Can multinationals trust the cloud with precious corporate data?

Should corporations be wary of the cloud?

Cloud computing is elastic IT. Whether scaling-up or upgrading, the size of a company's infrastructure can now be changed in seconds by relying on a cloud provider having spare capacity in its data centres. However, put all of your data in the cloud and slow and unreliable connections can be a giant drawback. Add the worry that cloud-based corporate data might not be safe from cyber-attacks, and the cloud can begin to lose its shine. For a company that works across the globe, the cloud might be convenient, but it continues to represent a conundrum. Can multinationals trust the cloud?

An instant global infrastructure is hard to resist Image HP

An instant global infrastructure is hard to resist (Image: HP)

Instant infrastructure

The cloud has much to offer multinationals, not least an instant infrastructure of the kind that businesses just a decade ago would have dreamed of being able to access on-demand. "The cloud offers flexibility in that a company can offer a service prior to purchasing all the hardware needed, as in the pre-cloud days," says Dr Kevin Curran, Technical Expert at the IEEE.

"The beauty of the cloud is that it can instantly meet the demand due to the large capacity of the provider's remote servers, and this will continue to allow companies to estimate costs more predictably as they can incrementally add on services when needed, and when resources allow."

Put simply, the cloud offers multinationals instant global infrastructure.

Eco-friendly fog

Can the cloud save the planet from capitalism? Many believe that a collective reliance on the cloud by businesses will also lead to a lower collective carbon footprint. Instead of 100 companies all going for the same market, and often over-provisioning their IT, the cloud means that companies will buy less hardware – less servers and other IT equipment – and move to renting capacity as and when they need it. Each time a multinational signs a new service contract anywhere in the world, it can rent more space in a data centre. The cloud offers impressive efficiency and scalability. So what are the drawbacks?

Perceived weakness

"The perceived weakness in the cloud at the moment is security," says Richard Kemp, founder Kemp IT Law. "Governments like the UK are investing significantly in a structured approach to cloud adoption to speed its uptake in government departments." He explains the UK's three-pronged approach: First, effective data classification, to determine what data is suitable for the public sector cloud, and secondly, substantive security requirements – typically based in international standards like the ISO 27000 family – then thirdly, process requirements – for accreditation, auditing, and reporting.

The UK: a model cloud?

Calling the UK's structured, standardised approach thus far 'exemplary', Kemp thinks that it could act as a pathfinder for other countries who don't want to reinvent the wheel, want to keep flexibility, and want to give their citizens the benefits of the cloud. "As cloud take-up grows, the big cloud providers like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM are investing hugely in security," he says. "It's possible in time that this will throw the spotlight back on on-premise IT security – a reality today is that the cloud is generally a much more secure IT environment than on-premise at many organisations."

Cloud data centres often have built in encryption protocols

Cloud data centres often have built-in encryption protocols (Image: IBM)

Is the cloud safe?

In terms of data breaches, don't underestimate how far the cloud has come in recent years. "There's a potential irony in multinational companies having concerns about security in the cloud, when in certain circumstances a move to the cloud can create the opportunity to upgrade security," says Alan Hartwell, vice president security & identity solutions, EMEA at Oracle. "New cloud data centres often have in-built protocols around encryption and the application of privileged access controls to enable companies to assess whereabouts on the spectrum of risk that pieces of data sit."