As Containers Go Mainstream, End-to-End Culture Needs To Pivot to DevSecOps Thinking
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As Containers Go Mainstream,
End-to-End Culture Needs
To Pivot to DevSecOps Thinking
A discussion on the escalating benefits from secure and robust container use and how security
concerns need to be addressed early and often across the new end-to-end container deployment
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Hewlett
Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next edition of the BriefingsDirect Voice of
Innovation podcast series.
I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for
this ongoing discussion on the latest insights into modern IT deployment architecture
Container-based deployment models have rapidly gained popularity from cloud models
to corporate data centers. IT operators are now looking to extend the benefits of
containers to more use cases, including the computing edge.
Yet in order to push containers further into the
mainstream, security concerns need to be addressed
across this new end-to-end container deployment
spectrum -- and that means security addressed during
development and employment under the rubric of
DevSecOps best practices.
Stay with us now as we examine the escalating benefits
that come from secure and robust container use with
our guest, Simon Leech, Worldwide Security and Risk
Management Practice at Hewlett Packard Enterprise
(HPE) Pointnext Services. Welcome, Simon.
Simon Leech: Hey, Dana. Good afternoon.
Gardner: Simon, are we at an inflection point where we’re going to see containers take
off in the mainstream? Why is this the next level of virtualization?
Mainstream containers coming up
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Leech: We are certainly seeing a lot of interest from our customers when we speak to
them about the best practices they want to follow in terms of rapid application
One of the things that always held people back a little bit with virtualization was that you
are always reliant on an operating system (OS) managing the applications that sit on top
of that OS in managing the application code that you would deploy to that environment.
But what we have seen with containers is that as everything starts to follow a cloud-
native approach, we start to deal with our applications as lots of individual microservices
that all communicate integrally to provide the application experience to the user. It
makes a lot more sense from a development perspective to be able to address the
development in these small, microservice-based or module-based development
So, while we are not seeing a massive influx
of container-based projects going into
mainstream production at the moment, there
are certainly a lot of customers testing their
toes in the water to identify the best
possibilities to adopt and address container
use within their own application
Gardner: And because we saw developers grok the benefits of containers early and
often, we have also seen them operate within a closed environment -- not necessarily
thinking about deployment. Is now the time to get developers thinking differently about
containers -- as not just perhaps a proof of concept (POC) or test environment, but as
ready for the production mainstream?
Leech: Yes. One of the challenges I have seen with what you just described is a lot of
container projects start as a developer’s project behind his laptop. So the developer is
going out there, identifying a container-based technology as something interesting to
play around with, and as time has gone by has realized he can actually make a lot of
progress by developing his applications using a container-based architecture.
What that means from an organizational perspective is that this is often done under the
radar of management. One of the things we are discussing with our customers as we go
and talk about addressing DevSecOps and DevOps initiatives is to make sure that you
do get that buy-in from the executive team and so you can start to enable some top-
Don’t just see containers as a developer’s laptop project but look at it broadly and
understand how you can integrate that into the overall IT processes that your
organization is operating with. And that does require a good level of buy-in from the top.
There are certainly a lot of
customers testing their toes in
the water to identify the best
possibilities to adopt and
address container use within
their own application
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Gardner: I imagine this requires a lifecycle approach to containers thinking -- not just
about the development, but in how they are going to be used over time and in different
Now, 451 Research recently predicted that the market for containers will hit $2.7 billion
this year. Why do you think that the IT operators -- the people who will be inheriting
these applications and micro-services -- will also take advantage of containers? What
does it bring to their needs and requirements beyond what the developers get out of it?
Quick change code artists
Leech: One of the biggest advantages from an operational perspective is the ability to
make fast changes to the code you are using. So whereas in the traditional application
development environment, a developer would need to make a change to some code and
it would involve requesting a downtime to be able to update the complete application,
with a container-based architecture, you only have to update parts of the architecture.
So, it allows you to make many more
changes than you previously would
have been able to deliver to the
organization -- and it allows you to
address those changes very rapidly.
Gardner: How does this allow for a more common environment to extend across hybrid
IT -- from on-premises to cloud to hybrid cloud and then ultimately to the edge?
