05 Sep 2012

Ownership and control in the cloud

Steve Wozniak set off a storm with his recent claims that the cloud was risky. Wozniak fears that by transferring our data to the cloud we are losing control and ownership of our data. While some agree with his claims, others strongly dispute them.

So what is the truth: are we losing control of our data, or can we retain ownership in the cloud?

As corporate IT models evolve and new ones arrive, so do fears about loss of direct control over systems, data and processes. The idea that a business’s servers and data are located elsewhere understandably lends itself to some degree of concern about ownership and control.  Because after all, if there is an outage, performance dip or data compromise, who gets blamed?  IT, of course.

However there should be little to fear.  Just because a business does not own a data centre, or part of the data is stored in an off premise data centre, it does not mean that control over information and software is lost. Cloud services and applications are running in real data centres very similar to the ones IT departments manage in-house.   And while your team won’t be the ones with hands on access, you are still decidedly in charge.

The keys to reducing concerns about control and ownership lie in the following:

Reliable providers are key

It is critical that you select a trustworthy, reliable cloud provider. Referrals are important and you should have open discussions with your cloud solution provider’s reference sites about their long-term, real-world experiences with the provider and their services over time.

More importantly, understand and ensure that contracts and service level agreements work for you and suit your requirements. A great deal of assurance can be had from simply reviewing standard contracts and having frank discussions with solution providers.

Know and understand the challenges, then ask the question

When moving deeper into the cloud, businesses must be sure to meet key challenges. The first is ensuring proper security and data resilience regimes. The second is the much asked question of data sovereignty. Ask where your data is going to end up.  There can be good reasons for keeping data in the country, or even in a particular state.  The question is; what is the right place for the right workload? There is a scare about data sovereignty, but the reality is that it is very controllable and there are many different ways of managing the risks.

The biggest myth is that the cloud cannot be secure. Of course nothing is without a risk, but the cloud does not necessarily mean increased risk from on-premise security. Cloud providers should have more resources and know-how to invest in the security of their systems than most businesses.

Another myth around cloud computing is the notion that businesses will find it almost impossible to change cloud providers. As mentioned above, checking vendor references in depth can help eliminate fears. So can having a frank discussion with the solution provider on these questions:

  • How will our data be returned if our contract is terminated?
  • If we move to another solutions provider, how will the data be moved and how hard will it be to do so?

Know your options and choose the right cloud solution for your business

Cloud computing is transforming the role of IT.  IT departments are becoming more like service providers to the business, and in the process are shifting a wide range of systems into the cloud. Hybrid approaches to the cloud deliver enormous flexibility, allowing businesses to transition into the cloud in ways that allow them to continue to leverage existing investments in things like infrastructure and staff skills.

If there is a standout trend in cloud computing, it’s the private cloud. Private clouds share many of the characteristics of their public counterpart (such as resource pooling, self-service, elasticity and pay-per-use) but they also give businesses more control of their data through the use of dedicated physical resources. With a private cloud, businesses can consolidate and share IT resources, managing them more efficiently while improving their ability to deliver services. IT teams can be more responsive through increased agility and cost efficiency.

Due diligence dissolves many myths

In the end, it’s all about checking references, solid contracts, enabling a precise fit of functionality for your business, and ensuring that you have the freedom to access, back up and move your data as you see fit. If you can be sure of that after an extensive review of potential cloud solution providers, you can dismiss these fears about cloud computing and focus on implementing best practices.