A Conversation with Atsign CTO & Co-Founder, Colin Constable
This is a guest post composed by Atsign, creators of zero-attack-surface solutions including atProtocol.
We recently sat down with our CTO and Mariposa Rotary Club extraordinaire, Colin Constable, to discuss our partnership with our friends over at ZPE Systems. Let’s explore the driving force behind this powerful partnership, and how together we’re securing IoT devices and the data shared between them.
Why is this partnership strategically important?
We are a software company that helps people connect beyond the edge of the Internet. And as a software company, we need to have hardware to run our software on. After looking at a number of hardware platforms, ZPE stood out as an organization that provides a strong array of network connectivity options. Our software running on ZPE’s hardware serves as an edge platform that gives customers reliable access to edge-generated data.
What are some of the synergies between Atsign and ZPE?
First and foremost, ZPE’s hardware was designed from scratch to provide the openness and flexibility that we were looking for in a hardware platform. If I were going to design something like this myself, it would look very much like a ZPE box! It is incredibly easy to drop our Docker containers straight onto the platform, and they just simply work, which is quite a joy. To have a Docker container environment on an edge box is really the thing that makes ZPE stand out as a platform. Combine that with the fact that ZPE boxes are running x86, which makes things easy–plus actually having dual SIM cards–we can work with our MVNO partners to provide constant connectivity; even if hardlines go down, there’s cellular backup. The thing we can offer ZPE and their customers is if the box can see the Internet, then you’ll be able to address it, get data to and from it, and actually even log into it, and get hold of the built-in UI on the box.
Tell us about ZPE’s Docker Container support
Our docker containers literally just ran perfectly on the ZPE hardware. I went into the UI, selected my docker container, and it just ran. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Plus, there’s the promise of being able to have the docker container talk to connected devices like V.24 cables to provide connectivity to IoT devices.
Once IoT devices become directly addressable, then it opens up all kinds of opportunities for more efficient delivery or sharing of information that can save customers tons of money by eliminating a lot of the current infrastructure they currently use to do that job.
What are some real-world use cases for Atsign and ZPE Systems?
Because ZPE boxes have lots of connectivity options (e.g. serial ports, 4/5G backhaul, and ethernet–with more coming!) for connecting IoT devices, then you can have always-on devices at the edge, and be able to address and get data to and from them. For example, a radio station that has DSL connectivity, and cellular backup would be able to just automatically move over to cellular backup, notify the radio station that it’s on cellular backup, but use that connectivity until the ADSL line comes back online and at all times be able to get information from the equipment at the radio station. This is critical for radio stations, as it eliminates “dead air,” that moment when the transmitter is not transmitting. Sponsors rely on radio stations to put out notifications for what their businesses are doing, so having constant, uninterrupted connectivity is essential.
Do Atsign & ZPE Systems improve sustainability?
Traditional solutions would have you installing many different boxes. What we really like about the ZPE platform is that although the hardware provides lots of connectivity options–that reduces the footprint for starters–there’s no need to have different modems and firewalls, and any other services can be added via docker containers, so you actually have an environment where you have a single box, and it can do multiple functions at the edge.
What are your final thoughts on the partnership between Atsign and ZPE Systems?
As a software company, we need hardware to deploy on. We especially need hardware that can sit on the edge with all the right connectivity points. Atsign and ZPE Systems is really a perfect combination of great software and great hardware at the edge.
Bonus: What is Colin’s favorite firewall configuration for a ZPE box?
My favorite firewall rule is the one that costs the least money, and is ultimately the most secure firewall ruleset: Deny All. If you’ve got Deny All, that means that you don’t have to deal with the pain and complexities of firewall rules in order to address devices, which is what the real cost of networking is these days; it’s not necessarily the hardware, it’s actually having people to administer firewall rulesets. Having zero network attack surfaces, having a Deny All ruleset, just means you don’t have to have people changing rulesets all the time, which is a good thing.