Leech: Well, applications developed in containers and developed within a cloud-native
approach typically are very portable. So you don’t need to be restricted to a particular
version or limits, for example. The container itself runs on top of any OS of the same
genre. Obviously, you can’t run a Windows container on top of a Linux OS, or vice versa.
But within the general Linux space that pretty much has compatibility. So it makes it very
easy for the containers to be developed in one environment and then released into
Gardner: And that portability extends to the hyperscale cloud environments, the public
cloud, so is there a multi-cloud extensibility benefit?
Leech: Yes, definitely. You see a lot of developers developing their applications in an
on-premises environment with the intention that they are going to be provisioned into a
cloud. If they are done properly, it shouldn’t matter if that’s a Google Cloud Platform
instance, a Microsoft Azure instance, or Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Gardner: We have quite an opportunity in front of us with containers across the
spectrum of continuous development and deployment and for multiple deployment
[A container-based architecture] allows
you to make many more changes than
you previously would have been able to
deliver to the organization.
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scenarios. What challenges do we need to think about to embrace this as a lifecycle
What are the challenges to providing security specifically, making sure that the
containers are not going to add risk – and, in fact, improve the deployment productivity
Make security a business and technology priority
Leech: When I address the security challenges with customers, I always focus on two
areas. The first is the business challenge of adopting containers, and the security
concerns and constrains that come along with that. And the second one is much more
around the technology or technical challenges.
If you begin by looking at the business challenges, of how to adopt containers securely,
this requires a cultural shift, as I already mentioned. If we are going to adopt containers,
we need to make sure we get the appropriate executive support and move past the
concept that the developer is doing everything on his laptop. We train our coders on the
needs for secure coding.
A lot of developers have as their main goal to produce high-quality software fast, and
they are not trained as security specialists. It makes a lot of sense to put an education
program into place, that allows you to train those internal coders so that they understand
the need to think a little bit more about security -- especially in a container environment
where you have fast release cycles and sometimes the security checks get missed or
don’t get properly instigated. It’s good to start with a very secure baseline.
And once you have addressed the
cultural shift, the next thing is to
think about the role of the security
team in your container development
team, your DevOps development
teams. And I always like to try and
discuss with my customers the value of getting a security guy into the product
development team from day one.
Often, we see in a traditional IT space that the application gets built, the infrastructure
gets designed, and then the day before it’s all going to go into production someone calls
security. Security comes along and says, “Hey, have you done risk assessments on
this?” And that ends up delaying the project.
If you introduce the security person into the small, agile team as you build it to deliver
your container development strategy, then they can think together with the developers.
They can start doing risk assessments and threat modeling right from the very beginning
of the project. It allows us to reduce delays that you might have with security testing.
I always like to try and discuss with my
customers the value of getting a
security guy into the product
development team from day one.
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At the same time, it also allows us to shift our testing model left in a traditional waterfall
model, where testing happens right before the product goes live. But in a DevOps or
DevSecOps model, it’s much better to embed the security, best practices, and proper
tooling right into the continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline.
The last point around the business view is that, again, going back to the comment I
made earlier, developers often are not aware of secure coding and how to make things
secure. Providing a secure-by-default approach -- or even a security self-service
approach – allows developers to gain a security registry, for example. That provides
known good instances of container images or provides infrastructure and compliance
code so that they can follow a much more template-based approach to security. That
also pays a lot of dividends in the quality of the software as it goes out the door.
Gardner: Are we talking about the same security precautions that traditional IT people
might be accustomed to but now extending to containers? Or is there something
different about how containers need to be secured?
Updates, the container way
Leech: A lot of the principles are the same. So, there’s obviously still a need for
network security tools. There’s still a need to do vulnerability assessments. There is still
a need for encryption capabilities. But the difference with the way you would go about
using technical controls to protect a container environment is all around this concept of
the shared kernel.
An interesting white paper has been released by the National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST) in the US, SP 800-190, which is their Application Container Security
Guide. And this paper identifies five container security challenges around risks with the
images, registry, orchestrator, the containers themselves, and the host OS.
So, when we’re looking at defining a security architecture for our customers, we always
look at the risks within those five areas and try to define a security model that protects
those best of all.
