Application Infrastructure Control, Performance, Security, and Infrastructure
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Updated:December 22, 2013
The portfolio of Cisco
® data center solutions for Application Networking Services has two significant additions. First, the Cisco Application Control Engine (ACE) introduces new levels of application control as a module on Cisco Catalyst
® 6000 Series Switches. Second, significant security enhancements have been added to the Cisco Application Velocity System (AVS) dedicated appliance. Both products result in an application solution that overcomes the following challenges:
• Application control: improving the way IT departments deploy, operate, and manage their application infrastructures.
• Application performance: helping ensure better service to end users, including scalability, availability, and failover.
• Application security: helping to protect critical applications, infrastructures, and data from abuse and misuse.
• Infrastructure simplification: reducing the complexity of the infrastructure, shrinking the number of devices and vendors, better integrating the network and the application, and lowering the cost of the infrastructure.
The portfolio of Cisco data center solutions for Application Networking Services helps make applications more scalable and available (Figure 1). By using less server and network resources, these solutions lower the total cost of ownership and enhance IT flexibility. The portfolio offers IT teams integrated building blocks for optimizing application control, simplifying infrastructure, and delivering end-to-end business processes.
Figure 1. Cisco ACE and Cisco AVS in the Data Center
The data centers for enterprises and service providers face continual pressure to amplify service velocity, improve the reliability and quality of service, and reduce costs. Applications are still deployed and managed in separate silos across the network where application performance often is a secondary concern. Organizations use various point products to address the worst challenges in specific locations. Finally, security and regulatory compliance place further constraints on how IT can react.
IT needs solutions that give it more control over the application infrastructure, that aggregate capabilities to simplify management, and that deliver highly secure and accelerated application service across the extended enterprise. To meet these challenges, enterprises and service providers require data-center solutions that:
• Deploy and migrate applications without adding to the application infrastructure
• Scale the application infrastructure
• Have multitier data-center and application security
• Provide distributed workflow
• Consolidate functions, devices, and management
• Increase application throughput
Unlike application front-end appliances, Cisco ACE is fully integrated with the Cisco network, providing IT teams with a foundation for efficiently using data-center resources, people, and the systems throughout the infrastructure. The Cisco platform addresses the challenges of optimizing, scaling, securing, and delivering applications where you need them, when you need them, and with unparalleled control. This solution also helps to enable high availability for virtualized applications, to optimize applications, to address the requirements for data-center and application security, and to maximize the performance and resources of data centers to deliver applications at the lowest cost and with the lowest operational overhead.
The Cisco ACE and AVS offerings introduce several technologies for delivering applications in demanding enterprise environments, including advanced application control through virtualization and role-based access control, high performance, high security, and infrastructure simplification. These and the other major features of the Cisco ACE and AVS solutions collectively deliver exceptional performance, operational flexibility, security, and application optimization.
Performance: Latency, Mitigation and Bandwidth Usage Reduction
Cisco ACE and AVS achieve short application response times by incorporating features that enhance network and application performance in Layer 2 through Layer 7.
As more and more applications are added to a data center, the cost of supporting each application is reduced. Cisco ACE and AVS also reduce operating overhead costs-which are typically more than half of an IT budget-when implemented on the Cisco Catalyst 6000 Series Switch. The Cisco ACE module uses the switch for power, space, cooling, and the management interface.
Cisco AVS appliances enhance application performance over the WAN by improving response times. Without any changes to the application or in client interaction, Cisco AVS solutions routinely shrink end-user response times by 50 to 80 percent. Cisco data-center solutions maintain the state of the entire application across all clients and servers. Through knowledge of the context of requests, the solutions transform data previously considered uncacheable and eliminate the need to check with either Web or application servers. Aggregating Web requests and minimizing unnecessary network calls bring gains for users regardless of their location, access, or client system. These advances rely on four primary capabilities of the Cisco AVS products:
• Smart Redirect speeds Webpage redirecting by helping the Cisco AVS 3120 convert HTML metatag-based redirects into more efficient HTTP header-based redirects. The result is significantly faster page response time that does not sacrifice the flexibility and productivity of metatag-based redirection.
