North American firms wary about cloud computing security

Given the plethora of cloud service providersin the market how does a business decide who to go with?

For many firms the level of security offered is likely to be the vital factor in that choice.

A recent survey indicates that North American companies are less confident of the security of cloud offerings than their European counterparts.

Lina Liberti,vice-president, product marketing, CA Inc.

These findings surfaced in a recent survey of IT practitioners in the U.S. (642 respondents) and Europe (283 respondents), conducted byCA Inc.

“Europeans hold more favourable perceptions about the state of cloud computing security,” according to Lina Liberti, vice-president of product marketing at CA Security.

Liberti said the U.S. results may reflect Canadian sentiments as well.

Cloud computing essentially involves the provisioning of shared resources, software, and information as a service over the Internet.

The difference has a lot to do with the selection of cloud services and the inspection policies used, she said.

The disparity, she said, arises not from how pervasive cloud computing is in these geographies, but from the organizations’ vetting process.

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Only 41 per cent of North American firms — compared with 60 per cent of European firms — said they do not use cloud computing apps unless these are “thoroughly vetted for security risks”.

Around 36 per cent of the U.S. firms compared to 57 per cent of European firms said they conduct audits of cloud computing resources before deployment.

There was a significant concern, across industries, about maintaining important data and business processes in the cloud.

Many respondents believed cloud storage was too risky for certain types of data — such as financial information and intellectual property (68 per cent); health records (55 per cent) and credit card information (43 per cent).

A mere 14 per cent said cloud computing would actually improve their company’s security status.

Opportunity rather than barrier

At first glance, the results could be taken to mean that security is a barrier to cloud computing adoption.

However Liberti looks at it differently.

“I think cloud service providers should view security as a key product differentiator,” she said.

For example, she said, users on both sides of the pond, share a degree wariness about cloud computing security measures.

“In both continents, nearly half the respondents don’t believe adequate security features are embedded in cloud services.”

Security was near the bottom of the list of key drivers for cloud adoption.

The top six reasons for adoption in both continents were: Cost reduction; faster services deployment times; increased efficiency; increased flexibility and choice; improved security; and, improved customer service.

The emergence of cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) technologies has made it possible for many small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) to compete with larger companies, according to one Canadian technology expert.

Several offerings today promise to remove overly complex setups and maintenance, while providing all the features of high-grade hardware, said Dominira Saul is the Director of User Experience Design for design firm Akendi in Ottawa.

“And they do so at the fraction of the cost.”

With virtual services such my1voice, Google Voice and VirtualPBX ibn the market, it is possible for a smaller firm to deploy managed IP-base PBX products tailored to their needs and budget, he said.

Software-as-a-service and the move to predictable monthly cloud service fees are also doing away with the need for large capital outlays, said Siamak Farah, founder and CEO of InfoStreet, a provider of IT and productivity products.

“The most significant item in any IT budget is the cost of hardware or servers. SaaS is enabling many small companies to ditch their servers,” he said.

Liberti of CA said companies contemplating a move to cloud services focus on two key factors:

Apps selection

Determine what applications should be moved to the cloud. Assess the operational and strategic value of the move. Then, make sure adequate security policies are developed and enforced. Verify that your cloud provider can meet your operational and security needs.

Data in the cloud

How sensitive is the data you’re putting into the cloud? Make sure there’s a clear agreement between concerned parties about how the data will be handled, said Liberti.

“Three decades ago, we use to think that the mainframe was the most secure platform,” she recalled. “There were a lot of rumblings when data was transferred to a distributed environment. We’re hearing the same rumblings now about cloud computing.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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