In this DevOps Chat, we speak with Kurt Glazemakers of Cyxtera. Kurt is the CTO of the Software Defined Perimeter group within the security and analytics group at Cyxtera. Kurt discusses how his group uses a DevOps approach to making AppGate SDP better and how that, in turn, makes it better for DevSecOps-enabled organizations.
In case you are unfamiliar with Cyxtera, it is the company that resulted from the acquisition of 57 data centers and the co-location business of CenturyLink (which then used that money to complete its acquisition of Level 3), plus the acquisitions of Cryptzone, Catbird, Easy Solutions and Brainspace. The company brands itself as the “secure infrastructure company” and is now one of the leading co-location players globally. Managed by most of the former senior management team at Terremark, which itself was acquired by Verizon (Oh, what a tangled web we weave in the tech world), Cyxtera is now something like a $2.8 billion business.
During our chat, Kurt gives us some great insight into how DevOps, automation and CI/CD have helped make Cyxtera’s product better. As usual, the streaming media of our conversation is below, followed by the transcript.
Alan Shimel: Hi, everyone, it’s Alan Shimel and you’re listening to another DevOps Chat. Today’s DevOps Chat has a distinctly DevSecOps/security bent to it, and I’d first of all like to welcome my guest, Kurt Glazemakers of Cyxtera. Kurt, welcome to DevOps Chat.
Kurt Glazemakers: Hey, Alan. Hi.
Shimel: Thanks for being here, Kurt. So Kurt, let’s start off with this first. What’s your title over at Cyxtera?
Glazemakers: I’m the CTO for our Secure Access product families, so I’m basically managing the whole development themes and the product for our Secure Access product family in Cyxtera.
Shimel: Excellent. And among the Secure Access products that Cyxtera is offering is something called AppGate.
Glazemakers: Yes, that’s correct.
Shimel: Give our audience a little background. What’s AppGate about?
Glazemakers: So AppGate is a tool that’s based on some of the fundamental principles of zero trust, to provide clients, wherever they are – in the office, in the airport, maybe in a Starbucks – secure access to their core applications and in such a way that the applications are securely accessed wherever you are and from whatever device you have. That’s basically in a nutshell what it does. It _____ a wide network _____.
Shimel: Got it. And Kurt, you know, bigger picture, Cyxtera, give me if you can, our listeners a little background there.
Glazemakers: Well yeah, sure. So Cyxtera is pretty new in the market. We’ve existed exactly one year and 25 days today, so it’s pretty new. And it’s an acquisition of 57 data centers that we acquired from CenturyLink, and where we added security software in order to provide secure _____ and hosting _____ _____ .
Shimel: Excellent, excellent. So is AppGate – I imagine it’s not offered just to your datacenter customers, or is it?
Glazemakers: No, actually AppGate came from one of those software acquisition teams, so we actually are widespread. We have widespread customers all over the world, actually. But most of the data center customers have a need for it, because they need to access their own data center _____ _____ requirements. Maybe they have access needs in the cloud, like the _____ clouds of this world, like the 80S or the ____ of this world. And with AppGate you can actually accommodate all of them with one solution. And with our footprint in the data center we can even offer it as a secure access service to our customers. So that’s a combination of the software and the data center footprint, which makes it very interesting from that perspective.
Shimel: Got it. So we’ve got the groundwork laid, Kurt. Let us now jump into what you and I really want to talk about, and that is that, you know, Cyxtera and the AppGate team have been on their own DevOps journey, their own DevOps transformation in how you’re actually developing and continue to develop AppGate as a product. And what’s really kind of unique about it – it’s like one of those Russian dolls where it’s a doll within a doll within a doll – is you’re using DevOps to help develop a product that helps DevOps. Right? Other DevOps _____.
Glazemakers: Yes, that’s actually correct.
Shimel: Tell us.
Glazemakers: Yeah, so what AppGate basically does, it provides secure access to applications, but the applications are dynamically discovered and added to the network, which is a real DevOps case, right? If you spin up an environment and you want to connect to that environment, even if it’s only lost for like a few minutes, AppGate is able to detect that and basically provide access in the moment that the environment is live. And when it’s gone, all of the access rules are gone as well. So it is nakedly a DevOps-driven security technology, which helps a lot of or actually most of our customers already in a public cloud or DevOps style of company, as a majority. Also we have enterprise customers, but this has actually been very well adopted in the DevOps _____. Yeah, so it definitely is a doll in a doll from that perspective, for sure.
