Thursday, September 23, 2021

Cloud Q&A With Briana Frank of IBM Cloud: Trust is the ‘Key Missing Piece’ for Many Providers

The cloud computing market is not only changing rapidly, but also growing into new industries and use cases, as a growing number of companies move to the cloud for their digital transformation goals.

Through a pandemic and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), ethical tech, and other cloud trends, what does an experienced cloud executive have to say about the changes happening in cloud technology?

Briana Frank, the director of product management for IBM Cloud, recently shared her thoughts with Datamation about the innovations happening at IBM — and in the greater cloud market.

Briana Frank Briana Frank, Director of Product Management at IBM Cloud (headshot)

Frank directs the product management teams within IBM Cloud Developer Services. Frank also leads the Offering Management and Design teams that built the IBM Cloud Kubernetes service in five months and now manages tens of thousands of clusters worldwide. She believes in creating exceptional experiences that enable users to build and innovate using IBM Cloud. She builds high-performance teams in order to make data-driven decisions. Frank is an entrepreneur and a problem solver who translates that energy into building great products.

More on Cloud Computing: Cloud Computing Market 2021

Cloud Computing Q&A

Cloud Computing as a Career

Datamation: How did you first start in or develop an interest in cloud computing?

Frank: My first introduction to working in technology was during a summer job while attending The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was a receptionist for an advertising agency during my sophomore year. Clients often called with urgent changes needed for their websites. Those changes often took time, as there was no one in-house who could make the updates. I took a one-day class in HTML and was able to update client websites myself, often the same day or even immediately. Clients were pleased with the timeliness of the updates, but most importantly, the information they needed to convey was up to date and accurate, which better served their users.  

Since then, technology has changed dramatically. I’ve continued to evolve my career and my skills based on solving client problems. Cloud has emerged as a way to accelerate innovation. My desire to help clients has guided the technologies I’ve worked on over the course of my career and led me to work in cloud computing. 

Datamation: What are your primary responsibilities in your current role? 

Frank: Today, I am the director of product for IBM Cloud Developer Services. I oversee a portfolio of 17 cloud services that enable clients to innovate faster. These services include Kubernetes, Red Hat OpenShift, serverless, observability, developer tools, and IBM Cloud Satellite, our new distributed cloud offering, which allows clients to run cloud services securely in any environment. As a product director, I spend a lot of time talking to clients about the problems they are facing and brainstorming solutions. Prioritizing our road map to meet client needs is one of the most important of many responsibilities in product management. 

Developing a Strong Cloud Computing Strategy

Datamation: What makes IBM Cloud unique as a cloud computing platform? What sets your solutions or approach apart from the competition?

Frank: IBM Cloud is the industry’s most secure and open public cloud for business. IBM Cloud is protected with the highest-level certified hardware security module — Hyper Protect services: FIPS 140-2 Level 4. IBM’s cloud platform is built on a foundation of Kubernetes, containers, and open source software. 

IBM Cloud is a key part of IBM’s broader hybrid cloud strategy. Our hybrid cloud offerings are built to bring secure and open cloud services anywhere a client needs to run them — whether on premises, in multiple public clouds, or at the edge. 

Taken together, this means that clients can run IBM Cloud services securely and in any environment of their choosing. 

Datamation: What do you think makes a cloud computing company or platform successful?

Frank: Enterprises today are pushing ahead with digital transformation, deploying existing tools to fuller potential, and leveraging new ones to advance further. And cloud is leading this shift, with 64% of companies surveyed in an IBM Institute for Business Value report saying they have shifted to more cloud-based business activities during the pandemic.

Yet, only 25% of mission-critical workloads have moved to the cloud. Organizations often cite concerns about security and privacy of sensitive data, such as constituent data, medical records, or financial information. 

How to help drive innovation in the cloud while ensuring data remains secure and protected? One way is by giving clients the ability to run secure cloud services in any environment — whether on premises, in multiple public clouds, or even at the edge. Especially for companies in regulated industries that may be subject to data sovereignty requirements, this opens up the possibility to embrace innovation in the cloud, while ensuring data remains secure and compliant.

Datamation: How can cloud technology impact the success and/or efficiencies of an organization?

Frank: Having the right hybrid cloud architecture in place allows companies to take advantage of the flexibility, efficiency, and cost savings of cloud computing, while ensuring that their critical data stays protected. 

