Centralized firewall design does not scale well when dealing with a lot of servers. It begins to collapse after a few thousands rules. Furthermore, to be able to have an application A to connect to server B, it would take a workflow and possibly 3 weeks to get the opening.
From Service Oriented Architecture to Service Oriented Security
Service are autonomous. They call each other using a standard protocol. The architecture is described by a list of dependencies between services. You can then specify security via things like ACCEPT Caching TO Frontend ON PORT 80. But this force you to do provisioning each time a server start.
Using Chef for firewall provisioning
Chef is an open source automation server that is queried by server to get information about their configuration.
Chef maintains a centralized database of all services and so it can derived from that the security policy. So if we manage to express the contraint in term of Netfilter rules, we will be able to build a firewall policy.
AFW is just that.
AFW is using a service oriented syntax where object like destination can be specified by doing a Chef search. Thus, each time Chef is launched, the object get reevaluated and the filtering rules is updated to the current state of the network.
Custom rules can be added using traditional iptables syntax. AFW is writing outbound rules using the owner target. This allow to define a policy per service and this policy can be easily searched by the developper by simply looking user policy.
The JSON document pushed to the chef node contains everything and it can be modified by the server. So it is possible for a server to trigger opening of ports by changing some of its parameters. A solution is to split chef in a chef for configuration and a chef for policy.