PA Consulting’s market-leading Data Diodes business

  • We caught up with Fraser Nicol, Partner at PA Consulting, to discuss their product business, Oakdoor.  

    Q. You have worked in the Consulting trade for 24 years, how did you get involved in Oakdoor?

    I joined PA last year because I wanted to get more involved in working directly with clients and helping them address the really big things that concern them. The last thing I expected to be doing at PA was running a data diode manufacturing business.  I actually got to know the Oakdoor team because we shared a stand with them at last year’s Cyber UK, but I was still surprised when the opportunity to lead them came my way.

    However, when I looked into what they do I realised that with our impressive technology we are helping clients safely do things they couldn’t do before – like gathering data from their operational technology or securing the cloud.  What’s more, we have the capability to develop our software to really push the boundaries of what the diode can do.

    Q. PA Consulting is known for being a Management Consulting Firm, where did Oakdoor originate and how does it fit with the wider business model?

    PA has actually been in the product innovation game for a long time, and some of the products developed for clients by our Global Innovation and Technology Centre in Cambridge have been particularly impressive. This includes packaging for the drinks industry, ventilators for the NHS and even iconic electrical vehicle recharging points.  However, what is new is our ambition to establish and scale product businesses in their own right, as opposed to developing products on behalf of clients. 

    PA is a fantastic place to incubate what is effectively a start-up as not only do we have access to world-class engineering, sales and marketing talent, we have well-developed support services and can draw upon our consulting business for advice on everything from reward and recognition to organisational design. 

    Oakdoor sits within our new (as of 2023) Alliances, Platforms and Products business which is incubating a number of products businesses of which Oakdoor is the most mature, but which is followed by other exciting businesses like PulPak.  We envision a time when 50% of PA’s revenue comes from our products businesses.

    Q. What are Oakdoor Data Diodes?

    Diodes control the flow of data between networks and this enables our customers to ensure that data flows are safe and so enables “untrusted” networks to talk to “trusted networks”.  This is of tremendous use to parts of the government where data needs to be shared and communicated securely across networks.

    It is also of use in sectors like healthcare and manufacturing, where secure networks need to gather information from operational systems which may be less secure, in property management for the management of data coming from building access systems, in critical national infrastructure and also within financial services. Our 1G diode and Gateway products are designed primarily for on-premises IT solutions, while our 10G diode is suitable for supporting cloud-based services. 

    Oakdoor diodes sit at the heart of a wide range of Cross Domain Security (CDS) solutions and we develop software to support a wide range of use cases for our clients. 

    Q. In the wider cybersecurity industry landscape, where do hardware security solutions stack up against software solutions?

    Put simply, diodes are cheaper and more secure than firewalls.  They are almost impossible to hack and do not require security patches in the same way that firewalls do.  While firewalls remain a critical part of overall network security, for enabling networks to speak to each other securely diodes are hard to beat.

    Cyber Security has always been a race against well-funded threat actors. For example, technological innovations such as AI are used to both defend and attack organisations. “Hacking as a service” offerings are now commonplace. In contrast to complex and flexible software-based tools that give cyber adversaries abundant opportunities to exploit, hardsec controls are comparatively simplistic but hard to crack.

    Who makes up the Oakdoor team?

    At its core, the Oakdoor team is made up of world-leading scientists and engineers, both product engineers and software engineers.  Around this core, we have built a small but very busy management team, a service support capability, a manufacturing and production line, and a sales and marketing capability. We are recruiting all the time and are looking to build up our engineering teams, pre-sales and support capabilities. 

    Everyone in Oakdoor is passionate about our product because we see every day the massive difference it is making to our customers. There are many people in this team who would be simply irreplaceable and who would be snapped up in an instant by another part of PA or another organisation, but they chose to work with us because they believe in our purpose to make the world safer by making innovative, cost-effective products.   

    Q. How is Oakdoor placed to solve the bigger cybersecurity industry problems in the middle to long term?

    Oakdoor was designed to meet a real need right now, which is the need for cost-effective, government-standard diodes that can be deployed at scale across a wide range of settings.  The use cases and environments Oakdoor is being deployed within are evolving by the week. Since the start of the year, we have delivered Oakdoor and its supporting software capabilities to organisations in the defence and security sector, in the nuclear industry and across the public sector. 

    Our plans are to reach into the US and to broaden our footprint here in the UK, focusing on our current clients and also expanding into new sectors such as Health and Life Sciences, Critical National Infrastructure and Financial Services.

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