heading. That’s not an endorsement of the Exaprotect technology – I have not gotten my hands on it and could not tell you how well it works – but it does encapsulate the segment trends. I intend to delve into each of these trends in more depth. Share:

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