• Fast Redirect speeds HTTP header-based 301/302 redirects, reducing the round trips required from two to one. The Cisco AVS 3120 processes the 301/302 HTTP status code response and fetches the redirected resource over the LAN in the data center.
• FlashConnect improves browser performance by enabling responses to be processed in parallel rather than serially. By default, Microsoft Internet Explorer fetches objects over only two TCP connections established for each domain name it sees in an HTML container page. This limit means that requests are often queued unnecessarily, and first-visit performance suffers. By multiplexing these connections, the Cisco AVS 3120 accelerates performance.
Reduce Time, Cost and Complexity of Application Deployment
Enterprises and service providers need flexible, scalable, and reliable platforms for application delivery. Significant reduction in the time needed to deploy applications is achieved through centralized control with decentralized management using virtual partitioning, role-based access control, and hierarchical management domains. Virtual partitioning can provide the same level of service to as many as 250 logical groups., Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) enable centralized control and decentralized management. Combined with hierarchical management domains these functions allow resource distribution and management in logical groups (such as businesses, applications, or customers) on a given physical platform and ensure maximum flexibility for deployments, for the most scalable and efficient use of the Application Control Engine.
The Self-Defending Network concept aims at peace of mind through built-in defense at multiple levels in the data center. A Cisco data center solution for Application Networking Services integrated with a Cisco Self-Defending Network supports multilevel security while efficiently handling application traffic. Such a solution provides a single point of control for all business and security policies and a robust solution for application security, including:
• SSL encryption and decryption
• Directional deep inspection
• Integrated hardware-accelerated protocol control
• Positive and negative (whitelist and blacklist) security
• Protocol compliance
• Anomaly detection
• Transaction logging and reports for application security forensics
Whereas intrusion prevention and intrusion detection systems protect Web servers, the Cisco ACE and AVS solution protects against vulnerabilities in Web-based applications. What firewalls accomplish at the network level-denying all activities unless explicitly allowed-Cisco ACE and AVS accomplishes at the application level. A rules-based, policy-directed approach ensures that those automated requests to and from the application comply with policy and do not, for example, include a request to turn off the application.
In a typical threat scenario, an attacker uses a Web proxy that resides on a legitimate user's desktop. The attacker can tamper with message headers, protocols, or payloads-for example, by inserting malicious code into different parts of the application. Developers often do not protect their code from these types of attacks.
A Cisco AVS solution filters out malicious inputs using a variety of methods:
• Normalization-The Cisco AVS 3120 first normalizes HTTP and HTTPS traffic by decoding encrypted traffic so that the payload can be examined, not just the TCP header.
• Bidirectional, deep-packet inspection-The Cisco AVS 3120 examines messages in both directions, at the protocol and message payload levels. It identifies malicious traffic by applying policy, such as whitelists and blacklists.
• Blocking-The Cisco AVS 3120 blocks protocol and message payloads that do not comply with policy, using a combination of whitelists (permitted) and blacklists (prohibited). Application behavior is analyzed to ensure that policies appropriately match major application protocol behavior and payload characteristics.
These features combine such that a Cisco AVS solution provides protection against entire classes of attacks. Unlike signature-based protection, which handles only specific known threats, or learned-rules-based protection, which requires an extensive training phase, the Cisco AVS security solution protects applications from both known and unknown threats. The AppScope graphical tool on the Cisco AVS 3180 also provides a view of activity between the data center and any remote location, facilitating the isolation and resolution of any problems.
Cisco ACE and AVS improves application response times and increases business transaction throughput using a combination of:
• Bandwidth reduction features and minimized application latencies
• Offloading server processing cycles for optimizing applications
• Content switching techniques, which optimize resource usage and help ensure application availability
With this comprehensive solution, applications deployed across the WAN can now have response times previously experienced only in LAN environments. Cisco AVS also provides the ability to graphically view application performance metrics, including end-user response times, helping users quickly identify and troubleshoot application bottlenecks.
