Q&A: Plantronics – After the Moon: The Cloud
Joe Burton discusses how the cloud is shaping product development and why "Illumio represents a transformational approach to providing security for the cloud."
Joe Burton is executive vice president of Products, Technology & Strategy, and chief technology officer at Plantronics. He is responsible for the technical strategy behind the products that Plantronics develops
EVP, Products, Technology & Strategy, and CTO, Plantronics
Plantronics has a storied technology history. Will you share some of it with our readers?
Over 50 years ago, our founders—two airline pilots working in a garage—set out to invent a new kind of aviation headset. They certainly achieved their goal: the Plantronics MS50 was the first headset that made it to outer space—it was adapted to fit inside Wally Schirra’s helmet. Then we made history again when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and uttered the legendary words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” through a Plantronics headset.
What new things are happening at Plantronics?
JOE BURTON: So many things. We’re a leader in developing personal audio devices, headsets, and personal speaker systems. Over the last few years we’ve been integrating sensor technology and what we call “contextual intelligence” into our systems in a big way.
“Illumio represents a transformational approach to providing security for the cloud."
As an example, customer service centers (CSCs) can be busy, noisy, and complex spaces in which to work. When reps have to repeat information because they can’t hear clearly, everybody loses. Contextual intelligence allows CSC leaders to anticipate problematic outcomes before they happen by understanding challenges their customer service agents might face, and how processes should flow for a fantastic customer experience.
How have you seen the role of information technology change over the last five years?
JOE BURTON: What we’ve seen is a move from a situation where services were deployed slowly—over a three- to five-year horizon—into a world where we need to be able to deploy technology in hours, days, and weeks, rather than in months or years.
Five years ago, IT was measuring themselves against uptime as they became a hand-in-hand partner with the business. Now, business decision makers and departmental leaders are trying to retire quota, build new products, launch marketing campaigns and so on—and IT is becoming a key component in making that happen.
This is where the cloud has enabled IT to completely transform itself.
How do you think the movement to the cloud is changing information technology?
JOE BURTON: It’s hard to think of a way that IT hasn’t been radically changed by the cloud. Here at Plantronics, we really see it as falling into the two categories of velocity and innovation:
- On the velocity side, things that used to take years to develop or deploy suddenly become as easy as a couple of mouse clicks.
- On the innovation side, the cloud enables you to start thinking about processing and storage as relatively infinite, and suddenly you can think of building new solutions that were inconceivable just a few years ago.
One of the things we’ve seen as we move into the cloud with these innovative solutions is that we have an amazing amount of data out there, with virtual machines being spun up and down in a very dynamic way. Building the right level of security in this environment is challenging—unless the security can somehow adapt along with the changes.
What we’ve seen from Illumio are some really unique capabilities where we can actually set up the kind of security profiles we want, and as that dynamic cloud environment grows, shrinks, and morphs with the needs of our users, Illumio’s security platform is right there with them.
How do you see information technology enabling product development in the future?
JOE BURTON: In the past, as we designed new customer solutions, we were really constrained by how quickly servers could be deployed, along with the additional costs of hardware, infrastructure and staffing. Suddenly, we’re in a world with a very dynamic, virtualized cloud, where we’re only encumbered by the imagination of the engineers.
We’re in a position now where we can respond to what a customer needs even if it potentially requires fractional parts of dozens of virtual servers. We can immediately build that kind of solution. We can deploy it into the cloud with a click of a mouse and off we go.
It’s truly an amazing environment going forward, with a huge amount of potential. But with that comes the critical question of how you secure the information in that kind of system.
What is Plantronics able to do with Illumio that you weren’t able to do without it?
JOE BURTON: In the early days of putting together our cloud strategy at Plantronics, one of our primary concerns was, of course, information security—ensuring the security of Plantronics data, along with that of our customers and our partners. But every time we added another virtual machine or another service, we had to reconfigure our security, which meant a huge amount of time spent on static security configurations within a very dynamic environment.
Illumio represents a transformational approach to providing security for the cloud. When we became familiar with Illumio’s solution we got quite excited, because of its ability to set the right profile and then as more machines come and go within our cloud, Illumio grows with them and eliminates all of that static configuration time—all the while providing even more protection than we were seeing with other solutions.
What are the best sources for technology information trends that you’ve found?
I spend a fair amount of time on ReadWrite and looking at some of the more interesting projects that are on GitHub and in the open source community. And of course I read a lot of books.
The Big Switch is an amazing book that I think most of us here at Plantronics have read about the inevitable switch from on-premises to cloud and all the implications of that move. And then there’s Age of Context, which is a fascinating look at what’s happening with wearables and the world in front of us. And quite a few others—I’m a big reader.