LinuxWorld, virtually speaking

The future's in virtualisation

Winners Without losers

VMWare sponsored a contest - the Ultimate Virtual Appliance Challenge - over the past many months to create the most useful and interesting virtual appliances, and the winners were announced at LinuxWorld.

I'm now grabbing you by the lapels and urging you strongly to go check those winners out, because there are so amazingly cool, powerful, and, yes, innovative tools there for you to see. And not just see, but play with as well.

For instance, the winning team (who took away $100,000!) created an appliance called "HowNetWorks" that is described as "a network analyser that works at a higher level than more traditional network analyzers like tcpdump or ethereal. Packaged inside a VMware virtual machine on top of Ubuntu, this virtual appliance contains a completely new application written by the author and comes with full documentation to get you started (with videos)!"

Everything is under the GPL, of course, so you're free to use this as you wish, as well as study, modify, and redistribute the code. Ah, ain't open source grand?

Security pros might also be interested in the third prize winners ($25,000), who created the "Sieve Firewall" appliance. This one is a "[t]ransparent bridging iptables firewall configured through [a] Windows-based .net GUI," with several other interesting and innovative features. By making it easy for Windows admins to use a Linux-based firewall, this appliance could go a long way towards improving security in many businesses that need it.

In the server category, the winner ($5,000) was the Enterprise Encryption Server, a really smart way to provide a badly-needed service.

"The Enterprise Encryption Server provides an easy to deploy and manage centralized OpenPGP compatible encryption resource...Files that are copied to the appliance via FTP or Windows file sharing (SMB) are automatically encrypted/decrypted and then copied to remote destinations. For compliance reasons every step of the process is logged."

I know that several of you reading this are already thinking of ways that you could use this exciting, innovative tool. With VMWare, this will take a few minutes to set up, thus allowing you to leverage a small investment in time in some potentially huge ways.

There are plenty of other interesting winners and honorable mentions, including the Kid Safe Desktop ("stops illicit material from invading your child's computer by filtering and blocking web content while they surf"), Strongbox Virtual Appliance ("a complete office environment using strong steganographic encryption, with RAM isolated from disk"), and Internet Connection Sharing Appliance (a "Netfilter based NAT box - easily share your internet connection, without changing your network configuration").

Beyond those, there were 170 entries in the contest, so I encourage you to nose around in the complete list of available appliances. Who knows what you'll find, but it may be just the thing you need.

Or, it may inspire you to create your own virtual appliance for your organisation or your clients. This stuff isn't rocket science, and the tools are free, so you're basically limited only by your imagination and ingenuity. The point is, don't waste time. Try this stuff out and put it to use.

Virtualisation is going to continue its spread throughout the IT world, and security pros need to start taking advantage of its possibilities now. If you're interested in being in the right place at the right time, then start learning as much about virtualisation now as you possibly can. Your future self will thank you.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

Scott Granneman teaches at Washington University in St Louis, consults for WebSanity, and writes for SecurityFocus and Linux Magazine. His latest book, Hacking Knoppix, is in stores now.

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