Often the challenge of application delivery is not just about overcoming network latency. Organizations also want to minimize their use of bandwidth for cost, availability, or performance reasons. A Cisco AVS solution can achieve a 70- to 90-percent reduction in bandwidth usage, while maintaining high performance, by applying the following techniques:
• Delta encoding-Webpage caching is successful because many pages are static; subsequent requests can be satisfied from the cache instead of the server. However, dynamic resources and content force subsequent server requests for the original page. But when one can encode and deliver to the client just the differences between the cached original page and the updated new page, many cases can be handled by sending just a few bytes. This approach, called delta encoding, is a core technology of the Cisco AVS 3120. It helps the client system dynamically construct new pages from cached pages by applying small deltas. This process is both automatic and transparent-no changes to browser clients, application servers, or content are required.
• Smart image optimization-The Cisco AVS 3120 device compresses image files intelligently to optimize image quality, resulting in faster image download times, faster page renders, and more efficient bandwidth usage. Other schemes compress images uniformly, a policy that can severely degrade quality of some images while missing opportunities to compress other images further. Some images can be highly compressed, but others need to maintain their detail. For example, a JPG photo for an accident claim can be kept at the highest resolution, whereas a scanned insurance policy document can be highly compressed without compromising readability.
• Compression-Cisco goes beyond standard compression to deliver more advanced optimizations such as adaptive dynamic caching (discussed later in this paper), delta encoding optimization, and FlashForward technologies. Devices and approaches that incorporate simple byte reductions are determined by how much repetitive content a page contains-for typical HTML pages, compression reduces page size by two to five times. In contrast, delta optimization can often reduce page size by 10 to 50 times, depending on how much the page actually changes. The Cisco AVS 3120 uses byte compression to further reduce the size of an already-shrunken delta-optimized page. And unlike existing GZIP and DEFLATE implementations, Cisco's optimized GZIP compression is fully compatible with all browser types, including Mozilla Firefox. Compression is also available in the Cisco Content Services Switch (CSS) as of Version 8.10.
Many organizations are surprised at how much server power is needed to support Web capabilities and applications. Cisco incorporates a wide variety of server offload functions in ways that are pertinent and appropriate for enterprise IT deployments. The following features combine to reduce server cycles by up to 80 percent:
• TCP connection multiplexing for offloading connection management-With the TCP connection feature, the Cisco ACE and Cisco AVS 3120 can take on the overhead of managing network connections by maintaining persistent TCP connections with the Web and application servers. To optimize overall performance as traffic levels change, the Cisco ACE and Cisco AVS 3120 adjust the number of persistent TCP connections to the back-end servers as load conditions dictate, freeing Web and application servers to focus solely on content generation. This feature can double the capacity of the Web server.
• Caching-A high-performance caching architecture enables several innovative optimizations of the Cisco AVS 3120, including delta encoding optimization and FlashForward object acceleration. Static caching also directly offloads servers of requests for frequently requested static objects, such as images and applets. This fully configurable feature adds to the overall application performance and transaction throughput.
• Adaptive and configurable dynamic caching-This feature helps the Cisco AVS 3120 fulfill requests for dynamic content, enabling the offloading of application servers and even core databases. With configurable dynamic caching, the Cisco AVS 3120 can cache multiple responses for a given URL based on specified cache parameters, such as URL query strings, HTTP headers, and cookie values. In effect, it enables dynamic content to be treated as static for accelerated performance. With a simple script, even personalized data can be dynamically cached, leaving more resources for core transactions.
• Load-based dynamic caching-Sophisticated content expiration policies help guarantee the freshness of dynamic content. The Cisco AVS 3120 monitors server load in real time and makes intelligent closed-loop decisions on content expiration to optimize site performance and use hardware resources efficiently during periods of peak traffic. This feature is configurable according to load, timing, and URLs.
