|By Tim Negris||
|November 30, 2010 07:00 AM EST||
Last month, in an article titled, Tiny Company Solves Giant Problem in Cloud-Based Document Management, I wrote about CloudPointe and their unique approach to addressing the perils of cloud-based document management. I looked at how nearly all cloud services that handle documents, media files, and other forms of data suffer from a common weakness: they force customers to entrust their data assets to the cloud service provider and in so doing take on several big, largely unacknowledged risks.
If my article were not enough to draw sufficient attention to this issue, there is an exhaustive new study out that should give enormous pause to organizations considering or already using public cloud services, especially for storing data and documents. The research was conducted by The Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary, University of London and it examines the "Ts&Cs" in the service agreements from a who's who of cloud service providers, from Akamai to Zoho.
The survey covers many different aspects of the agreements, including things like jurisdiction, fair use, arbitration, etc., and it finds many troubling details and patterns that lead the authors to conclude:
"The main lesson to be drawn from the Cloud Legal Project's survey is that customers should review the Terms and Conditions of a Cloud service carefully before signing up to it."
Even after signing cloud services agreements, though, the survey shows that, to be as safe as possible, customers should review them again and again. In the words of one of the researchers,
"Perhaps the most disconcerting discovery of the Cloud Legal Project's survey was that many Cloud providers claimed to be able to amend their contracts unilaterally, simply by posting an updated version on the web. In effect, customers are put on notice to download lengthy and complex contracts, on a regular basis, and to compare them against their own copies of earlier versions to look for changes."
Yikes! That makes those slippery packaged software EULAs from pre-cloud days seem like a blood oath by comparison.
Not surprisingly, the survey devotes the most attention to clauses governing data integrity, preservation, disclosure, and location/transfer, and what it finds there is pretty ugly too.
After acknowledging the natural customer concerns that data placed in a provider's cloud be kept secure against loss, corruption, theft, and unauthorized disclosure, the research report says,
"Our survey found however that most providers not only avoided giving undertakings in respect of data integrity but actually disclaimed liability for it.
"The majority of providers surveyed expressly include terms in their T&C making it clear that ultimate responsibility for preserving the confidentiality and integrity of the data lies with the customer."
Most of the providers' agreements explicitly counsel customers to encrypt their data and to make separate backup arrangements - even in some cases where the service is backup!
To give credit where it is due, though, in this and a number of the research's other dire findings, Salesforce CRM stands out as a paragon of virtue. As with only a few other vendors, it's contract acknowledges the company's responsibility in safeguarding customers' data.
When a company or consumer entrusts its data to a cloud service they should consider provision in the agreement governing what happens to it in the event the contract is terminated. Can they easily retrieve and transfer the data and will it then be fully deleted from the provider's infrastructure?
The survey shows that most providers fall into one of three categories in this regard.
The providers in one group assert that they will preserve customer data for a set period of time, ranging from 30 days to 3, after the customer terminates their contract. During this grace period, sometimes for an extra charge, the customer can access and off-load the data and at its end the data will be deleted.
The second group of providers asserts that customer data will be deleted immediately when the agreement is terminated. Apple's MobileMe service is in this category and its service agreement dryly states,
"Upon termination of your account you lose all access to the Service and any portions thereof, including, but not limited to, your Member Account (any Subaccounts thereunder), Subscriber ID, email account, iDisk, domains, iChat account and MobileMe Gallery albums. In addition, Apple shall delete all information and data stored in or as a part of your account(s) including, but not limited to, data files, email, albums and preferences."
The survey authors rightly point out how this begs the question of what happens in the event that a court later finds that they termination of the contract was ineffective. They conclude that the service providers in this group may be opening themselves up to civil or criminal liability in some jurisdictions.
Providers in the third group blend conditions found in the first two, acknowledging no obligation to preserve data after a contract has been terminated but also allowing, at their own discretion, an access grace period and/or taking no steps to delete the data at any particular time.
In many cases, though, while providers may not assure that they will keep the data for a grace period or longer, they also do not assure that the data will in fact be deleted, after the grace period or otherwise.
This means that, unless the customer explicitly deletes it after offloading a copy, it may remain in the provider's storage infrastructure for who knows how long. And, for that matter, given the various kinds of redundancy built into many clouds, even if the customer deletes, it that may not mean that it is really gone.
Regarding the potential disclosure of customer data to third parties as in the event of a court order or request from law enforcement officials, the survey found the providers to be all over the place. They ranged from doing it without notice at their own discretion at one extreme to giving warning or seeking approval at the other.
