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Case study: Inflow mandates integration for security products

Inflow focuses on high-level concerns, including asset management and solution integration, to protect its nearly 1,000 customers.

Ask a dozen security administrators what their greatest priority is and you might hear about specific challenges like viruses, patch management or perimeter defense. For Inflow, higher-level concerns, including asset management and solution integration, are crucial to protecting its nearly 1,000 customers.

Inflow is a Denver-based provider of hosting and managed services, as well as business continuity and disaster recovery. It operates 13 data centers across the United States, and more than 900 customers rely on its services for everyday business processes and critical recovery operations. Naturally, with so many different customers, Inflow runs many different platforms at each data center, including Windows, Solaris, HP-UX and AIX, as well as systems like S/390s. Inflow's hundreds of servers host all the major databases, plus proprietary applications written by its customers.

Among the security challenges that Inflow faces are system-level issues (patch and configuration management), network-level issues (perimeter defense and intrusion detection) and application-level issues (internal vulnerabilities and insufficiently tested code). "Recently, we've been confronting the many vulnerability notification solutions we use, and trying to move beyond manual methods of interpreting and prioritizing their information," said Lenny Mansour, general manager of hosting and infrastructure.

Integration of many separate solutions is a main concern. "We want to control solutions in a more uniform environment, not manage each solution separately," said Mansour. He is encouraged by the efforts of vendors on the network level to tie together firewalls, intrusion detection, patch management and other products.

At the system level, asset management is essential for Inflow. "How can you possibly deal with patch management or change management if you don't know what you have?" noted Mansour. Inflow uses software from Opsware in Sunnyvale, Calif. for asset management, scanning resources before making decisions to push patches out to appropriate platforms. The company values how the software can integrate with other processes, including reporting, change requests and handling modifications to proprietary applications. "For example, we had estimated it would require nine technicians to manage our 600 Windows servers, but with Opsware it only requires three," Mansour said.

Mansour looks forward to software and hardware applications to integrate, and simplify, solutions even further. "We're trying to address the application level more effectively," he explained. The company is also interested in new network-level devices that combine the roles of firewall, VPN, intrusion detection and intrusion prevention. Not only can these devices improve security, but they should also decrease the complexity and cost of achieving and managing that security.

"We feel more in control, now that we have asset management in place," Mansour said. "We have a much better handle on what we have and how it all fits together."

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