The Data Stack

September 14, 2010 Previous day Next day
megan_mcqueen

Cloud at IDF - Day Two

Posted by megan_mcqueen Sep 14, 2010

Day two of IDF 2010 has drawn to a close and cloud technology was once again well represented.

 

Intel IT gave a well-attended session that looked at how the group has integrated and implemented cloud technology. Intel and partner Microsoft provided an informative session on increasing cloud reliability with platform RAS. There was also a hands-on lab providing detailed instructions on setting up a basic cloud computing environment.

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The day concluded with Intel experts talking about the vision of the cloud in the next five to ten years. Rajeanne Skillern, Billy Cox, Dylan Larsen, Andy Tryba, and RK Hiremane provided insight about how to get smarter on the way we build infrastructure in the future.

 

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Don't forget that session content is posted online at www.intel.com/go/idfsessions!

It's hard work to keep a small business going in an economic downturn. How do you find new customers and keep current ones happy while juggling cash flow challenges and employee schedules?  The last thing on your mind is probably an IT upgrade. But there are good reasons to think about making a technology investment, especially in light of proposed tax deductions for new equipment purchases.

 

As marketers, we're here to tell you that an efficient IT environment can help you in several ways, from increased productivity to better data security to easier maintenance of your hardware investment. But what do improvements in productivity, security, and maintenance look like in the real world? We'll go into more detail in future months, but first we want to introduce ourselves to you – and give you some insight into what we see as key IT challenges for small business owners.

 

So where are we getting this information? Market research, yes – but more importantly, stories from family and friends who run small businesses, some of our smaller customers, and even our own work experiences outside of Intel. (In case you're wondering who we are, we'll go ahead and establish our "geek cred" with this video of us talking about why ECC memory is important. More on that later.)

 

We hear a similar tune from everyone we talk to: running a successful small business means doing more with less, and that includes having an IT environment that handle anything you throw at it. Want to run applications like Microsoft Exchange Server? Want to share files and work collaboratively? Want to back up your data? Want to access your email remotely? Want to check the status of your computer systems even if you're out of the office? That dusty old desktop system you've got stashed in a back closet won't cut it. You need a "real server" to run your business.

 

Wait, what's that? You can't afford a server?  Well, can you afford to lose sensitive customer data? Can you afford to be offline for hours (or days) at a time, with no way to place new orders or close out existing ones?  Over the next few months, we'll be discussing the benefits of a “real server.” And we want a discussion. Give us feedback on the technology needs – and challenges – of your small business. Our theory: older equipment is slower, costs more to maintain, and can result in significant downtime. In 2010, if you're not online, you're missing customers – and missing opportunities to increase your revenue.  What do you think?

Jeff_C

Encrypt the World

Posted by Jeff_C Sep 14, 2010

In preparing for a visit to come customers, I was reviewing the instructions needed to make sure AES was the preferred cipher used in SSL/TLS and playing around with a test server to confirm things were working.  These secure layers allows for the encrypting of information we now take for granted when completing online purchasing and viewing our bank accounts.  It was important to know how to ensure AES is the preferred cipher, since new software like Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 R2 and most new Linux distributions will see a huge performance gain in encryption on Intel's new processors only if they choose this cipher.  The same technology is also available for encrypting data at rest in databases.

 

I was also reviewing some news clippings I had saved about some of 2009's biggest computer security stories.  When reading the responses about the NARA incident that potentially exposed part of database including privacy information of 76 million servicemen, reasonable people asked how an organization could have that concentration of information and not have it encrypted.  It seems obvious after the fact of sending a malfunctioning hard disk out to a non-government organization that having the data encrypted would have been a good idea.    But why wasn't it encrypted.  Sadly, it is not unusual thinking.  Many, dare I say most, organizations consider the hard disks in their data centers and the information they contain physically secure.  And why not.  They have strict policies of admission and typically require destroying of media.  Yet with all these policies in place headlines seem to continue.

 

In between playing with SSL encryption and reading some headlines on data breaches I had to ask myself why not just encryption everything.  Really, what if we just encrypted everything.  Why not?

 

Well the reasons usually cited include performance, key management and cost.  Anyone that has taken a new hard drive and done a complete encryption of the drive knows it can take some time, often hours.  At the data center application level, most benchmarks don't include use with any indication of the impact of encryption.  Some papers suggest the overhead encrypting a database could be 25-30% percent.  What DBA wants to sign up for that kind of performance hit?  However with the latest processors the performance is really starting to become a non-issue.  New processors in servers (and clients) have instructions that accelerate one of the most popular encryption algorithm today, AES.  These new instructions speed up the encryption itself 3x-10x which translates in to the applications like databases and full disk encryption not having an impact to compute performance.  Actually the limitation now is more in the hard drive technology.  The CPU time to encrypt is not the limiter as much as it is the time taken to read and write all the data on the hard drive.

 

So why not encrypt all the time.  Well certainly there is the potential for additional cost.  Although there are free or bundled software encryption products out there, many software vendors charge extra for security packages.  Given the average organizational cost of a data breach is over six million dollars, for the few applications that charge a premium would be a cost-effective insurance policy.   So that leaves one remaining barrier, key management.  Some of suggested the small scale IT could lose more data from losing keys than a data breach.  As some recent spy novel-like news stories suggest, poor storage of keys is often the easiest way to "break" encryption.  But key management really not that hard.  In the modern world, what person doesn't have dozens of passwords and pins numbers to manage.  And what large organization doesn't already have sophisticated key management infrastructure and policies in place.  So back to the original question, why not encrypt everywhere?  Now that performance isn't an issue, it seems the last real excuse is gone.

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