Business in the clouds: risks and advantages

cloud-istock-tumpikuja-100465189-primary.idge Cloud computing, the technology that allows software and data to be shared on the internet, is now being adopted by large companies that say this infrastructure has become their top technology investment this year. So are large companies keen on adoption because of the savings on IT expenditure?

With all the media speculation and reality across cyber-crime, hacking and phishing, is the technology also fraught with challenges and privacy risks?

In a survey of 4,500 high-level IT professionals in 83 countries, ISACA (the Information Systems Audit and Control Association) discovered that organisations fear the risks of using public cloud services.

69% of North American respondents believed that the risks of using the cloud outweigh the benefits. In all regions, data security was the most widely cited risk—with European respondents also being wary of the specific dangers that surround breaches of their customers’ and employees’ privacy.

One of the biggest impediments to public cloud computing adoption is the calculation of additional risk from all the dangers associated with online internet crime.

Analysing all the risks, here’s a list of five risks any business faces as a customer of a public cloud service:

  • Shared access
  • Virtual exploits
  • Authentication, authorisation and access control
  • Availability
  • Ownership

The mobility of smart phones, netbooks, tablet PCs and other portable devices has fundamentally changed the when, where and how of our computing lives. And with cloud services, the source for data and applications used by these devices can be anywhere, too. The flexibility of cloud to scale bandwidth up or down at will, and its affordability as a pay-as-you-go service, have resulted in an interconnected, intelligent approach to smarter computing.

The benefits of cloud computing are well-recognised. In fact, cloud computing ranks among the most popular new IT initiatives, with 66 percent of midsize companies implementing cloud strategies, according to IBM’s study, “Inside the Midmarket: A 2011 Perspective.” Yet the excitement about leveraging cloud’s economies of scale to lower total IT costs and improve agility is often tempered by concern that this external delivery of services could compromise security.

​Cloud may seem new, but the fact is companies have outsourced services and technology for years. Providers already deliver hosted technology offerings that are located offsite with client access via the Internet. This is a common scenario for services such as remote storage or hosted email and other software as a service (SaaS) solutions. And just because companies may give up some control to the provider when they move to a cloud-based environment (just as they give up some control in any outsourced arrangement), it doesn’t mean they have to compromise on security.

cloud_computing_security_enigmaAlthough there are additional variations, let’s consider the three main types of cloud service and deployment models: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Each version has its own level of control for the provider and the company purchasing services, but all cloud services can help companies increase agility and boost efficiency by removing the burden of managing all of their own IT. This frees up organizations to do more with less and stay focused on their core competencies.

Software as a service (SaaS) puts most of the responsibility for security management with the cloud provider and is commonly used for services such as customer relationship management and accounting. This popular option is considered low-risk because it primarily deals only with software and not hardware or storage. With SaaS, companies are able to control who has access to these cloud services and how the applications are configured. The complexity of software installation, maintenance, upgrades and patches, meanwhile, is automated and handled by the provider.

In a smarter business world—the when, where and how of living and working is more instrumented, data-driven and interconnected than ever before-cloud computing can be a powerful way for companies to be more agile, effective and efficient.