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VMware bolsters security and brings the security industry along for the ride

With the backing of a handful of heavy hitters in the industry, this week's announcement of VMsafe is much more than a small security enhancement.

In spite of the wild success around server virtualization, many users perceived that security was a server virtualization achilles heel. The hypervisor (i.e. guts of server virtualization) was a bit of a black box where security technologies had no visibility. As a result, security tools assumed that each virtual host was really a physical server. Take it from me, security professionals get really edgy when presented with these types of muddy situations.

At this week's VMworld Europe, founder Mendel Rosenblum announced VMsafe, a new security enhancement to VMware that may address this gap. At a high level, VMsafe is a set of APIs that provide "outside-in" visibility into the hypervisor. In other words, security tools will be able to inspect I/O traffic, operating system instructions, and data written to memory BEFORE they hit the virtual hosts.

Why is this important? A lot of today's host-based security software runs in the very same operating system layer as most malware. This gives the bad guys the opportunity for dirty tricks like attacking the operating system kernel, turning off security protection, or hide in places like device drivers, where the security software can't see. From a security perspective, this is akin to trying to catch a malicious insider who knows all of the short cuts and secret passageways. With VMsafe, malicious code is frisked by a bouncer at the door before it comes inside. Like criminals, malware can't do any damage if it never gains access to the loot.

In typical fashion, VMware made this announcement with the backing of its deep ecosystem of partners including security industry leaders like Check Point Software Technologies, F5, IBM, McAfee, RSA Security, Symantec, and Trend Micro. This makes VMsafe an instant industry initiative and not simply a company announcement.

When you're hot, you're hot. VMsafe is a real improvement that could make a virtual environment more secure than actual, physical servers. As for VMware, the company continues to address user requirements, innovate, and build its partner ecosystem. With Citrix, Microsoft, Oracle, and Sun looking for their own pound of server virtualization flesh, VMware is intent on maintaining--and extending--its leadership position.