By Stephen R Carter
The Cloud is the next evolutionary step in the life of the Internet. From the experimental ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) to the Internet to the Web – and now to the Cloud, the evolution continues to advance international commerce and interaction on a grand scale. The Web did not become what it is today until SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) was developed together with the collection of root certificates that are a part of every secure browser. Until SSL (and later TLS [Transport Layer Security]) the Web was an interesting way to look at content but without the benefit of secured commerce. It was the availability of secure commerce that really woke the Web up and changed the commerce model of the planet Earth forever.
While the user saw massive changes in interaction patterns from ARPANET to Internet to Web, the evolution to the cloud will be mostly restricted to the way that service and commerce providers see things. With the Cloud, service and commerce providers are expecting to see a decrease in costs because of the increase of economy of scale and the ability to operate a sophisticated data center with only very little brick and mortar to care for (if any). With a network link and a laptop a business in the Cloud era could be a first class citizen in the growing nation of on-line commerce providers.
However, just as the lack of SSL prevented commerce on the web – the lack of security in the Cloud is holding that nation of on-line commerce providers back from the promise of Cloud. As early as February 2011, this author as seen advertised seminars and gatherings concerning the lack of security in the Cloud. Any gathering concerning the Cloud will have a track or two on the agenda concerning Cloud security.
The issue is not that Cloud providers do not use strong cryptographic mechanisms and materials, rather, the issue stems from the control that a business or enterprise has over the operational characteristics of a Cloud together with audit events to show regulatory compliance. Every data center has a strict set of operations policies that work together to show to the world and shareholders that the business is under control and can meet its compliance reporting requirements. If the enterprise adopts a “private cloud” or a Cloud inside of the data center, the problems start to show themselves and they compound at an alarming rate when a public Cloud is utilized.
So, what is to be done? There is no single solution to the security issue surrounding Cloud like there was for Web. The enterprise needs to have a ability to control operations according to policy which is compromised by a private cloud and breaks down with a public cloud. The answer is described by a term I call, “Cloud Annexation.” Just as Sovereign Nation 1 can work with Sovereign Nation 2 to obtain property and annex it into Sovereign Nation 1, thus making the laws of Sovereign Nation 1 the prevailing law-of-the-land within the property, so to should an enterprise be able to annex a portion of a cloud (private or public) and impose policy (law) upon the annexed portion of the cloud so that, as far a policy is concerned, the annexed portion of the cloud becomes a part of the data center. Annexation also allows enterprise identities, policy, and compliance to be maintained locally if desired.
Figure 1: Cloud Annexation
This is obviously not what we have today. But, it is not unreasonable to expect that we could have it in the future. Standards bodies such as the DMTF are working on Cloud interoperability and Cloud management where the interfaces and infrastructure necessary to provide the functions of cloud annexation would be made available. The cloud management of the future should allow for an enterprise to impose its own crypto materials, policy, and event monitoring upon the portion of a cloud that it is using, thus annexing that portion of the Cloud. The imposition of enterprise policy must not, of course, interfere with the policy that the cloud provider must enforce – after all, the cloud provider has a business to care for as well. This will require that there be some facility to normalize the policies of the cloud provider and cloud consumer so that, without exposing sensitive information, both parties can be assured that appropriate policies can be enforced from both sides. The situation would be improved substantially if, like we have a network fabric today, we were to have an Identity Fabric – a network layer that overlays the network fabric that would provide identity as pervasively as network interconnectivity is today. But that is the topic of another posting.
In conclusion, the Cloud will not be as successful as it could be if the enterprise must integrate yet another operating and policy environment. The Cloud must become a natural extension of the data center so that the cost and effort of Cloud adoption are reduced and the “security” concerns are alleviated. If Cloud annexation becomes a reality, the evolution will be complete.
Novell Fellow Stephen R Carter is a computer scientist focused on creating solutions for identity, cloud infrastructure and services, and advanced network communication and collaboration. Carter is named on more than 100 worldwide patents with more than 100 patents still pending. He is the recipient of the State of Utah’s 2004 Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology and was recognized in 2009 and 2011 as a “Utah Genius” because of his patent work.