One of the important things to understand
when we’re talking about securing
containers is that we have a different
approach to the way we do updates. In a
traditional environment, we take a gold
image for a virtual machine (VM). We
deploy it to the hypervisor. Then we realize
that if there is a missing patch, or a required update, that we roll that update out using
whatever patch management tools we use.
In a container environment, we take a completely different approach. We never update
running containers. The source of your known good image is your registry. The registry
We have a different approach to
the way we do updates. … We
never update running containers.
The source of your known good
image is your registry.
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is where we update containers, have updated versions of those containers, and use the
container orchestration platform to make sure that next time somebody calls a new
container that it’s launched from the new container image.
It’s important to remember we don’t update things in the running environment. We
always use the container lifecycle and involve the orchestration platform to make those
updates. And that’s really a change in the mindset for a lot of security professionals,
because they think, “Okay, I need to do a vulnerability assessment or risk assessment.
Let me get out my Qualys and my Rapid7,” or whatever, and, “I’m going to scan the
environment. I’m going to find out what’s missing, and then I’m going to deploy patches
to plug in the risk.”
So we need to make sure that our vulnerability assessment process gets built right into
the CI/CD pipeline and into the container orchestration tools we use to address that
needed change in behavior.
Gardner: It certainly sounds like the orchestration tools are playing a larger role in
container security management. Do those in charge of the container orchestration need
to be thinking more about security and risk?
Simplify secrets, sequences, app separation
Leech: Yes and no. I think the
orchestration platform definitely plays a
role and the individuals that use it will
need to be controlled in terms of making
sure there is good privileged account
management and integration into the
enterprise authentication services. But
there are a lot of capabilities built into the
orchestration platforms today that make
the job easier.
One of the challenges we’ve seen for a long time in software development, for example,
is that developers take shortcuts by hard coding clear text passwords into the text,
because it’s easier. And, yeah, that’s understandable. You don’t need to worry about
managing or remembering passwords.
But what you see a lot of orchestration platforms offering is the capability to deliver
sequence management. So rather than storing the passcode in within the code, you can
now request the secret from the secrets management platform that the orchestration
platform offers to you.
These orchestration tools also give you the capability to separate container workloads
for differing sensitivity levels within your organization. For example, you would not want
to run containers that operate your web applications on the same physical host as
The orchestration platform definitely
plays a role and the individuals that
use it will need to be controlled in
terms of making sure there is good
privileged account management and
integration into the enterprise
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containers that operate your financial applications. Why? Because although you have
the capability with the container environment using separate namespaces to separate
the individual container architectures from one another, it’s still a good security best
practice to run those on completely different physical hosts or in a virtualized container
environment on top of different VMs. This provides physical separation between the
applications. Very often the orchestrators will allow you to provide that functionality
within the environment without having to think too much about it.
Gardner: There is another burgeoning new area where containers are being used. Not
just in applications and runtime environments, but also for data and persistent data. HPE
has been leading the charge on making containers appropriate for use with data in
addition to applications.
How should the all-important security around data caches and different data sources
enter into our thinking?
Save a slice for security
Leech: Because containers are temporary instances, it’s important that you’re not
actually storing any data within the container itself. At the same time, as importantly,
you’re not storing any of that data on the host OS either.
It’s important to provide persistent storage on an external storage array. So looking at
storage arrays, things like from HPE, we have Nimble Storage or Primera. They have
the capability through plug-ins to interact with the container environment and provide you
with that persistent storage that remains even as the containers are being provisioned
So your container itself, as I said, doesn’t store any of the data, but a well-architected
application infrastructure will allow you to store that on a third-party storage array.
Gardner: Simon, I’ve had an opportunity to read some of your blogs and one of your
statements jumped out … “The organizational culture still lags behind when it comes to
security.” What did you mean by that? And how does that organizational culture need to
be examined, particularly with an increased use of containers?
Leech: It’s about getting the security guys involved in the DevSecOps projects early on
in the lifecycle of that project. Don’t bring them to the table toward the end of the project.
Make them a valuable member of that team. There was a comment made about the idea
of a two-pizza team.
