The Convergence of IT Operations and Security

By Mark Egan

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Today, previously unique spheres of IT activity are converging. This marks the intersection of systems management, security management, and storage management; the melding of IT operations with IT security.

The result is a resilient infrastructure, one that stays up, running, and growing no matter what happens.

The seeds of the convergence of systems, security, and storage management were planted two years ago by the Slammer worm. Slammer hit hard, bringing down ATM networks and airline systems in a matter of minutes.

But its biggest impact was in a paradigm shift it caused to ripple through the IT community.

What became clear was that organizations needed a more efficient way to identify vulnerable IT assets and patch vulnerable systems in the face of a potential crisis. They also needed tools and processes to ensure that critical data was backed up. What’s more, they needed a way to recover -- and fast.

The problem was, IT functions (and their supporting people, processes, and technologies) were anything but integrated.

Critical operations and security activities were handled separately. One group used its preferred tools to identify and inventory assets, another was charged with application and security configuration, and yet another with software distribution. Patch management was often shared among various groups, while the help desk operated within its own sphere and backup and storage functions were disconnected from the rest of IT.

The result? In some cases, chaos. Organizations were not only unable to proactively protect against threats but they also struggled to respond and react to actual attacks. And, needless to say, demonstrating compliance with industry and government regulations was widely viewed as a luxury they couldn’t yet afford.

Meanwhile, IT organizations were facing other challenges. Windows viruses and worms were continuing to proliferate. Also on the rise were threats to confidential information.

Organizations were also struggling to keep costs down without sacrificing uptime. And regulatory requirements mandated compliance with strict guidelines for keeping critical information safe and secure.

Emerging Concordance

This situation was unsustainable. It was then that organizations realized they needed to bring together the critical capabilities of systems, security, and storage management to create an operations environment that assured business continuity even in the face of approaching threats.

Today, solutions vendors are providing highly integrated and sophisticated tools that perform a wide variety of functions, from asset discovery and inventory to software distribution, application and security configuration management, patch management, help desk with secure remote control, and even system retirement -- all in a single, unified solution.

With these Swiss Army knife-like toolsets, organizations can identify IT assets, check for proper configuration, pinpoint vulnerable systems and deploy appropriate patches, recover from security events, restore data and applications to an exact point in time, manage system changes, and back up as necessary.

In other words, these new tools help organizations understand the state of their IT infrastructure, respond quickly when needed, and put controls in place to make sure the infrastructure -- from servers to desktops and mobile devices -- are not only secure and available but also compliant with relevant standards.

This represents a dramatic progression in the way organizations can manage and mitigate risk and recover quickly and reliably when a security event does occur. It gives IT organizations and corporate decision-makers a way to maintain a consistent operating environment that functions in a predictable manner regardless of what happens.

These advances bode well for a global business environment that has become more reliant than ever on information and information systems. And, so long as the convergence of technologies such as systems, security, and storage management serves the needs of a competitive market, it will continue to find its way into more and more corporations around the world.

Mark Egan is Symantec’s CIO and vice president of Information Technology. He is responsible for the management of Symantec's internal business systems, computing infrastructure, and information security program. Egan is author of "Executive Guide to Information Security: Threats, Challenges, and Solutions” from Addison Wesley and was a contributing author to "CIO Wisdom.”