Chapter 3. The environment at large

Table of Contents

Structuring the environment
Multi-tenancy
SLA groups
Architectural positioning
Categories
Resources

Structuring the environment

The larger an environment is, the more complex it might seem to position services left or right. A new workstation needs to be put inside a network segment (which one?), possibly assigned to a central LDAP server and structure (which tree in the LDAP?). Servers could be for one customer or another. Having a high-level structure for positioning components provides a quick way of dealing with more general requirements: allowed data flows, location of the central user repository and more. But most importantly, it provides a structure in which security measurements can be positioned.

In an attempt to structure services in a large, hypothetical company, the following hierarchy is used:

  1. Tenants (for who are the services meant)

  2. Service level (what are the SLAs on the environment)

  3. Architectural position (is it a gateway in front of a mid-tier system or a back-end service)

  4. Category (used to further disseminate accesses between similarly positioned services, often based on the user groups)

Multi-tenancy

In a multi-tenant organization, several larger customers (be it internal or not) are identified. Each of these customers probably has very different requirements and might take risks in their architecture that other tenants won't. For this reason alone, differentiation between tenants is at the highest level (the most segregated level).

Figure 3.1. Multi-tenant setup

Multi-tenant setup

The most important part here is that anything used within a tenant that might be shared across tenants (such as user ids for administration) is pushed to the tenant, never used directly from the tenant hub. This provides a clean, modular approach to handling tenants. When a tenant wants to leave the organization, the data flow is stopped and the tenant can continue with its internal architecture (with little to no immediate adaptations). When a new tenant enters the organization, data is pushed and converted towards that tenants' internal services.

Communication between the tenants directly should be done through the external gateways as it is seen as B2B (Business to Business) communication.

SLA groups

Larger environments will have different SLA groups. Those could be called "production", "preproduction", "testing" and "sandbox" for instance. Smaller organizations might have just two, or even one SLA group.

Figure 3.2. SLA group structure

SLA group structure

The segregation between the SLA groups not only makes proper service level agreements possible on the various services, but also controls communication flows between these SLA groups.

For instance, communication of data between production and pre-production might be possible, but has to be governed through the proper gateways or control points. In the above figure, the SLA groups are layered so direct communication between production and sandbox should not be possible unless through the three gateway levels. However, that is definitely not a mandatory setup.

To properly design such SLA groups, make sure communication flows in either direction (which not only includes synchronous communication, but also file transfers and such) are properly documented and checked.

Architectural positioning

The next differentiator is the architectural positioning. This gives a high-level overview of the various IT services provided by an organization.

Figure 3.3. Architectural positioning

Architectural positioning

At this level, specific data flows are already denied (for instance, direct access from DMZ to the processing block). Communication between blocks will still be managed through the next level, which is the categorization.

Note

Certain flows will also depend on the SLA group. For instance, it might be possible that internet access (towards DMZ) will only be allowed for sandbox and production. And that communication to/from mid tier blocks are only allowed within the same SLA group.

Categories

Finally, categories allow for proper flow and communication management between individual blocks. Let's consider end user device communication:

Figure 3.4. Example categorization for end user devices, internal workstations

Example categorization for end user devices, internal workstations

Blocks are not mutually exclusive. For instance, an employees workstation can be both in the network administration and infrastructure administration block if it is multi-homed.

Categories are often made based on the users accessing a system. For instance, for mid tier application servers, we could have categories for Internet disclosed applications, internal applications, authenticated customer applications, business-to-business (B2B) applications, etc. Segregation between those categories helps reduce the risk involved with a potential breach.

Once categories on all architecture blocks are known, then a good IP map, with firewall rules and segmentation can be defined.

Resources