Choose your [Information Security] Platforms Wisely

The USAF is a great Platform

The military serves as a shining example of a large scale platform.

Let’s talk about platforms, shall we?

It’s hard to have any discussion with any IT vendor and not have them say “platform” at least once. Many will say it so many times you have to wonder if they even know what it is they are talking about (tip: oh-so-many don’t). But these are the times we live in and it’s a pretty hot buzzword, so we all just have to live with it. Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to suspend judgement and go along with it as if we don’t have any brains.

What Was Your First Platform?

For many in IT, the first platform encountered on the professional career path was college. College serves as a sound launch pad of sorts, in that it is diverse, large scale, and meets the needs of the various shareholders. For others, it’s the military, for all the same reasons. So yeah, these were platforms.

I, myself, took the military route. Just days after graduating high school I left for the lovely Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, putting into motion a career path that had been calling to me since I was at least 13 years old. Going to college never felt like my natural course. What I was moved to all those years of my youth was getting the “Fc&!” out of my parent’s house as soon as I turned 18! Not that there was anything bad going on there; I just had that drive to go out and make my own success as fast as I possibly could. All I needed was the right platform to launch from. And that platform, as determined by me the summer before my senior year of high school, was the USAF.

While that all makes sense to so many, there are a surprising amount who just don’t get it. Just about everyone in my family has, at one time or another, said something to me along the lines of “the military sure turned you around”. Around from what, exactly? If they meant invoking higher levels of discipline and professionalism than a high school kid, then sure. That’s pretty much the personal-level brand of the armed forces. And that helps. But they are wrong in their assessment. I was always going to be successful! (and every veteran knows that feeling) I knew it, even if they had any doubts. Ideally, I just wanted to launch into that success as fast as I could. Certainly faster than any of my high school classmates and my siblings. Again, it was just critically important to pick the right platform.

Oh yeah, I still managed to get my desired degree in the 5 years of active duty. This was despite being in the extremely challenging USAF Special Operations Command, living overseas, and even participating in the first Gulf War.

How Many Platforms Are There?

Sticking with the military for a moment longer, there are a seemingly an endless number of “platforms”. As noted, the military itself can be viewed as a platform. Individual aircraft types can be viewed as their own weapons platform. And even individual units can be viewed as a platform–though they would never refer to themselves in this way.

This is what we are facing with IT security. Thanks to all the vendors out there who are eager to attach the platform moniker to their products, it’s important to cut through what is and what isn’t.

Global Cloud Platforms:

AWS, Azure, Zscaler, Google: These are all global cloud platforms. If these were the military, you might consider them to be the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. If these were universities, they would be the globally recognized brands (Ivy League).

These are the truly strategic plays.

Regional / Local Cloud Platforms:

There are, of course, all the security appliance vendors out there: Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, Juniper — or classes of products, such as the many pure-play CASBs.

In comparison to the military, they would be individual specialized units. Sure, they will say they are like weapons ‘platforms’ and such. But at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn obvious that they are more aligned with specific, high focused, roles and missions. Ultimately though, business is increasingly relying on the larger cloud platforms to really win their battles. We are not fooled when these vendors co-locate a bunch of their appliances to some warehouses somewhere and declare that they are now globally accessible. Nope. That’s all just an old co-lo play. A true cloud platform at scale is one that was built from the very ground up to be that way. It’s not one that retrofitted themselves into the landscape by some fashionista product and marketing managers.

If these were colleges (again, in the context of platforms and where they fit into the business landscape), they would be of the more local variety, such as clearly regional universities, community colleges, or trade schools.

Of course, these fill the tactical roles.

Picking the Right Cloud Security Platform

It’s time to start picking the right platform to launch the next phase of your career.

Just as when you were 18, coming out of high school, and the college or branch of the military you chose played a big role in where you ended up down the road, so too will the platforms you align and identify with going forward now. Or maybe you are your very own platform (hard-core entrepreneur), in which case your future will certainly be whatever you, yourself, make of it. Whatever the case, the emergence of “the cloud” as the dominant trajectory for both business and individual achievement, is calling on us all to decide which way we will go.

But most of all, don’t let the choice you make become your identity.

Trust me, being known as the “[insert vendor name] guy” is not what will launch, sustain, or grown your career. Well, unless you were the founder. Simply use the platforms before you to get yourself to the next level. It’s ultimately up to you whether you go the more strategic or tactical route. While it’s not impossible to convert later, doing so can come at a huge cost, both to you and the business. For example, if you went more tactical with an appliance-based “platform” and the cloud came to the business in a big way, then you might find yourself stuck behind a multi-year capital expenditure roadblock. This is just one of the many reasons that the largest organizations on earth are focusing on the global/strategic cloud platforms first and foremost. And it’s why you should certainly consider the same for your own, personal, roadmap.

I hope many will be win going forward in the cloud era because they are always going to be successful and will make the big, bold moves in that direction. Sadly though, I also know many will not, simply because they will stick with what they are historically more comfortable and invested in.

Overcoming Platform Fear

There’s a very real fear among so many in IT when it comes to “The Cloud”. Fear, you say? Is that the right word for it? Answer: Yes, it is! I have seen it time and time again.There’s a very real fear that things are changing so fast that it’s best to hold on.

The best way I know how to get past this though is to simply reverse engineer the anticipated future state. Here we ask ourselves, openly and honestly, what the future most likely looks like, either at our hands, or by a new leadership team coming in to replace us, or the business (non-IT) executives calling the shots.

If we can imagine a highly secure cloud-based environment that is now operating on < 75% of the current budget, then that is the story we sell to ourselves and the business. Then we build to that.





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