For example, the now-defunct G.ho.st service stated that it would disclose customer information if it believed that it would protect its own interest by doing so, and the still-in-business ADrive puts it this way:
"You authorize ADrive to disclose any information about You to law enforcement or other government officials as ADrive, in its sole discretion, believes necessary, prudent or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose ADrive to legal liability."
At the other extreme is Salesforce CRM, once again taking the high road. They assure that, unless it is legally prohibited, the customer will be given advance notice of any requested disclosure, and that Saleforce will also assist the customer in opposing such orders. Now, that's what I call "customer advocacy"!
Data Location / Transfer
Many cloud service providers employ multiple, sometimes numerous data centers in different geographic locations to serve their customers. This has led to a variety of legal concerns about customers' data being stored or processed in and across potentially unknown or unregulated jurisdictions.
The EU Data Protection regime does provide strong measures to keep cloud-based data within Europe and certain data, like personal information, within specific countries. But, even in the EU, in-flight data is still at some risk. And, in the US, where the "long-arm" statutes are considerably looser, and in other places, where there are few or no laws as all to govern where and how data is kept and protected, all bets are off.
So, all in all, concerns about privacy and security in relation to data location and transfer are manifest and important to customers, leading the researchers to observe,
"Perhaps surprisingly, given the prominence often attached to these issues, few of the providers surveyed actually undertake to store data in a particular location or zone. [...] Indeed, for the 31 sets of T&C reviewed, 15 made no mention of data location or transit protection whatsoever."
The findings of the research concerning data transfer were similar to those for data location. After acknowledging the international nature of cloud computing and how it means that customer data will usually be transferred between different infrastructure segments over the internet, the report observes,
"Furthermore, if (as many larger Cloud providers do) the provider has multiple data centres, then, unless the provider has built or leased its own secure network and facilities, transfers between data centres may well also be over Internet connections. Several providers (for example, 37Signals, UKFast) caution in their T&C that customer data may be transferred unencrypted over inherently insecure networks in such a manner."
Losing My Religion
Cloud computing, especially public cloud computing, has many potential benefits but is not without its weaknesses; and, those weaknesses tend to fall into two categories.
There are issues that vendors and customers both readily acknowledge and are working hard to address. The need for better access security and more management automation fall into this category and will likely be fixed by incremental technical improvements and new products that address them.
Then, there are issues like the subject of this article. They are ones with little consensus, where most providers are either defiant or in denial, most customers are uninformed or un-empowered, and hardly anybody recognizes that the problem may stem from flawed fundamentals.
Most cloud service providers and most of their customers might find it patent heresy to question the soundness of the idea of putting data and documents into the cloud. After all, for many that is the very purpose of the cloud, full stop. If you take back the information assets and put them on a disk array that you own and control, what is left?
There is a lot left, actually. There is a processing and communications fabric to which most cloud benefits still accrue, and to a greater degree than they do for the comparative commodity of data storage.
The reason the data is in the cloud by default is not because that makes the most sense. It is because Fibre Channel, Infiniband, and other schemes for directly connecting disks to processors are way faster than those for connecting the nodes of a wide area network. If that were not true, would everyone still think that the data belongs in the cloud? I doubt it.
Vendor lock-in, regulatory compliance, privacy, and security are the greatest customer concerns about the public cloud and they are all made considerably worse by the requirement that information assets be placed in the cloud.
CloudPointe already makes a strong case for taking back the documents and files. WAN connection speeds and the way such information assets are used are both very amenable to sending them through the cloud but not keeping them there. It may just be a matter of time before improved connection speeds and more advanced distributed database technology allow the same possibilities for other kinds of data.
In high-production environments where release cycles are measured in hours or minutes — not days or weeks — there's little room for mistakes and no room for confusion. Everyone has to understand what's happening, in real time, and have the means to do whatever is necessary to keep applications up and running optimally. DevOps is a high-stakes world, but done well, it delivers the agility and performance to significantly impact business competitiveness.
Dec. 21, 2014 07:00 PM EST Reads: 878
"Our premise is Docker is not enough. That's not a bad thing - we actually love Docker. At ActiveState all our products are based on open source technology and Docker is an up-and-coming piece of open source technology," explained Bart Copeland, President & CEO of ActiveState Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 21, 2014 06:00 PM EST Reads: 2,032
ScriptRock makes GuardRail, a DevOps-ready platform for configuration monitoring. Realizing we were spending way too much time digging up, cataloguing, and tracking machine configurations, we began writing our own scripts and tools to handle what is normally an enormous chore. Then we took the concept a step further, giving it a beautiful interface and making it simple enough for our bosses to understand. We named it GuardRail after its function - to allow businesses to move fast and stay sa...
