There’s a lot of pressure today on businesses to adopt cloud hosting for both daily office work and websites. Cloud computing means that instead of knowing exactly where your software, documents and website files are located – on a server in a building on a street in Burnaby, for example, or in Utah or Ontario – your files are distributed and accessed from computers spread around the globe.
Cloud computing is heavily marketed for the following benefits. Companies can reduce their capital costs on hardware, software and licensing fees, and owners of large corporate websites may experience faster access and streaming of their content. The financial model for web hosting shifts from a static annual or monthly charge to a pay-by-use model. The cost of software and complications of local area networks are handled by the cloud host’s data centres, rather than your company’s IT people. Cloud computing offers expanded opportunities for wireless computing: because all applications and documents are globally distributed, they can be accessed from anywhere in the world that has wireless access.
But I have a lot of concerns about cloud hosting and I’m not alone. In August, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak expressed his own concerns about cloud hosting. This is from an industry leader whose own company has been one of the most prominent in the promotion of cloud computing. And many people agree with him.
With a static server, we know where your web files are stored. There is a physical location and address. With cloud hosting, some files could be on a server in England, some in Bangladesh, some in China – wherever server space and bandwidth is available at that split second.
Cloud-hosted companies assume a greater risk as a result of the many additional resources and connections required. When data is stored on multiple servers, often spanning several countries, issues quickly arise when any particular data centre is compromised. There are also issues around standardization, since there are no proper international standards for cloud technologies at this time.
There are also — and most importantly — huge security issues. Some of our clients express concern about the Privacy Act and hosting on an American server, but cloud computing is much worse. You really have no control over your files – they could be anywhere, including most third-world countries. The development of cloud computing resources in third world countries is increasingly encouraged and supported by large Western corporations. In return, there is an exponential increase in the number of people with permission to access the passwords and firewalls, and an increase in opportunities for hackers.
A good summary of the security issues is provided by Kurt Johnson in his article, Cloud Computing Hides Big Issues in Corporate Data Sharing on forbes.com.
Long before cloud computing, companies were sharing vital information with customers, partners, vendors, and contractors to make business processes run more efficiently and economically. They started with Web commerce, then moved into mobile applications and social networking. Each new information-sharing program opened up another hole in the corporate information security armor.
Cloud computing is another step on the continuum, and it also raises the stakes. Hosting vital data and applications on a cloud provider’s infrastructure puts vital information outside the corporate wall. Even more importantly, it creates a new set of users who have full access privileges to your data and applications — namely the cloud service administrators.
Too often, without realizing it, they rely on nothing more than trust to keep their data safe. They trust that the right people have the right access to vital information and will use it for the right things, yet they don’t really know who they’re trusting because they don’t know who all of those users are. Their service provider tells them to trust that they are managing user access effectively. Trust, in this context, is a flimsy defense.
To Cloud or Not to Cloud – Pros and Cons
The Cloud and Africa: Indicators for the Growth of Cloud Computing
Cloud Computing: The Business Persepctive
http://www.acc.ncku.edu.tw – PDF
Cloud Computing Pros and Cons
Cloud Computing Pros and Cons for Small Biz