If I go back to where we started, I started these tools about four years ago. And the reason why DevOps for us was so important is, first of all, it’s a network security product, which is very, very complicated in testing, because it requires a lot of security skills, a lot of networking skills and also software testing skills, which makes it very hard to basically perform the amount of testing in _____ hours, to give quick feedback to the user side or to the developer, in this case. So one of the things we’ve done in the very first place is we really spend a lot of time on creating our own tools, and that actually took even more than a year or a year and a half, to transform what, at the time when I entered the organization, was a more traditional way of developing with a developing process, a QA process, a delivery process. And that process was too slow and didn’t get or give the right outcomes.
So the first thing we’ve done – we spent about one and a half years on only developing the automations and the DevOps _____ _____ case. So yes, that’s where we spent a lot of time and actually that’s also helped us in gaining a lot of efficiency in the dev team after _____ _____ _____ in this case.
Shimel: Excellent. So Kurt, you know, we’ve spoken to several – more than several. We’ve spoken to a lot of organizations that have kind of undergone their DevOps transformation. If you can, share with our audience, how did this come about? Was it top-down, bottom-up, middle-out? You know, whose bright idea was it to do DevOps here?
Glazemakers: Yeah, okay. I think you need actually a little bit of both, right? So when I entered the company, I had some experience in the past and I really wanted to bring it to the same level, because first of all, the QA profiles are very hard to find and they don’t have the same throughput than if you do it in a proper DevOps way. So I definitely wanted to put guidelines in here, but you cannot do it if you don’t have buy-in from your own devs right now. And these devs were immediately onboard and we started actually as a _____. So basically I would say this is a top-down and a bottom-up approach at the same time.
But that definitely brings challenges, because if you go from a traditional way to a new way, it means that certain people probably will not be a fit in the reorganization, right? So if you have too many people that have never been a coder, that actually brings challenges on their skillsets. So that was not the easiest way to progress in the organization, but once everyone saw the benefits, I think we really shifted from a traditional-driven organization to a full DevOps and really a _____ _____ _____ organization. We did it in that year and a half I was talking about. So yes, that’s the guideline. But you need buy-in from both your developers as well as the management team, in this case.
Shimel: Excellent. And now, Kurt, since you’ve moved to a DevOps sort of framework here, have you guys done any sort of ROI or any sort of analysis as to what – I mean, because one of the things that we always see with DevOps is it just feels that it’s better, right? We’re doing it faster; quality seems a little higher. But have you actually done any benchmarks or metrics that really get to that?
Glazemakers: Yeah, that’s actually a very good question. Actually it’s always hard to measure exact benchmarks, but if you look from an overall perspective, before, we were literally doing maybe one release every year, and that shifted almost to a multi-year release when this was adopted, which is a huge difference in this case. And the way we release is typically we have some quarterly release that contains all of the new features and then a monthly release which contains smaller fixes and patches. But what the biggest outcome was for us in this case is, by having a quarterly release and these smaller releases, it’s very easy to follow up with your customers on requirements.
Especially in the beginning when AppGate was the complete new concept. So it’s _____ _____ _____, and you need to convince customers. At that very, very early stage, “Yes, it’s great, but I need this feature or whatever before I can work.” And if you can actually deliver that by the end of the quarter and even prove to the customer it actually works, that definitely helps driving sales and getting the numbers in, in the quarter. So I would say from that perspective it’s not only about releases but the fact that we were so dynamic and were able to convince customers. To inject a last missing feature before they could sign a deal is probably the most visible item that even _____ _____ _____ by sales or management. Because you are actually fulfilling needs from a customer at a much faster pace in each case, which results in better financial results and more happy customers as well
Shimel: Excellent. Excellent. So what’s been the feedback? You know, as you said, it makes for happier customers and everything else, but let’s concentrate on your own internal development team. What’s the feedback been from them?
Glazemakers: In the beginning, a little bit skeptical, because you need to do all this move and the work and also you don’t involve the right group files. The nice thing is, what happened is, when they start to see the power of a properly-done DevOps file – and actually we have a little bit of a benefit with our product, because we’re not only leveraging DevOps as the _____ _____, making sure that we have all of these automated tests _____ _____ feedback, but we’re also using always our latest code base to basically upload the codes and to work with it. So even the code right now, I’m actually using the latest version at this moment, through a secure _____, to basically provide _____ _____. So you see that you immediately get feedback from that perspective.
So the first thing that we really saw beneficial for the devs is that they get very, very quickly feedback, to see how the software performs. But secondly, also when we were _____ _____ the organization – you get a lot of new talent in and the new talent is typically a little bit shyer, because if they commit something and it breaks a process, then you get – that’s not how you want to start in a new company. And with this DevOps style, where people cannot commit code before it went to the test _____ and before it can be merged and all of those things, you have first of all a very strong development process, which is not followed by developers, because they hardly feel there’s any process. And so it gives the developer at the same time a lot of freedom and a lot of trust in whatever code they produce.
