When I talk to customers and colleagues about cloud offerings, most of them are still concerned about the cloud, and especially about the security of public cloud offerings. One of the most mentioned concerns is based on the belief, that each and every cloud-based VM is publicly reachable over the internet. This can be so, but it does not have to. It relies on your design. Maybe that is only a problem in germany. German privacy policies are the reason for the two german Azure datacenters. They are run by Deutsche Telekom, not by Microsoft.
Azure Virtual Networks
An Azure Virtual Network (VNet) is a network inside the public Azure cloud. It is isolated from the underlying infrastructure and it is dedicated to you. This allows you to fully control IP addressing, DNS, security policies and routing between subnets. Virtual Networks can include multiple subnets to reflect different security zones and/ or multi-tier designs. If you want to connect two or more VNets in the same region, you have to use VNet peering. Microsoft offers an excellent documentation about Virtual Networks. Because routing is managed by the Azure infrastructure, you will need to set user-defined routes to push traffic through a firewall or load-balancing appliance.
Who is Palo Alto Networks?
Palo Alto Networks was founded by Nir Zuk in 2005. Nir Zuk is the founder and CTO of Palo Alto Networks. He is still leading the development. Nil Zuk is a former employee of CheckPoint and NetScreen (was acquired by Juniper Networks). His motivation to develop his vision of a Next Generation Firewall (NGF) was the fact, that firewalls were unable to look into traffic streams. We all know this: You want that your employees can use Google, but you don’t want them to access Facebook. Designing polices for this can be a real PITA. You can solve this with a proxy server, but a proxy has other disadvantages.
Gartner has identified Palo Alto Networks as a leader in the enterprise firewall since 2011.
I was able to get my hands on some Palo Alto firewalls and I think I understand why Palo Alto Networks is noticed as a leader.
VM-Series for Microsoft Azure
Sometimes you have to separate networks. No big deal when your servers are located in your datacenter, even if they are virtualized. But what if the servers are located in a VNet on Azure? As already mentioned, you can create different subnets in an Azure VNet to create a multi-tier or multi-subnet environment. Because routing is managed by the underlying Azure infrastructure, you have to use Network Security Groups (NSG) to manage traffic. A NSG contains rules to allow or deny network traffic to VMs in a VNet. Unfortunately a NSGs can only act on layer 4. If you need something that can act on layer 7, you need something different. Now comes the Palo Alto Networks VM-Series for Microsoft Azure into play.
The VM-Series for Microsoft Azure can directly deployed from the Azure Marketplace. Palo Alto Networks also offers ARM templates on GitHub.
Palo Alto Networks aims four main use-cases:
- Hybrid Cloud
- Segmentation Gateway Compliance
- Internet Gateway
The hybrid cloud use-case is interesting if you want to extend your datacenter to Azure. For example, if you move development workloads to Azure. Instead of using Azures native VPN connection capabilities, you can use the VM-Series Palo Alto Networks NGF as IPSec gateway.
If you are running different workloads on Azure, and you need inter-subnet communication between them, you can use the VM-Series as a firewall between the subnets. This allows you to manage traffic more efficiently, and it provides more security compared to the Azure NSGs.
If you are running production workloads on Azure, e.g. a RDS farm, you can use the VM-Series to secure the internet access from that RDS farm. Due to integration in directory services, like Microsoft Active Directory or plain LDAP, user-based policies allow the management of traffic based on the user identity.
There is a fourth use-case: Palo Alto Networks GlobalProtect. With GlobalProtect, the capabilities of the NGF are extended to remote users and devices. Traffic is tunneled to the NGF, and users and devices will be protected from threats. User- and application-based policies can be enforced, regardless where the user and the device is located: On-premises, in a remote location or in the cloud.
Palo Alto Networks offers two ways to purchase the VM-Series for Microsoft Azure:
- Consumption-based licensing
- Bring your own license (BYOL)
The consumption-based licensing is only available for the VM-300. The smaller VM-100, as well as the bigger VM-500 and VM-700, are only available via BYOL. It’s a good idea to offer a mid-sized model with a consumption-based license. If the VM-300 is too big (with consumption-based licensing), you can purchase a permanent license for a VM-100. If you need more performance, purchasing your own license might be the better way. You can start with a VM-300 and then rightsize the model and license.
All models can handle a throughput of 1 Gb/s, but they differ in the number of sessions. VM-100 and 300 use D3_v2, the VM-500 and VM-700 use D3_v2 instances.
Just play with it
Just create some Azure VM instance and deploy a VM-300 from the marketplace. Play with it. It’s awesome!