RE: IPS Reliability/Availability

David -

This reads like a plug post, but you asked, so here goes anyway. I will
point out that we should have some real-world *3rd party* test data to share
with you by this Summer. And surely that will be of much more value to you
than anything we vendors can spout.

The NFR Sentivist Enterprise Series sensors utilize the RISC-based
architecture you describe. Of course, we believe it to be the evolution of
high-speed prevention, and a step beyond ASIC-based IPS. (Let the
controversy begin.)

To answer your questions specifically:

1. You're correct on the processors; using real-world customer data and Web
Avalanche tests of all different packet sizes, our ES1000 appliance does
inline prevention across four networks at an aggregate 1Gbps, or IDS across
eight networks at 2 Gbps. We also have a 2/4Gbps and a 5/10Gbps appliance.
We have not sat the ES sensors directly next to an ASIC solution, but if we
take the ASIC vendors' marketing material at its word, then by comparison
our RISC-based ES sensors deliver equivalent or superior throughput and
latency, and better resilience to policy complexity. The latter was an
important consideration for us, since NFR's prevention engine is well-known
for being more thorough than that of the typical IPS.

2. I do not know the full list, but I do know that Sourcefire uses hardware
technology similar to ours. Actually, I'm very curious, what other
RISC-based vendors have you worked with besides Sourcefire, and have you
researched NFR?

3. As you can imagine, I could go on forever on the pros and cons of this
architecture, mostly pros of course. :) But I'll boil the pros down to
flexibility, redundancy, and scalability, all in addition to the
aforementioned performance. To give you an example of flexibility, you'll
recall the recent thread on IPv6. NFR supports IPv6 natively. But if we
didn't, then updating our RISC-based ES sensors to handle such a major
engine change would be significantly easier than updating an ASIC-based
device. On redundancy, the multiple processor board architecture allows you
to hot-swap processor boards if necessary, plus it makes it impossible for
an attacker to DoS the box by dominating a single CPU. This architecture
also gives ES users the ability to scale from a 2Gbps to 4Gbp to 10Gbps
appliance simply by adding processor boards. A final note on redundancy is
that most ES sensors have fail passthrough cards built-in (not optional)
that can pass traffic even in the event of total device failure.

The primary "con" is that it's a fairly new approach, and therefore it's
difficult to get people on the bandwagon.

Lastly, make sure you actually need an enterprise grade sensor. Nowadays,
most lower-end sensors, NFR's lower end x86-based "Smart Sensors" included,
have gigabit ports, even if they do not offer gigabit speed. Do not shell
out the cash to go to the ES simply because you've got a fiber or 1000baseT
network. Get some data on your actual bandwidth requirements and then talk
to an SE about which product is actually necessary.


Michael A Barkett, CISSP
Vice President, Systems Engineering
( +1.240.632.9000 Fax: +1.240.747.3512

-----Original Message-----
From: David Williams [mailto:dwilliamsd@xxxxxxxxx]
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2006 10:24 AM
To: Andrew Plato
Cc: geek_brigades@xxxxxxxxx; focus-ids@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: IPS Reliability/Availability

Actually, I'm seeing other vendors, SourceFire being one of the ones
in the eval list below, who have not gone the ASIC route, but have
gone with a kind of RISC architecture to get speed. Their pitch is
that they get the performance of the ASIC vendors by using multiple
RISC chips (I think the base model that does a gig inline has 6 RISC
processors) to handle the load (plus an extra processor to handle the
management end of things... so 7 all together). They are claiming
performance of an ASIC but the flexibility of software. Not sure how
valid that claim is.

Question 1 : I'm wondering if anybody has tested these or stacked
them up next to the ASIC brands to test perfomance, and if so, can
they provide some feedback.

Question 2: Does anybody have a list of which vendors are using ASICs
for performance and which are using this RISC type architecture for

Question 3: Not so much a question, but a general request; I'd be
interested in a "pro vs con" for each if anybody gets their hands on


On 2/6/06, Andrew Plato <andrew.plato@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Most of these devices are pretty good for reliability. The only
exception I would make is SourceFire, which back when we sold it had
abysmal reliability (3 out of 4 boxes we sold to a customer show up dead
or died soon after installation).

TippingPoint sells a zero-power bypass add-on for their IPS. If the IPS
fails in anyway, traffic is passed through the zero-power device. Its
very easy to add. Juniper does something similar.

Andrew Plato, CISSP, CISM
President/Principal Consultant
Anitian Enterprise Security


-----Original Message-----
From: geek_brigades@xxxxxxxxx [mailto:geek_brigades@xxxxxxxxx]
Sent: Thursday, February 02, 2006 8:27 AM
To: focus-ids@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: IPS Reliability/Availability

I am working on a big IPS project and I am very concerned about
installing an inline device in a core enterprise network, where these
devices have the potential to create big time network outages.

Can you, please, share your possible bad experiences about the
reliability of the following inline IPS products:

Juniper IPS
McAfee IntruShield

Have you had any issues with the availability of these devices, such as
fail close crashes or do you have any experience with bypass switches
that would mitigate the availability issue?


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