IBM is working with clients across all industries to implement these strategies. We’re also seeing even greater promise for cloud in highly regulated industries, like financial services, government, telecommunications, and health care, especially with the work we are doing to de-risk third- and fourth-party supply chains. 

By reducing risk consistently, you also increase the opportunity of how fast you can innovate. 

Datamation: What are some common use cases or scenarios where a hybrid cloud is the best solution for a business?

Frank: Hybrid cloud can be leveraged anywhere across a computing environment. Case in point, earlier this year, we announced that Lumen Technologies is using IBM Cloud Satellite on its Lumen Edge Compute platform to give its customers more flexibility in how they securely tap into the benefits of IBM Cloud at the edge. For example, a customer can deploy an application at a Lumen Edge location where cameras and sensors can function in near real-time to help detect the time since surfaces were cleaned or flag potential worker safety hazards.

Datamation: What is the biggest cloud development mistake that you see enterprises making? 

Frank: Many clients today are dealing with cloud sprawl, meaning they are using more than one cloud and are therefore challenged with managing these different cloud environments. I wouldn’t call this a mistake — in fact, these days, it’s not uncommon for an organization to use four to five or more cloud vendors — but it is a reality of leveraging many different technologies for different yet very valid reasons. This kind of multicloud environment can be challenging and costly to manage and operate, and in this scenario, each of those vendors has a different view on security wrapped around their services.

Trends in Cloud Computing

Datamation: What do you think are some of the top trends in cloud computing/hybrid cloud/multicloud right now?

Frank: We’re seeing tremendous opportunity for digital transformation in the highly regulated space in particular. To help organizations successfully and safely embrace cloud, we have built industry-specific offerings for sectors such as financial services and telecommunications. With these solutions, we are able to help organizations think through how they’ve created digital platforms from the outset. A key piece of this is ensuring they have the right controls in place to maintain security and compliance. We’ve found that unless you build in these controls as a baseline, it stifles innovation. This is why IBM has built a hybrid cloud platform where there is consistency in cybersecurity controls across the board.

In addition, major breaches have impacted business and life and grabbed headlines in past months, making enterprises more cautious than ever when migrating workloads to the cloud. And indeed, all cloud architectures are not created equal when it comes to protecting sensitive data. I believe the key missing piece that many cloud providers lack is trust. Gaining this trust calls for new methods of protecting data, to fill in the gaps in some of the traditional methods.

With the traditional methods of securing data, you’re trusting your provider not to access or otherwise share it, but the reality is that the data could be accessed — such as if the provider were compelled by a court order to hand over the data, or it could more easily be accessed by malicious actors for their own nefarious purposes. But with confidential computing, the cloud provider is incapable of accessing this data. Therefore, you as the customer are ensuring privacy across the entire life cycle of data, including while it’s in use. 

Think of confidential computing as an office in an office building. The office is a private, secure location where you can have a meeting. There are a number of other offices in that building too, but you can lock your door and have a private meeting in your office, and no one has access to your discussions, even though you are in the same building. The owners of the office building and tenants in other offices do not know what is going on in your office. In the case of confidential computing, the cloud is the office building, and the enclave is the office. 

Datamation: How have you seen AI/ML impact cloud computing over the past few years, and how do you think these trends will continue to change cloud development and customer expectations?

Frank: We are generating data from more sources than ever before, and users are expecting insights from the data immediately. It isn’t a question of whether AI/ML are needed, but how AI/ML can produce insights that can be leveraged instantaneously. The trend we see most commonly is the need to analyze the data where the data is generated to reduce latency, due to not needing the data to flow to another location. In addition, keeping the data in a specific location can assist with regulatory constraints.

Datamation: What do you think we’ll see more of in the cloud computing space in the next 5-10 years? What areas will grow the most over the next decade?

Frank: When it comes to recent breaches, these are stark reminders of the reality business and governments live in today. Businesses must realize that they are only as secure as their weakest link.

Many believe that that weak link can come when outsourcing their digital infrastructure to a third-party cloud provider — that this is simply the price you can pay to speed innovation. But this is not true. It is incumbent on cloud providers to lead the way in creating a culture that continues to push us to improve upon the current state of security. 