And those three elements are incredibly key to raising the amount of efficiency, because people are not blocked because someone has entered the wrong code that actually breaks the builds. We have a lot more freedom to basically optimize or _____ _____ certain codes in the products. And last but not least, also from a security perspective, you need very, very tough certification sometimes, even if you are producing for government agencies and those kind of things. And that automation also provides a lot of feedback there, positive feedback, for the certification process, because everything is automated and enforced by the DevOps system as well in this case.
Shimel: Mm-hmm, excellent. So Kurt, I told you the time goes so fast. We’re almost out of time. But I wanted to talk a little bit about the other side of the house, which is, how are customers using this to help their own DevOps initiatives and their own DevOps development and deployments?
Glazemakers: Yeah. Yeah, that’s actually a very good question. Yeah, what you have with DevOps environments is, when you’re deploying in DevOps environments, you basically always typically want to deploy and actually forget about it, unless there is an issue when you want to go in. And this is typically administrative access for the development outside the system. And in a real production environment, in a DevOps environment, you really, really want to have strict, strict controls of that. And we have a lot of customers, for example, that maybe _____ _____ _____ that actually have this kind of discipline. And what we were able to provide was when they – even when it’s their own dev environment and they test, or if it’s a production environment, we can actually enforce different layers of access in this case. Maybe for the public environments you need two-factor application and a company-approved device in this case, or a security device that has all of the endpoint protection software and stuff like that running. And maybe for the DevOps environment itself, where all they’re doing is pre-tests, we might be a little bit less restricted. So normally like a normal device, “Okay, it’s just _____ _____,” and you’re able to access without – with just login and password, as an example.
The nice thing is, what our software does, it can actually provide both of these things at the same time. And also, when the environment is being sped up, the metadata that you provide by creating the environment can be used as the security mechanism. And this is really where we bring a lot of value for customers. Because if you have a DevOps environment that changes all of the time – changes IP addresses, changes operating systems and all of those things – even if they’re lost for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, we can automatically detect those and be able to provide _____ _____ if needed. If they have an open ticket or whatever, we can all combine those elements. And once that is received, we also have a proper _____, the records for which developer has access with the system, even if the system doesn’t exist anymore.
And that has been a great value for DevOps, especially in the financial world where DevOps becomes now _____ _____ _____ interesting. Financials are seeing the need that they need to develop at a higher pace, so they’re embracing DevOps. But at the same time they are very, very highly regulated, and that doesn’t change. And what we can do with our software is really provide the same or even sometimes better control of these regulations at the same time they keep their agility on the DevOps process _____ _____ _____.
Shimel: Got it, got it. So Kurt, as I mentioned, time does go fast. We’re running out here. But just last question – what’s the future look like with this?
Glazemakers: Well I have no idea what it will look like, but the way I see the adoption right now, the way I see the need for DevOps and actually the DevOps embraced in many companies these days, I’m pretty sure that the old way of securing clouds or virtual environments, using a primitive _____ defense or _____ _____, it’s too dynamic ______. There are too many hacks going around. And so from our approach, I would say this is definitely a completely new way of securing DevOps environments and, they’re also the first signs of _____ DevOps are on the horizon right now. And this is a fit. I think the first product that really takes into account whatever security _____ _____ _____ DevOps environments is immediately enforced on the network, all the way down to the user device. And that basically extends whatever you’re programming in your DevOps environments, to make sure it’s always secured down to the device of the user itself.
And I think that is going to be a huge driver of better security, but also in a much more dynamic security type of approach, which – DevOps has done a lot of great work on deployment and infrastructure. The network and security elements didn’t go as fast, and I think this is probably one of the next new waves that will drive that and maybe be even more secure than traditional environments using the dynamic approach _____ _____
Shimel: Okay. Excellent. Well, that was a great kind of insight, Kurt. I appreciate it. We’ll be looking – you know, a year? What did you say, a year and 30 days or so?
Glazemakers: Yes, that’s exactly – a year and 25 days. That’s how old Cyxtera is right now.
Shimel: Well, continued success and we’ll be watching Cyxtera’s growth. Thanks for being our guest today on DevOps Chat, and we hope to have you back on again soon.
Glazemakers: Thank you very much as well, and have a great day.
Shimel: All right, Kurt Glazemakers, CTO for Secure Access for Cyxtera joining us today. This is Alan Shimel, and you’ve just listened to another DevOps Chat. Have a great day.