11 Feb 2016
Data Security Remains a Bar to Cloud Migration for Many Companies
While start-ups and smaller businesses have been quick to grasp the opportunities and savings offered by cloud migration, many companies are still hugely reluctant to share highly sensitive commercial data with third parties.
Cloud computing – the outsourcing of server capacity, 'virtual' PCs and software accessed via the web – is gaining in popularity, according to the IT professionals gathered at London Olympia's Cloud World Forum. Despite lingering doubts over data security, as well as concerns as to the cost of 'migration' from an in-house IT infrastructure, increasing numbers of organisations are bowing to the inevitable and 'going cloud', although not without expressing a number of reservations.
The benefits of cloud computing are clear: reduced capital expenditure, as well as an enviable flexibility to up and downscale capacity as and when needed. Some types of organisation have been quicker to adopt the cloud than others, however. Highlighting the appeal in certain sectors, Gordon Davey, Cloud Strategy Lead for Dell UK, said: "Small businesses and start-ups are going straight to cloud and you can understand why – the low capital costs make perfect sense for new ventures.
"We've seen that factor work its way up the stack, with the smaller, mid-size companies adopting cloud at a more rapid pace than the larger, slower-moving businesses. Perhaps inevitably, then, the public sector has been the slowest in the UK when it comes to making such a move."
Even different business sectors have demonstrated a considerable variation in their willingness to adopt cloud protocols. Adam Watkins, Europe, Middle East and Africa Sales Manager for Okta, a California-based cloud identity control and security software company, believes only certain types of businesses are currently willing to give the cloud a go. He said: "Firstly, there are the technology companies, people like Adobe, who are moving all of their products to cloud.
"We also see a lot of media companies moving to the cloud, largely because of the nature of their business. They are not necessarily office-based. In fact, they're attending meetings around the world, creating content and collaborating with a variety of people. They need the cloud model to give them global flexibility."
Indeed, speed and flexibility are the key benefits that attract many organisations to the cloud. Emphasising this, Patrick Guay, Sales and Marketing Vice-president for Stratoscale, a Massachusetts-based data centre operating systems company, said: "For our target customer, it's about the speed of provisioning new services, either within their own environment or for their customers. Thankfully, in a matter of seconds, we can have hundreds of thousands of virtual machines on our platform."
David Dyckman, Customer Success Manager for Tel Aviv-based Cloudyn, a cloud monitoring and optimisation company, took a similar view, saying: "In general, it's cheaper than having your own solution. The biggest benefit, though, is flexibility. You don't have to commit – you can scale up and scale down."
Although much of the exhibition space was taken up by cloud specialists, many with little brand awareness beyond the business-to-business computing niche, a number of big-name IT hardware manufacturers were also on hand. The very fact that IBM, Dell, and Fujitsu were promoting their own cloud offerings is the clearest indication to date as to how seriously this sector is now being taken.
Far from seeing the move from in-house computing resources to outsourced cloud providers as a threat to hardware makers, there was very much an emphasis on the opportunity now on offer to existing computer specialists. Cloud computing, after all, still requires hardware, with the difference being that cloud providers and data centres are now buying more and end-users are buying less.
Andrew Fuller, representing Fujitsu's Business and Application Service Division, which recently acquired the RunMyProcess cloud platform, sees the cloud as a key means of reaching more customers. He said: "The traditional IT market has evolved. It's super-scalable, so it doesn't matter how big customers are. Equally, we can just as easily meet the demands of the smaller customers. It's actually extended the range of customers that we can service."
John Easton, IBM's Technical Leader for Cloud, though, sees a divergence of attitudes towards cloud emerging among big corporate clients. He said: "Larger clients looking at adopting cloud fall into one of two categories. One is more akin to outsourcing – an 'I don't want to own any of this IT problem anymore, can you come and take it off our hands' sort of approach.
"Then you get the other set, more of a workload-to-type model. Here, there might be a specific project in mind or a particular service required in order to break into a new market or try out something different."
While many companies are moving to cloud computing, there are still some that are reluctant. Frequently, this latter group is put off by a number of supposed disadvantages, whether actual or merely perceived. Mike Howse, Vice-president of International Sales for Apica, the Swedish cloud applications performance testing and optimisation company, said: "Maybe it's not right for everybody. A lot of people, though, actually end up with some kind of hybrid solution.
"People are very worried about security and they want to keep a certain part of their business under their direct control. There are, however, other areas that aren't deemed quite so sensitive."
Security was cited by many as a worry when it came to committing to the cloud, though others saw such concerns as entirely misplaced. Offering a degree of reassurance, Okta's Watkins said: "The trouble the Chief Information Officer has is, that while they want to go cloud, they also want to be secure. At the same time, they want their services to be easy for the user to access. What we provide is a compromise – a secure environment, but one easy for employees to make use of."
Over at Dell UK, Davey believes that some security worries are misplaced. He said: "Security is still up there at the top of the list. When we start to break down what that actually means, though, it becomes less of a barrier.
"It really is more about how a customer secures their data within the platform, rather than a concern about the platform itself. A bunch of unsecured machines in the public cloud will be a security problem in the same way that unsecured on-site machines could also compromise data. There's no real difference."
Another common worry about cloud is the actual migration process, the shifting from legacy in-house systems to outsourced servers. Picking up on this, IBM's Easton said: "Most companies have a workload that could be migrated to cloud. They probably also have a bunch of things that would be very difficult to move. If there is data that is financially or personally sensitive, that has more restrictions placed on it in terms of where it can be physically located."
Howse had a similar view, saying: "A lot of people think it will be easy – just forklift it into the cloud and everything will be fine. It's not quite that straightforward, though. Applications typically need some re-architecture. They don't necessarily scale in the same way."
Ben Foster, End User Account Manager for Intermedia, a California-based cloud-computing pioneer, sees another area of potential resistance among a number of clients considering a move to the cloud. He said: "The other conversation we have is with regards to control. If a company has an exchange on-site, for example, they can log into that exchange and they can patch it. In fact, they can do what they want, they can go and turn it off at the switch if they need to. When they move to a cloud solution, though, their biggest worry is losing that control."
Cloud World Forum 2015 was held at London Olympia. The event featured more than 100 IT exhibitors from the UK and around the world.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, London