Have you ever wondered how we got to service mesh? What backgrounds, experiences and technologies led to the emergence of service mesh? 

We recently put together an interview with Aspen Mesh’s Founder, Shawn Wormke in order to get the inside scoop for you. Read on to find out the answers to these three questions:

  1. What role did your technical expertise play in how Aspen Mesh focuses on enterprise service mesh?
  2. Describe how your technical and business experience combined to create an enterprise startup and inform your understanding of how to run a “modern” software company?
  3. What characteristics define a “modern” enterprise, and how does Aspen Mesh contribute to making it a reality?

1. What role did your technical expertise play in how Aspen Mesh focuses on the enterprise?

I started my career at Cisco working in network security and firewalls on the ASA product line and later the Firewall Services Module for the Catalyst 6500/7600 series switches and routers. Both of these products were focused on the enterprise at a time when security was starting to move up the stack and become more and more distributed throughout the network. We were watching our customers move from L2 transparent firewalls to L3/L4 firewalls that required application logic in order to “fixup” dynamic ports for protocols like FTP, SIP and H.323. Eventually that journey up the stack continued to L7 firewalls that were doing URL, header and payload inspection to enforce security policy.

At the same time that this move up the stack was happening, customers were starting to look at migrating workloads to VMs and were demanding new form factors and valuing different performance metrics. No longer were speeds, feeds and dragstrip numbers important, the focus was shifting to footprint and elasticity. The result in this shift in priority was a change in mindset when it came to how enterprises were thinking about expenses. They started to think about shifting expenses from large capacity stranding CAPEX purchases to more frequent OPEX transactions that were aligned with a software-first approach.

It was this idea that led me to join as one of the first engineers at a small startup in Boulder, CO called LineRate Systems which was eventually acquired by F5 Networks. The company was founded on a passion for making high performance, lightweight application delivery (aka load balancing) software that was as fast as the industry standard hardware. Our realization was that Commodity Off the Shelf (COTS) hardware had so much performance that if leveraged properly it was possible to offer the same performance at a much lower cost.

But the big idea, the one that ultimately got us noticed by F5, was that if the hardware was freely available (everyone had racks and racks of servers), we could charge our customers for a performance range and let them stamp out the software–as much as they needed–to achieve that. This removed the risk of the transaction from the customer as they no longer had to pre-plan 3-5 years worth of capacity.  It placed the burden on the provider to deliver an efficient and API-first elastic platform and a pricing model that scaled along the same dimensions as their business needs.

After acquisition we started to use containers and eventually Kubernetes for some of our build and test infrastructure. The use of these technologies led us to realize that they were great for increasing velocity and agility, but were difficult to debug and secure. We had no record of what our test containers did or who they talked to at runtime and we had no idea what data they were accessing. If we had a way to make sense of all of this, life would be so much easier.

This led us to work on some internal projects that experimented with ideas that we all now know as service mesh. We even released a product that was the beginning of this called the Application Services Proxy, which we ultimately end-of-lifed in 2017 when we made the decision to create Aspen Mesh.

In 2018 Aspen Mesh was born as an F5 Incubation. It is a culmination of almost 20 years of solving network and security problems for some of the world’s largest enterprise customers and ensuring that the form-factor, consumption and pricing models are flexible and grow along with the businesses that use it. It is acknowledgement that disruption is happening everywhere and that an organization’s agility and ability to respond to disruption is it’s number one business asset. Companies are realizing this agility by redefining how they deliver value to their customers as quickly as possible using technologies like cloud, containers and Kubernetes.

We know that for enterprises, agility with stability is the number one competitive advantage. Through years of experience working on enterprise products we know that companies who can meet their evolving customer needs–while staying out of the news for downtime and security breaches–will be the winners of tomorrow. Aspen Mesh’s Enterprise Service Mesh enables enterprises to rapidly deliver value to their customers in a performant, secure and compliant way.

2. Describe how your technical and learned business experience combine to build an enterprise startup and inform your understanding of how best to run a “modern” software company?

Throughout my career I have been part of waterfall to agile transformations, worked on products that enabled business agility and now run a team that requires that same flexibility and business agility. We need to be focused on getting product to market that shows value to our customers as quickly as possible. We rely on automation to ensure that we are focusing our human capital on the most important tasks. We rely on data to make our decisions and ensure that the data we have is trustworthy and secure.

The great thing is that we get to be the ones doing the disrupting, and not the ones getting disrupted. What this means is we get to move fast and don’t have the burden of a large enterprise decision-making process. We can be agile and make mistakes, and we are actually expected to make mistakes. We are told “no” more than we are told “yes.” But, learning from those failures and making course corrections along the way is key to our success.

Over the years I have come to embrace the power of open source and what it can do to accelerate projects and the impacts (both positive and negative) it can have on your company. I believe that in the future all applications will be born from open technologies. Companies that acknowledge and embrace this will be the most successful in the new cloud-native and open source world. How you choose to do that depends on your business and business model. You can be a consumer of OSS in your SaaS platform, an open-core product, glue multiple projects together to create a product or provide support and services; but if you are not including open source in your modern software company, you will not be successful.

