Risk and Opportunity of “In The Cloud Computing”

by Michael Smith

I have written about my take of “In The Cloud Computing” before and while this can be a useful idea for data storage away from a PC and even for working from a host PC it also has lots of drawbacks, not the least of them being security.

Some of those risks are such things as identity management. Most cloud services rely on simple password authentication and authorisation occurs on an application by application basis. The outcome will inevitably be multiple login experiences with different IDs and passwords. This creates an additional burden for user account management auditing within the organisation.

But even for a web worker this can be a security issue as to the strength of the password and such but especially as to the possible lack of any encryption.

The other issue is that of service reliability and availability. One must keep in mind that a loss of availability might not always be down to the service provider: routing problems, cables being cut, and other unfortunate incidents could all result in the systems being inaccessible.

On the other hand, how do we know that those services will always be available to us. Having had personal experiences with the lack of access to my bookmarks stored online with My Web 2.0 from Yahoo, with the service refusing – for about two month – to actually log me in while all the other services of Yahoo showed me logged in with no problem. The issue resolved itself after that time without explanation from Yahoo or whatever. So, what if that happens with your data, especially if you have not got copies of this data stores elsewhere, whether also online or off line? It could cause you and your business untold damage if you would be unable to get access to your important data stored somewhere in the cloud.

If you use “in the cloud” computing, especially as regards to keeping data there for collaboration and your use when on the move, ensure that you have the same data also in other form and readily available should problems occur with the online system and service.

Like with so many of some of those things, including hand-held PCs, I am still someone who needs to be entirely convinced as to the reliability of those. The same goes for Software as a Service (SaaS), whether provided by Microsoft, Google or whoever else.

While I personally make use of some of the Web 2.0 services online such as Google Calendar, Google Documents, and also, but only as a print out of a small diary planner thing, iScribe, I rather still have my stuff off line as well.

Data protection laws could be another minefield when it comes to “in the cloud computing”. If you are a company with globally dispersed offices collating customer information from each of your regions of operation then sharing it across your business from a Cloud service based in America, which data protection laws apply?

And there is more that one could and probably should discuss at length. Being aware of the risks is always good because it means one can plan contingency. In the case of Cloud computing the business sees the opportunity and that really makes it all worthwhile because, if we like it or not, this is where we are all going in the end. Personally I hope not but...

One of those opportunities is scalability and the way that services can scale up or down depending on requirements. This means that, in other words, you only, theoretically, pay for the processing time and disk space that you need at any given time, if you are not even using a free service. While the latter may work for the “lone wold” web worker it may not be (legally) possible for an enterprise of any size.

Just about anything can be offered as a cloud-based service.

Cloud Computing is more than just SaaS in that everything as a service (XaaS) would be a more appropriate way to describe it by now.

The opportunities for collaboration are the most interesting as described on the CloudSecurity blog where it states: Forward thinking companies use collaboration technologies to melt away the physical distance between disparate offices, remote workers and suppliers.

But, for all the benefits that “In the Cloud Computing” may bring us, especially in the way of working from home and such like, the question that needs addressing, more than anything, I should guess, is how to manage the risks.

While “in the cloud computing” also reduces the environmental footprint of the company and the individual workers, as they may not have to commute to the office in the case of those working for corporations – either not at all every, so to speak, or just say one day or two a week – or if they are lone road warriors of the web worker kind that they can work also from anywhere where there is a PC (not even needing to lug about a laptop) the security aspect remains of the data that is stored in the cloud. Then there is the accessibility aspect as to what happens when the service goes down. Having experienced this latter aspect personally I am, while I do use some online services of the “in the cloud” department I do not want to rely on it solely.

How many of us who use one or the other aspect of the “in the cloud computing” have not experienced some breakdown or the other of the services that we use, if only for a short while. I am sure most of us have, especially with regards to web based email services as well, and are not all of them services, theoretically, web based for most of them are accessible as Webmail as well. I have had problems with Hotmail, with Yahoo, and others. Fingers crossed, so far, Gmail has been doing well, though I access it primarily with an email client on the PC.

In my opinion, but then I do stress that that is my opinion as a user, “in the cloud computing” still has a way to go, especially as to security and reliability. Its time for proper use may come but, personally, I rather would like to remain on terra firma with my stuff – at least as a duplicate – on a hard disk.

© M Smith (Veshengro), August 2008