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A two-pizza team means a meeting should
never have more people in it than can be fed
by two pizzas and I think that that applies
equally to development teams when you’re
working on container projects. They don’t
need to be big; they don’t need to be massive.
It’s important to make sure there’s enough pizza saved for the security guy! You need to
have that security guy in the room from the beginning to understand what the risks are.
That’s a lot of where this cultural shift needs to change. And as I said, executive support
plays a strong role in making sure that that happens.
Gardner: We’ve talked about people and process. There is also, of course, that third leg
of the stool -- the technology. Are the people building container platforms like HPE
thinking along these lines as well? What does the technology, and the way it’s being
designed, bring to the table to help organizations be DevSecOps-oriented?
Select specific, secure solutions, services
Leech: There are a couple of ways that technology solutions are going to help. The first
are the pre-production commercial solutions. These are the things that tend to get
integrated into the orchestration platform itself, like image scanning, secure registry
services, and secrets management.
A lot of those are going to be built into any container orchestration platform that you
choose to adopt. There are also commercial solutions that support similar functions. It’s
always up to an organization to do a thorough assessment of whether their needs can
be met by the standard functions in the orchestration platform or if they need to look at
some of the third-party vendors in that space, like Aqua Security or Twistlock, which was
recently acquired by Palo Alto Networks, I believe.
And then there are the solutions that I would gather up as post-production commercial
solutions. These are for things such as runtime protection of the container environment,
container forensic capabilities, and network overlay products that allow you to separate
your workloads at the network level and provide container-based firewalls and that sort
Very few of these capabilities are actually built into the orchestration platforms. They
tend to be third parties such as Sysdig, Guardicore, and NeuVector. And then there’s
another bucket of solutions, which are more open-source solutions. These typically focus
on a single function in a very cost-effective way and are typically open source
community-led. And these are solutions such as SonarQube, Platform as a Service
(PaaS), and Falco, which is the open source project that Sysdig runs. You also have
Docker Bench and Calico, a networking security tool.
A two-pizza team means a
meeting should never have more
people in it than can be fed by
two pizzas and … that applies
equally to development teams.
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But no single solution covers all of an enterprise customer’s requirements. It remains a
bit of a task to assess where you have security shortcomings, what products you need,
and who’s going to be the best partner to deliver those products with those technology
solutions for you.
Gardner: And how are you designing Pointnext Services to fill that need to provide
guidance across this still dynamic ecosystem of different solutions? How does the
services part of the equation shake out?
Leech: We obviously have the
technology solutions that we have
built. For example, the HPE
Container Platform, which is based
around technology that we acquired
as part of the BlueData acquisition.
But at the end of the day, these are products. Companies need to understand how they
can best use those products within their own specific enterprise environments.
I’m part of Pointnext Services, within the advisory and professional services team. A lot
of the work that we do is around advising customers on the best approaches they can
take. On one hand, we’d like them to purchase our HPE technology solutions, but on the
other hand, a container-based engagement needs to be a services-led engagement,
especially in the early phases where a lot of customers aren’t necessarily aware of all of
the changes they’re going to have to make to their IT model.
At Pointnext, we deliver a number of container-oriented services, both in the general
container implementation area as well as more specifically around container security.
For example, I have developed and delivered transformation workshops around
We also have container security planning workshops where we can help customers to
understand the security requirements of containers in the context of their specific
environments. A lot of this work is based around some discovery we’ve done to build our
own container security solution reference architecture.
Gardner: Do you have any examples of organizations that have worked toward a
DevSecOps perspective on continuous delivery and cloud native development? How are
people putting this to work on the ground?
Experimentation, edge elevate container benefits
Leech: A lot of the customers we deal with today are still in the early phases of
adopting containers. We see a lot of POC engagement where a particular customer may
be wanting to understand how they could take traditional applications and modernize or
architect those into cloud-native or container-based applications.
Companies need to understand how they
can best use those products within their
own specific enterprise environments.
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There’s a lot of experimentation going on. A lot of the implementations we see start off
small, so the customer may buy a single technology stack for the purpose of testing and
playing around with containers in their environment. But they have intentions within 12 to
18 months of being able to take that into a production setting and reaping the benefits of
Gardner: And over the past few years, we’ve heard an awful lot of the benefits for
moving closer to the computing edge, bringing more compute and even data and
analytics processing to the edge. This could be in a number of vertical industries, from
autonomous vehicles to manufacturing and healthcare.