Over the past 10 years we have seen and continue to see consumption models across all verticals rapidly evolve from perpetual NCR-based sales models with annual maintenance contracts to subscription or consumption based models to fully managed SaaS based offerings. I recently read an article on subscription based banking. This is driven from the desire to shift the risk to the producer instead of the consumer. It is a realization by companies that capacity planning for 3-5 years is impossible, and that laying out that cash is a huge risk to the business they are no longer willing to take. It is up to technology producers to provide enough value to attract customers and then continue providing value to them to retain them year over year.

Considering how you are going to offer your product in a way that scales with your customers value matrix and growth plans is critical. This applies to pricing as well as product functionality and performance.

Finally, I would be negligent if I didn’t mention data as a paramount consideration when running a modern software company. Insights derived from that data need to be at the center of everything you do. This goes not only for your product, but also your internal visibility and decision making processes. 

On the product side, when dealing with large enterprises it is critical to understand what your customers are willing to give you and how much value they need to realize in return. An enterprise’s first answer will often be “no” when you tell them you need to access their data to run your product, but that just means you haven’t shown them enough value to say “yes.” You need to consider what data you need, how much you need of it, where it will be stored and how you are protecting it.

On the internal side you need to measure everything. The biggest challenge I have found with an early-stage, small team is taking the time to enable these measurements. It is easy to drop off the list when you are trying to get new features out the door and you don’t yet know what you’re going to do with the data. Resist that urge and force your teams to think about how they can do both, and if necessary take the time to slow down and put it in. Sometimes being thoughtful early on can help you go fast later, and adding hooks to gather and analyze data is one of those times.

Operating a successful modern software company requires you embrace all the cliches about wearing multiple hats and failing fast. It’s also critical to focus on being agile, embrace open source, create a consumption based offering, and rely on data, data, data and more data.

3. What characteristics define a “modern” enterprise, and how does Aspen Mesh contribute to making it a reality?

The modern enterprise craves agility and considers it to be their number one business advantage. This agility is what allows the enterprise to deliver value to customers as quickly as possible. This agility is often derived from a greater reliance on technology to enable rapid speed to market. Enterprises are constantly defending against disruption from non-traditional startup companies with seemingly unlimited venture funding and no expectation of profitability. All the while the enterprise is required to compete and deliver value while maintaining the revenue and profitability goals that their shareholders have grown to expect over years of sustained growth. 

In order to remain competitive, enterprises are embracing new business models and looking for new ways to engage their customers through new digital channels. They are relying more on data and analytics to make business decisions and to make their teams and operations more efficient. Modern enterprises are embracing automation to perform mundane repetitive tasks and are turning over their workforce to gain the technical talent that allows them to compete with the smaller upstart disruptors in their space.

But agility without stability can be detrimental to an enterprise. As witnessed by many recent reports, enterprises can struggle with challenges around data and data security, perimeter breaches and downtime. It’s easy to get caught up in the promise of the latest new technology, but moving fast and embracing new technology requires careful consideration for how it integrates into your organization, it’s security posture and how it scales with your business. Finding a trusted partner to accompany you on your transformation journey is key to long term success.

Aspen Mesh is that technology partner when it comes to delivering next generation application architectures based on containers and Kubernetes. We understand the power and promise of agility and scalability that these technologies offer, but we also know that they introduce a new set of challenges for enterprises. These challenges include securing communication between services, observing and controlling service behavior and problems and managing the policy associated with services across large distributed organizations. 

Aspen Mesh provides a fully supported service mesh that is focused on enterprise use cases that include:

  • An advanced policy framework that allows users to describe business goals that are enforced in the application’s runtime environment
  • Role based policy management that enables organizations to create and apply policies according to their needs
  • A catalog of policies based on industry and security best practices that are created and tested by experts
  • Data analytics-based insights for enhanced troubleshooting and debugging
  • Predictive analytics to help teams detect and mitigate problems before they happen
  • Streamlined application deployment packages that provide a uniform approach to authentication and authorization, secure communications, and ingress and egress control
  • DevOps tools and workflow integration
  • A simplified user experience with improved organization and streamlined navigation to enable users to quickly find and mitigate failures and security issues
  • A consistent view of applications across multiple clouds to allow visibility from a global perspective to a hyper-local level
  • Graph visualizations of application relationships that enable teams to collaborate seamlessly on focused subsets of their infrastructure
  • Tabular representations surfacing details to find and remediate issues across multiple clusters running dozens or hundreds of services
  • A reduced-risk scalable consumption model that allows customers to pay as they grow

Thanks for reading! We hope that helps shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes at Aspen Mesh. And if you liked this post, feel free to subscribe to our blog in order to get updates when new articles are released.