‘New security challenges are being driven by a distributed workforce’

29 Oct 2021

Mike Rulf. Image: Syntax

Syntax’s Mike Rulf talks about the move to decentralised systems and why security has become more important than ever.

Mike Rulf is CTO of the Americas region at Syntax, a managed service provider (MSP). In this role, he oversees the software engineering, DevOps, monitoring, public cloud and product management areas in the Americas.

Rulf has more than two decades of experience managing large enterprise technology organisations, with previous posts at Oracle and AT&T.

Future Human

In his current role, Rulf said 80pc of his duties are customer facing, where he acts as an adviser to the company’s clients. A major part of his role is centred around driving transformational change to support a move from traditional on-premise systems into a blended model that brings in cloud services.

‘Organisations need to move security enforcement inwards to endpoints themselves’

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

Based on emerging market needs this past year, we are building out several new services around managed security, DevOps-as-a-service, and enterprise release management (ERM).

Security services have always been a foundational component built into Syntax’s managed services platform, and we often detect compromised systems on non-managed systems back in our customer’s networks, before the client was even aware of a breach. As a result, clients have asked us to extend our MSP security platform support to the edge of our clients’ network. This includes end-user devices both mobile and laptops/workstations.

Next is DevOps-as-a-service. Many large organisations are trying to adopt serverless technologies like Kubernetes but are challenged in addressing the smooth transfer of modular code from development to operations with in-built security, monitoring and redundancy to support disaster recovery. Via a process-driven deployment model, we are helping customers to operationalise the DevOps pipeline with checkpoints that ensure a smooth transition out of development and into production.

The third area, ERM, is being driven by our customers’ hybrid and multi-cloud strategies, incorporating multiple SaaS software packages with a core ERP system like SAP, Oracle E-Business Suite or JD Edwards.

While this strategy gives end users a best-in-breed solution to help drive business success, managing the release cycles with integration testing, availability planning and acceptance testing while being driven by varying timelines mandated by the cloud providers is a complex process. Syntax’s ERM solution manages the complexity for our customers so they can focus on the business value they are trying to achieve with their hybrid cloud strategy.

How big is your team?

Because we are an MSP, I work in a highly matrixed organisation. I work with a core cross-disciplinary engineering team of approximately five chief architects for our primary service pillars reporting to our CRO and approximately 30 senior engineers and architects.

Those individuals are either drawn from our customer-facing operations organisation under our global COO, which consists of hundreds of individuals, or they come from our internal development organisation and report to our global CTO. This consists of around 100 individuals.

We also recognise that not everything can be a core competency, so we outsource new skillsets required for projects in addition to utilising a wide range of SaaS and public cloud solutions ourselves.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

Digital transformation is becoming imperative to drive business growth and often just to maintain market share. Syntax’s role as an MSP is to support and guide our customers through that journey and we continue to evolve our solutions based on our own lessons learned, as well as for the hundreds of ERP customers we are supporting.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

As mentioned earlier, we are actively developing solutions to support what we see as some of the big emerging tech trends.

New security challenges are being driven by an increasingly distributed workforce due to Covid-19 as well as by organisations’ hybrid and multi-cloud strategies.

Facilitating and operationalising DevOps is important to ensure the smooth transition of functionality to production so developers can focus on net-new development without getting bogged down with operational support responsibilities.

ERM is important as organisations move software selection out of IT and into the business units. In this model, HR becomes responsible for implementing a product like Workday, sales being responsible for Salesforce, etc.

This results in a decentralised software support model outside of the IT organisation and, when combined with cloud vendor-driven release schedules, fundamentally changes how software is managed.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Because of the decentralised cloud model being adopted by most organisations, traditional security using perimeter tools like firewalls and IDS/IPS systems are not enough.

Organisations need to move security enforcement inwards to endpoints themselves and couple that with a strong vulnerability management programme. Additionally, implementing a zero-trust model goes even one step further when using secure access service edge tools to manage security at the application level.

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