There Are Mountains in Those Clouds

Businesses are increasingly considering storing their critical data remotely and accessing it online via “the cloud”. Cost savings and quicker deployment are often touted as the biggest advantages of riding the cloud.

However, there is fear of the cloud. In a survey by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, 48% of more than 1,800 IT professionals based in the U.S. said the risks of cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) outweigh the benefits.

So before jumping on the cloud bandwagon, think carefully about the mountains that may be hidden by those clouds.

Data Security

Your data is only as secure as the cloud it’s hosted on. Though your host will promise you it’s safe, how do you really know unless that safety is tested? Finding out the hard way, as in when your data is compromised, is a costly lesson.

In its Top Threats to Cloud Computing V1.0, the Cloud Security Alliance noted seven threats, all of which are related to data security, from abuse and nefarious use to account, service & traffic hijacking.

Now arguably, your data could be safer in the cloud if you don’t have extensive on-premises security measures in place. In either case, you need to consider who has access to sensitive information, including intellectual property, trade secrets, personal or other sensitive information.

Privacy

The privacy of your data is highly dependent on the country in which it’s stored. For example, under current US law, if the government or law enforcement demands the provider release your data, the provider is required to do so regardless of whether or not a search warrant, subpoena or court order is presented.

Privacy rights advocates are currently fighting this (see Privacy Laws Outdated for Age of Cloud Computing for details), but the fact remains that right now, in the US your data can be handed over in a relatively easy fashion.

Data Ownership & Access

Do you really own your data? What if you leave the cloud service provider or worse, they go belly-up? What assurance do you have that you’ll be able to export that data and take it elsewhere, be it on-premise or with another cloud hosting provider?

Also, if your data is stored in a different jurisdiction and requested, let’s say in a civil suit, will you be able to retrieve it in a timely fashion? And what privacy laws will your data be governed by?

Beware that sensitive information may not legally be able to leave the country your business is located in. For instance, the Canadian Bank Act requires that particular records be stored in Canada.

Performance

Chances are there will be a performance guarantee in any agreement with a cloud hosting provider. However, some disclaim liability for any outages or delays that are unanticipated or unscheduled. That isn’t much of a guarantee. Most importantly, is the cloud capable of supporting the level of service being promised? If not, it can cost you.

Careful Consideration Needed

This is not say there aren’t advantages to the cloud or that you shouldn’t consider the cloud. Just be aware; there are mountains in those clouds that could put your business in danger. In the end, you need to weigh the potential risks to rewards and interview any cloud hosting providers you’re considering with these risks in mind.

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