How the virtual machine world is changing the data security environment

Jun 3rd, 2015

It may be virtually a household name, but virtual machines (VMs), used to create any computing environment by emulating operating systems and architectures, are sometimes a challenge to use.

VM advantages

Although we have not the space to list all the awesome things you can do with a virtual machine, here’s a list of three things that PCWorld wrote up back in 2011. Still relevant? You decide.

Test software, upgrades or new configurations

Need a sandbox to try out funky new tools? Virtual machines offer the ideal environment in which to do this. Since the operating system run by the VM is isolated from the host computer, you’re able to install unfamiliar apps to see what they might do to the rest of your simulated configuration. The same goes for installing upgrades or changing settings before rolling it out to the masses. This isolation also protects the host machine and OS from being affected by any tweaks made in the VM.

Run Linux/Mac on top of Windows

Again, what a useful testing utility virtual machines can be. If strapped for cash or hardware, or instead of repartitioning your current hard drive, run an unfamiliar OS such as Mac or Linux in a VM while you continue performing tasks as usual on Windows (or vice versa) on the same physical computer. All the while, the host machine and OS are not affected by any security vulnerabilities that exist in the VM configuration and OS.

Back up an entire operating system

If you’re already using virtual machines, they’re ideal backup candidates. The entire configuration is contained in a single software package making it easy to store, transport and re-activate in the event of the VM going bust.This situation can be further enhanced by implementing an automated backup schedule on your host machine of the necessary VM files. If you’re then able to send those files off to some cloud storage, all the better. Now your virtual machine is also protected from a host crash.

Drawbacks of VMs

Aside from the ease of use and being quick to get up and running, virtual machines can leave you hanging.

There two pressing issues that seriously affect the longevity of VM environments:

VM security equals physical machine security

“Don’t treat physical and virtual machines’ security differently”, says Brad Casey at TechTarget. A VM is usually rebuilt if infected and compromised by malware, which leaves an irrational trust in the fact that the VM is isolated from the host machine. And although this isolation is indeed true, VMs are invariably also networked systems. An infection can spread if the necessary security and anti-malware software is not also installed and kept up to date on each relevant virtual machine.

What about VM disaster recovery?

An important topic which isn’t getting much attention is the need for disaster recovery planning for virtual machines. And although backing up a single VM in its entirety is easy enough as mentioned above, the problem, according to Fast Packet Blogger Josh Stephens, lies in the distributed storage of VMs in a cloud environment – this includes the VM configuration itself, not to mention the data actually used by the VM. Backup vendors usually offer VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) and Virtual Disk Development Kit (VDDK) solutions as paid add-on features, which leaves the solution as an after-thought when businesses implement their VM environments.



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