• Lazy-request evaluation-Many systems make updates globally and, in effect, block access for some period of time. For example, a user request can initiate a recompile, and during that time any other requests that come in may be queued, possibly causing all users to wait. With lazy-request evaluation, the device can be configured to always serve a cached copy upon request and, when the back-end processing is complete, to automatically refresh the copy from the origin server. With this feature, the device always serves content out of the dynamic cache and, in effect, separates the client request from the origin server response.
• SSL acceleration-The SSL protocol has become the industry standard for providing security, privacy, and confidentiality for enterprise business transactions. To accelerate SSL transactions, the Cisco device handles the SSL handshake with the client, decrypts Web requests from the client, proxies them to the back-end Web or application servers, condenses the server responses (through delta optimization and FlashForward capabilities), encrypts them, and delivers them to the client within the secure SSL connection. This dramatically reduces the number of SSL-based transactions and increases SSL scalability as much as fourfold. SSL processing is available on Cisco ACE, the Cisco Content Switching Module (CSM), Cisco content services switches, and Cisco AVS.
• URL mapping-In another security measure, the Cisco URL mapping capability hides URLs within the HTML source by swapping them with arbitrary URL strings. This helps isolate the back-end infrastructure by preventing end users from seeing the actual URL structure used by the origin server.
• Single sign-on (SSO) optimizations-Many enterprises use SSO mechanisms such as Microsoft's NT LAN Manager to authenticate users as they log into enterprise applications. Authentication is a way of preventing user spoofing. Cisco improves overall application performance in SSO-enabled environments by eliminating redundant authentication traffic associated with object validation requests.
• XML transformation-Applications that output XML offer considerable flexibility in terms of connectivity and reuse. Translating XML on the application server is inefficient and leads to significant back-end performance problems. Instead of the usual standalone XML transformation appliance, Cisco offers integrated XML translation capability through an XML module built into the Cisco AVS 3120. The solution caches XML objects to improve performance and throughput, offloads the transformation of XML from the back end and the client, and then performs all appropriate optimizations to deliver to clients.
Cisco ACE Services Module helps ensure availability and reliability of application services inside and outside corporate networks with a variety of policy-based approaches:
• Load-balancing policies-Heavy server loads are distributed using policies based on criteria that identify the requests to be distributed, the eligible devices capable of handling those requests, and the algorithms for distributing the requests. Examples of load-distribution algorithms include round robin, weighted round robin, least connections, weighted least connections, least loaded, and predictive hash.
• Server-failure policies-When a server fails, what happens next is governed by the operator's specific policy. For example, what should be done when a server to which a client has a persistent connection mapped fails during a transaction? Possible options include resetting the connection, issuing an HTTP redirect (perhaps to a server that displays an error message), rebalancing the connection to a new server using the load-balancing policy, or directing it to a special "sorry server" that becomes active if there are no other eligible servers for this policy.
• Content-specific policies-Different treatment can be specified for different types of content. For example, a policy might direct all requests for cacheable content to a set of reverse-proxy caches that offload the processing of static images from application servers. Another might partition a Web server farm into static and dynamic sections.
• Device-specific policies-Different treatment can be specified for different types of devices. For example, clients using a wireless device can be directed to a set of servers that customize content for its format.
With its latest additions to its data center solutions for Application Networking Services, Cisco Systems® helps businesses improve value across widely distributed organizations by creating networks that optimally support application deployments. Specifically, Cisco data center solutions for Application Networking Services deliver:
• Unprecedented control for IT over the deployment and management of application service, which can dramatically improve service and reduce management overhead by creating virtual partitions and using role-based access control.
• High application and device performance, including 16-GB throughput and 4-MB bidirectional connections to handle large-scale operations, and unique WAN latency and bandwidth reduction capabilities to improve end-user response times across the network.
• Rich levels of application and network security, including bidirectional support for content inspection, SSL encryption/decryption, and transaction logging for application security forensics.
• Integration of multiple front-end services within a single processing path.
The Cisco's data center solutions for Application Networking Services provide a new and solid foundation to help ensure that IT can adapt to a changing and challenging business environment within budget and on time. They include the following:
• The new Cisco ACE module
• The new Cisco AVS software update for the Cisco AVS 3120 Application Velocity System