So as technology leaders, we need to not only provide cloud infrastructure solutions, but take care to provide ones that the C-suite can feel comfortable with adopting in light of hackers’ sophisticated methods. We need to introduce the right strategies and help build the right technological foundation, enabling our clients to embrace innovation in the cloud with trust that their data will remain protected. 

By adopting the right open, hybrid cloud architecture — one that enables built-in controls — and selecting a cloud provider that enables sophisticated encryption capabilities, like confidential computing, you’re helping ensure that your data truly remains yours. 

Datamation: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you/your colleagues’/your clients’ approach to cloud solutions?

Frank: The pandemic has amplified how much of our lives we live online. From ordering food for delivery to completing a banking transaction to visiting a doctor, our personal data is out there. So, the natural question is, who can access it, and is it at risk of being compromised? How can we, as consumers, trust the organizations we communicate with for a frictionless experience, while safeguarding our most critical data?

And how can our cloud providers serve as stewards of their clients’ sensitive data? By building in cybersecurity controls from the outset, we can help more clients across industries embrace cloud.

Datamation: How do you think that cloud computing can better be leveraged as a technology for global good (i.e., slowing climate change, alleviating poverty, ethical business practices, social justice causes, etc.)? 

Frank: Last year, IBM Cloud team and Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa built and launched a simple and secure telemedicine platform to meet the physical and mental health needs of underserved citizens in Lisbon, particularly the elderly and vulnerable during the accelerating pandemic. The solution is built on the IBM Cloud and incorporates a state-of-the-art cryptographic technology called Keep Your Own Key. This encryption gives the doctor and patient enterprise-level data protection over a secure platform, designed so patients can easily communicate with their medical providers and psychologists to get the assistance they need, quickly and from home. The platform schedules patient care via SMS and email, and sessions are conducted through phone, video, and chat.

SCML has been able to increase their patient support, care, and follow-up, while serving citizens from the comfort of their own homes. At scale, the platform has the potential to open up access to all underserved communities and the elderly in particular, who often have no means of transportation or who are at greater risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

An Expert Perspective on the Market

Datamation: How have you seen the cloud computing market change since you first started? How have the technologies, conversations, and people changed over time?  

Frank: Technology is more accessible than ever before. The ability to learn about a technology is no longer gated by a class, textbook, or employer. You can learn a great deal about how a technology works just by reading documentation, watching YouTube videos, or even enrolling in free courses. IBM Skills offers free online courses, workshops, and badge credentials created in partnership with governments, NGOs, and schools from all over the world, designed to help students and professionals alike skill up in relevant technology areas. This accessibility has allowed a more diverse group of individuals to enter the industry. In my experience, a diverse set of voices produces richer outcomes, no matter the task at hand. 

Datamation: How do you stay knowledgeable about trends in the market? What resources do you like? 

Frank: It’s important to stay curious, but I think you also have to genuinely care about what problems are being solved and the unique ways they are being solved across the industry. I have traditional ways to learn about trends, including my favorite analyst reports, but I’ve often learned about new announcements and breaking news via social media platforms. I also surround myself with interesting and curious people. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t link me an article on Slack. The resulting informal discussions are some of the most valuable to me personally. 

Datamation: How do you like to help or otherwise engage less experienced tech professionals? 

Frank: I mentor dozens of individuals inside and outside of IBM. IBM has amazing resources that allow me to give back, like product management boot camps, women-in-technology round tables, mentoring, management training, and so much more. I also volunteer for organizations outside of IBM helping entrepreneurs. Most recently, we’ve helped small businesses struggling to pivot during the pandemic. My approach is to be very transparent about my unique background and non-traditional technology education to inspire others who may not have taken the traditional path to technologist. 

Work Life

Datamation: What do you consider the best part of your workday or workweek? 

Frank: The best part of my week is when I’m solving problems. Whether I’m ideating with a client on technology decisions or working with my team to brainstorm new ideas, the process of solving problems is one that I truly enjoy.

Datamation: What are you most proud of in your professional life? 

Frank: I am most proud when I push myself to do something out of my comfort zone and achieve something I didn’t think possible. My first patent was very special to me for that reason. The first time I stepped on a large keynote stage was very special to me. I get a lot of satisfaction when I can take an idea and make it real. When you do that enough times, you become known for that characteristic, and I’m proud of that reputation. 

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