Businesses depend on apps, so F5 makes sure they are always secure and available
20 years ago, people were an organisation’s most valuable assets, that’s changing to apps now, says Tristan Liverpool, systems engineering director with F5
A company’s most valuable assets are now likely to be the applications it uses to carry out its business. This represents a profound shift away from physical assets such as property, machinery and indeed, human capital. The need to protect this application capital is critically important to a business's growth and success.
F5 specialises in supporting companies in this new era of application capital through a range of services which allow businesses to deploy, manage and secure this new form of capital across every environment.
“Our mission is based on the fact that businesses depend on apps,” says Tristan Liverpool, systems engineering director with F5. “Whether it’s apps that help connect businesses to their customers, or apps that help employees do their jobs, we make sure they are always available, secure, and intelligent. Our services allow our customers to deploy, manage and secure this new form of capital across every environment.”
Those customers include 49 of the Fortune 50 ranking of global companies best positioned for growth. The company also delivers and secures a majority of the apps used by Ireland’s largest businesses, service providers, public services and consumer brands.
20 years ago, people were an organisation’s most valuable assets, that’s changing to apps now
The concept of application capital is a recent phenomenon. “If you look at the way business has been done through the ages it firstly relied on manual labour, then the Industrial Revolution changed everything and businesses that deployed physical capital in the form of factories and machinery achieved significant leaps forward in production and gains in competitiveness.
“More recently, the explosive growth of service-based industries has meant that the measure of corporate performance shifted more towards people, or human capital,” he continues. “Today, we’re seeing another major leap forward as more and more organisations embark on a journey of digital transformation, and increasingly their value resides in their applications and data.”
He points to Facebook as an example of the modern digital enterprise. “That company has an application portfolio valued at more than half a trillion dollars. If you think about the most valuable organisations in the world, they are based on apps. 20 years ago, people were an organisation’s most valuable assets, that’s changing to apps now.”
And he is not just referring to the internet giants. “If you think about financial institutions, mobile apps and online banking are critical to their businesses. People don’t go to the bank anymore. They use the mobile app or the internet banking application and if it’s not good enough they go to another bank. Ease of use and speed are crucial to them. The apps have to be highly available and secure. If it goes down, it’s a big problem.”
Functionality and intelligence are also of key importance. “We live in an increasingly mobile world,” Liverpool notes. “I lost my credit card in Mexico recently. I was able to cancel it on the mobile app without any difficulty. The retail sector is also moving to an omnichannel model. Look at Amazon: people don’t go shopping any more, they are going online. The high street has been changing over the years as well. We are all shopping differently, we don’t want to travel to shop, we want it to come to us, and retailers are responding with apps and online offerings.”
The same goes for TV and entertainment. “People don’t want to wait for programmes to come on, or go through printed TV guides to find what they are looking for,” he points out. “They are using Netflix and other on demand TV services to watch what they want, when they want and where they want. It’s all based on apps. Health records are another example. People want their records to be available to any GP or hospital or other health service provider and they want to be able to use data gathered by their Fitbits and other wearables. Car manufacturing is changing too. Car buyers now expect to have Apple CarPlay and Spotify in their cars for entertainment, they also want weather and map apps on the onboard computer. Manufacturers are providing that and are using the data from the various apps to find out what’s working in different regions. They are using it to design the next generation of cars. The autonomous, driverless cars of the future will be driven by apps.”
With offices in 36 countries around the world, F5 has been protecting customers’ apps for more than 20 years. “All we care about is applications. It doesn’t matter how they are deployed – on a server, private cloud or public cloud. We make sure they are safe and available - that’s all the end user cares about. They want applications to be available, secure, and to work. That’s the service we provide.”
Security is a major concern for organisations, but the solution can’t be allowed to compromise the speed and usability of the app. “Is the person logging on to an internet banking service a bad actor or legitimate user on the internet? Our systems verify the person’s identity, looks at components of their behaviour to establish if they are a genuine user. If there is a doubt, we can present a captcha or other challenge to them. We make sure people are who they say they are, and do it all in the background without slowing down the application.”
We make sure people are who they say they are, and do it all in the background without slowing down the application
Service availability is critical. If a site or application goes down for any reason, customers get frustrated and lose confidence and are likely to go elsewhere. One of the main reasons for sites or services to become unavailable or to be slowed to the point of unavailability is a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
“This is usually the result of malware taking control of a huge number of machines and getting them to act as a collective to conduct a concerted DDOS attack,” Liverpool explains. “Big organisations are attacked all the time and their systems get clogged up as a result. We offer clean pipe solutions to mitigate this threat.”
A clean pipe solution blocks the attack traffic before it enters the data pipe, enabling web services to remain available for legitimate users. All traffic passes through a cleaning centre where malicious traffic is identified and separated allowing only legitimate traffic to get to the server.
F5 also helps customers remain compliant with the ever-growing amount of regulation governing data. “If companies have their applications hosted on the public cloud, or if they are using software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps, they need to know where it is being hosted. For example, for GDPR purposes, data belonging to EU citizens must be hosted in the EU. We offer solutions for to assist organisations in that area as well.”
F5 continues to grow and the outlook is very bright, according to Liverpool. “We have just acquired the open source web server company Nginx. By bringing together F5’s world-class application security and rich application services portfolio with Nginx’s leading software application delivery and API management solutions, we are bridging the divide between NetOps and DevOps.
"The two companies complement each other and we share the same mission and vision, that applications are at the heart of driving digital transformation, and that an end-to-end application infrastructure spanning code to customer is needed to deliver apps across a multi-cloud environment. Both companies already have a presence in Ireland, and we look forward to bringing our enhanced capability to our Irish customers.”
Looking to the future, he says the number of apps is growing exponentially. “We’ve only had smartphones for 10 years and look at how many apps there are available for it now. The number continues to grow, and we are ensuring they have the security, availability and intelligence required by companies, and demanded by end users.”
To learn more about the latest digital transformation trends, download the 2019 State of Application Services Report here.