One thing I don’t miss from my vendor days in the Database Activity Monitoring market is the competitive infighting. Sure, I loved to do the competitive analyses to see how each vendor viewed itself, and how they were all trying to differentiate their products. I did not enjoy going into a customer shop after a competitor “poisoned the well” with misleading statements, evangelical pitches touting the right way to tackle a problem, or flat-out lies. Being second into a customer account meant having to deal with the dozen land mines left in their minds, and explaining those issues just to get even. The common land mines were about performance, lack of impact on IT systems, and platform support. The next vendor in line countered with architectures that did not scale, difficulties in deployment, inability to collect important events, and management complexity of every other product on the market. The customer often cannot determine who’s lying until after they purchase something and see if it does what the vendor claimed, so this game continues until the market reaches a certain level of maturity.

With Database Activity Monitoring, the appliance vs. software debate is still raging. It’s not front and center in most product marketing materials. It’s not core to solving most security challenges. It is positioned as an advantage behind the scenes, especially during bake-offs between vendors, to undermine competitors. Criticism not based on the way events are processed, UI, or event storage – but simply on the deployment model. Hardware is better than software. Software is better than hardware. This virtual hardware appliance is just as good as software. And so on.

This is an area where I can help customers understand the tradeoffs of the different models. Today I am kicking off a short series to discuss tradeoffs between appliance, software, and virtual appliance implementations of Database Activity Monitoring systems. I’ll research the current state of the DAM market and highlight the areas you need to focus on to determine which is right for you. I’ll also share some personal experiences that illustrate the difference between the theoretical and the practical. The series will be broken into four parts:

  • Hardware: Discussion of hardware appliances dedicated to Database Activity Monitoring. I’ll cover the system architecture, common deployment models, and setup. Then we’ll delve into the major benefits and constraints of appliances including performance, scalability, architecture, and disaster recovery.
  • Software: Contrasting DAM appliances with software architecture and deployment models; then cover pros and cons including installation and configuration, flexibility, scalability and performance, and installation/setup
  • Virtual Appliances: Virtualization and cloud models demand adaptation for many security technologies, and DAM is no different. Here I will discuss why virtual appliances are necessary – contrasting against with hardware-based appliances – and consider practical considerations that crop up.
  • Data Collection and Management: A brief discussion of how data collection and management affect DAM. I will focus on areas that come up in competitive situations and tend to confuse buying decisions.

I have been an active participant in these discussions over the last decade, and I worked for a DAM software provider. As a result I need to acknowledge, up front, my historical bias in favor of software. I have publicly stated my preference for software in the past based upon my experiences as a CIO and author of DAM technology. As an analyst, however, I have come to recognize that there is no single ‘best’ technology. My own experiences sometimes differ from customer reality, and I undersetand that every customer has its own preferred way of doing things.

But make no mistake – the deployment model matters! With that said, there is no single ‘best’ model. Hardware, software, and virtual appliance – each has advantages and disadvantages. What works for each customer depends on its specific needs. And just like vendors, customer will have their own biases. What’s important is what is ‘better’ for the consumer. I will provide a list of pros and cons, to help you decide what will work best. I will point out my own preferences (bias), and as always you are welcome to call ‘BS’ on anything in this series you don’t accept.

Perhaps more than any other series I have ever written at Securosis, I want to encourage feedback from the security and IT practitioner community. Why? Because I have witnessed too many software solutions that don’t scale as advertised. I am aware of several hardware deployments that cost the customer almost 4X the original bid. I am aware of software – my own firm was guilty – so inflexible we were booted from the customer site. I know these issues still occur, so my goal is to help wade through the competitive puffery. I encourage you to share what have you seen, what you prefer, and why, as it helps the community.