By Margaret Dawson
The “cloud” is one of the most discussed topics among IT professionals today, and organizations are increasingly exploring the potential benefits of using cloud computing or solutions for their businesses. It’s no surprise Gartner predicts that cloud computing will be a top priority for CIOs in 2011.
In spite of this, many companies and IT leaders remain skeptical about the cloud, with many simply not knowing how to get started or how to evaluate which cloud platform or approach is right for them. Furthermore, uncertainty and fears around cloud security and reliability continues to permeate the market and media coverage. And finally, there remains confusion around the definition of what is the cloud and what is it not, leading some CIOs to want to scrap the term “cloud” altogether.
My number one advice to companies of all sizes is to not buy the cloud, but rather, buy the solution. Just as we have always done in IT, begin with identifying the challenge or pain that needs to be solved. In evaluating solutions that help address your challenge, include both on-premise and “as a service” based solutions. And then use the same critical criteria to evaluate those cloud solutions as you would any other, making sure it addresses your requirements around data protection, identity management, compliance, access control rules, and other security capabilities.
Also, do not get sucked into the hype. Below, I attempt to dispel some of the most common myths about cloud security that are common today:
1. All clouds are created equal
One of the biggest crimes committed by the vendor community and media over the last couple of years has been in talking about “the cloud” as if it was a single, monolithic entity. This mindset disregards the dozens of ways companies need to configure the infrastructure underlying a cloud solution, and the many more ways of configuring and running applications on a cloud platform.
Often people lump together established, enterprise-class cloud solutions with free services offered by social networks and similar “permanent beta” products. As a result of this definition of “the cloud”, many organizations fear that cloud solutions could expose critical enterprise resources and valuable intellectual property in the public domain. An unfortunate result of this fundamental disservice to the cloud security discussion is that it will only increase apprehension towards cloud adoption.
While the cloud can absolutely be as secure as or even more secure than an on-premise solution, all clouds are NOT created equal. There are huge variances in security practices and capability, and you must establish clear criteria to make sure any solution addresses your requirements and compliance mandates.
2. Cloud security is so new, there’s no way it can be secure
With all the buzz surrounding the cloud, there’s a misconception that cloud security is a brand new challenge that has not been addressed. What most people don’t understand is that while the cloud is already bringing radical changes in cost, scalability and deployment time, most of the underlying security concerns are, in fact, not new or unattainable. It’s true that the cloud represents a brand new attack vector that hackers love to go after, but the vulnerabilities and security holes are the same ones you face in your traditional infrastructure.
Today’s cloud security issues are much the same as any other outsourcing model that organizations have been using for years. What companies need to remember is that when you talk about the cloud, you’re still talking about data, applications and operating systems in a data center, running the cloud solution.
It’s important to note that many cloud vendors leverage best-in-class security practices across their infrastructure, application and services layers. What’s more, a cloud solution provides this same industry-leading security for all of its users, often offering you with a level of security your own organization could not afford to implement or maintain.
3. All clouds are inherently insecure
As previously mentioned, a cloud solution is no more or less secure than the datacenter, network and application on which it is build. In reality, the cloud can actually be more secure than your own internal IT infrastructure. A key advantage to third-party cloud solutions is that a cloud vendor’s core competency is to keep its network up and deliver the highest level of security. In fact, most cloud service providers have clear SLAs around this.
In order to run a cloud solution securely, cloud vendors have the opportunity to become PCI DSS compliant, SAS 70 certified and more. Undergoing these rigorous compliance and security routes can provide organizations with the assurance that cloud security is top of mind for their vendor and appropriately addressed. The economies of scale involved in cloud computing also extend to vendor expertise in areas like application security, IT governance and system administration. A recent move towards cloud computing by the security-conscious U.S. Federal Government is a prime example of how clouds can be extremely secure, depending on how they are built.
The one area to remember that folks often forget is the services piece of many cloud solutions. Beyond the infrastructure and the application, make sure you understand how the vendor controls access to your data by their services and support personnel. Ac
Anxiety over cloud security is not likely to dissipate any time soon. However, by focusing on the facts and addressing the market’s concerns directly – like debunking cloud security myths – it will go a long way in helping companies gain confidence in deploying the cloud. There are also an increasing number of associations and industry forums, such as the Cloud Security Alliance, that provide vendor-neutral best practices and advice. In spite of the jokes, cloud security is not an oxymoron, but in fact, an achievable and real goal.
Margaret Dawson is Vice President of Product Management for Hubspan (www.hubspan.com). She’s responsible for the overall product vision and roadmap, and works with key partners in delivering innovative solutions to the market. She has over 20 years experience in the IT industry, working with leading companies in the network security, semiconductor, personal computer, software, and e-commerce markets, including Microsoft and Amazon.com. She is a frequent speaker on cloud security, cloud platforms, and other cloud-related themes. Dawson has worked and traveled extensively in Asia, Europe and North America, including ten years working in the Greater China region, consulting with many of the area’s leading IT companies, and serving as a BusinessWeek magazine foreign correspondent.