But one of the concerns, if we move more compute to the edge, is will security risks go
up? Is there something about doing container security properly that will make that edge
more robust and more secure?
Leech: Yes, a container project done properly can actually be more secure than a
traditional VM environment. This begins from the way you manage the code in the
environment. And when you’re talking about edge deployments, that rings very true.
From the perspective of the amount of resources it has to use, it’s going to be a lot
lighter when you’re talking about something like autonomous driving to have a shared
kernel rather than lots of instances of a VM running, for example.
From a strictly security perspective, if you deal with container lifecycle management
effectively, involve the security guys early, have a process around releasing, updating,
and retiring container images into your registry, and have a process around introducing
security controls and code scanning in your software development lifecycle -- making
sure that every container that gets released is signed with an appropriate enterprise
signing key -- then you have something that is very repeatable, compared with a
traditional virtualized approach to application and delivery.
That’s one of the big benefits of
containers. It’s very much a
declarative environment. It’s
something that you prescribe …
This is how it’s going to look.
And it’s going to be repeatable
every time you deploy that. Whereas with a VM environment, you have a lot of VM
sprawl. And there are a lot of changes across the different platforms as different people
have connected and changed things along the way for their own purposes.
There are many benefits with the tighter control in a container environment. That can
give you some very good security benefits.
Gardner: What comes next? How do organizations get started? How should they set
themselves up to take advantage of containers in the right way, a secure way?
One of the big benefits of containers is
that it’s very much a declarative
environment. It’s something that you
prescribe … This is how it’s going to look.
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Begin with risk evaluation
Leech: The first step is to do the appropriate due diligence. Containers are not going to
be for every application. There are going to be certain things that you just can’t
modernize, and they’re going to remain in your traditional data center for a number of
I suggest looking for the projects that are going to give you the quickest wins and use
those POCs to demonstrate the value that containers can deliver for your organization.
Make sure that you do appropriate risk awareness, work with the services organizations
that can help you. The advantage of a services organization is they’ve probably been
there with another customer previously so they can use the best practices and
experiences that they have already gained to help your organization adopt containers.
Just make sure that you approach it using
a DevSecOps model. There is a lot of
discussion in the market at the moment
about it. Should we be calling it DevOps
or should we call it SecDevOps or
DevOpsSec? My personal opinion is call
it DevSecOps because security in a DevSecOps module sits right in the middle of
development and operations -- and that’s really where it belongs.
In terms of assets, there is plenty of information out there in a Google search; it finds you
a lot of assets. But as I mentioned earlier, the NIST White Paper SP 800-190 is a great
starting point to understand not only container security challenges but also to get a good
understanding of what containers can deliver for you.
At the same time, at HPE we are also committed to delivering relevant information to our
customers. If you look on our website and also our enterprise.nxt blog site, you will see a
lot of articles about best practices on container deployments, case studies, and
architectures for running container orchestration platforms on our hardware. All of this is
available for people to download and to consume.
Gardner: I’m afraid we will have to leave it there. We have been exploring how
container-based deployment models have gained popularity -- from cloud models to
corporate data centers. And we have learned how, in order to push containers further
into the mainstream security concerns need to be addressed across this new end-to-end
container deployment spectrum.
So please join me in thanking our guest, Simon Leech, Worldwide Security and Risk
Management Practice at HPE Pointnext Services. Thank you so much, Simon.
Leech: Thanks for having me.
Security in a DevSecOps module
sits right in the middle of
development and operations – and
that’s really where it belongs.
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Gardner: I learned a lot. And thanks as well to our audience for joining this sponsored
BriefingsDirect Voice of Innovation discussion. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at
Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of HPE-supported discussions.
Thanks again for listening. Please pass this along to your IT community, and do come
back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Hewlett
A discussion on the escalating benefits from secure and robust container use and how security
concerns need to be addressed early and across the new end-to-end container deployment
spectrum. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2020. All rights reserved.
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