Dec. 21, 2014 02:30 PM EST Reads: 883
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover ...
Dec. 21, 2014 02:00 PM EST Reads: 2,378
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 21, 2014 01:00 PM EST Reads: 2,005
SYS-CON Media announced today that Sematext launched a popular blog feed on DevOps Journal with over 6,000 story reads over the weekend. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. DevOps Journal brings valuable information to DevOps professionals who are transforming the way enterprise IT is done. Sematext is a globally distributed organization that builds innovative Cloud and On Premises solutions for performance monitoring, alerting an...
Dec. 21, 2014 01:00 PM EST Reads: 852
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com...
Dec. 21, 2014 11:30 AM EST Reads: 2,422
Verizon Enterprise Solutions is simplifying the cloud-purchasing experience for its clients, with the launch of Verizon Cloud Marketplace, a key foundational component of the company's robust ecosystem of enterprise-class technologies. The online storefront will initially feature pre-built cloud-based services from AppDynamics, Hitachi Data Systems, Juniper Networks, PfSense and Tervela. Available globally to enterprises using Verizon Cloud, Verizon Cloud Marketplace provides a one-stop shop fo...
Dec. 21, 2014 11:00 AM EST Reads: 2,008
Leysin American School is an exclusive, private boarding school located in Leysin, Switzerland. Leysin selected an OpenStack-powered, private cloud as a service to manage multiple applications and provide development environments for students across the institution. Seeking to meet rigid data sovereignty and data integrity requirements while offering flexible, on-demand cloud resources to users, Leysin identified OpenStack as the clear choice to round out the school's cloud strategy. Additional...
Dec. 21, 2014 11:00 AM EST Reads: 1,987
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada...
Dec. 21, 2014 10:00 AM EST Reads: 2,161
The move in recent years to cloud computing services and architectures has added significant pace to the application development and deployment environment. When enterprise IT can spin up large computing instances in just minutes, developers can also design and deploy in small time frames that were unimaginable a few years ago. The consequent move toward lean, agile, and fast development leads to the need for the development and operations sides to work very closely together. Thus, DevOps become...
Dec. 21, 2014 10:00 AM EST Reads: 2,059
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, p...
Dec. 21, 2014 08:30 AM EST Reads: 2,289
SYS-CON Events announced today that AIC, a leading provider of OEM/ODM server and storage solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. AIC is a leading provider of both standard OTS, off-the-shelf, and OEM/ODM server and storage solutions. With expert in-house design capabilities, validation, manufacturing and production, AIC's broad selection of products are highly flexible and are conf...
Dec. 21, 2014 06:30 AM EST Reads: 1,996
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.
Dec. 20, 2014 11:00 PM EST Reads: 1,376
SYS-CON Events announced today Isomorphic Software, the global leader in high-end, web-based business applications, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Isomorphic Software is the global leader in high-end, web-based business applications. We develop, market, and support the SmartClient & Smart GWT HTML5/Ajax platform, combining the productivity and performance of traditional desktop software ...
Dec. 20, 2014 11:00 PM EST Reads: 1,302
AppZero has announced that its award-winning application migration software is now fully qualified within the Microsoft Azure Certified program. AppZero has undergone extensive technical evaluation with Microsoft Corp., earning its designation as Microsoft Azure Certified. As a result of AppZero's work with Microsoft, customers are able to easily find, purchase and deploy AppZero from the Azure Marketplace. With just a few clicks, users have an Azure-based solution for moving applications to the...
Dec. 20, 2014 09:00 AM EST Reads: 1,042
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 20, 2014 08:00 AM EST Reads: 1,389
The cloud is becoming the de-facto way for enterprises to leverage common infrastructure while innovating and one of the biggest obstacles facing public cloud computing is security. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Jeff Aliber, a global marketing executive at Verizon, discussed how the best place for web security is in the cloud. Benefits include: Functions as the first layer of defense Easy operation –CNAME change Implement an integrated solution Best architecture for addressing network-l...
Dec. 20, 2014 05:00 AM EST Reads: 1,360
“We help people build clusters, in the classical sense of the cluster. We help people put a full stack on top of every single one of those machines. We do the full bare metal install," explained Greg Bruno, Vice President of Engineering and co-founder of StackIQ, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 19, 2014 11:45 PM EST Reads: 1,375