Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Kevin Jackson, Jose Diaz, Dana Gardner, Yakov Fain, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Server Monitoring, @CloudExpo

Server Monitoring: Article

Data Danger Lurking in Public Cloud Contracts

Providers Protect Themselves - Your Data, Not So Much

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.

Data Integrity

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.

Data Preservation

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.

Data Disclosure

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.

More Stories By Tim Negris

Tim Negris is SVP, Marketing & Sales at Yottamine Analytics, a pioneering Big Data machine learning software company. He occasionally authors software industry news analysis and insights on Ulitzer.com, is a 25-year technology industry veteran with expertise in software development, database, networking, social media, cloud computing, mobile apps, analytics, and other enabling technologies.

He is recognized for ability to rapidly translate complex technical information and concepts into compelling, actionable knowledge. He is also widely credited with coining the term and co-developing the concept of the “Thin Client” computing model while working for Larry Ellison in the early days of Oracle.

Tim has also held a variety of executive and consulting roles in a numerous start-ups, and several established companies, including Sybase, Oracle, HP, Dell, and IBM. He is a frequent contributor to a number of publications and sites, focusing on technologies and their applications, and has written a number of advanced software applications for social media, video streaming, and music education.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu, a leading provider of cloud hosting solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to foc...
Many private cloud projects were built to deliver self-service access to development and test resources. While those clouds delivered faster access to resources, they lacked visibility, control and security needed for production deployments. In their session at 18th Cloud Expo, Steve Anderson, Product Manager at BMC Software, and Rick Lefort, Principal Technical Marketing Consultant at BMC Software, will discuss how a cloud designed for production operations not only helps accelerate developer...
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
Redis is not only the fastest database, but it has become the most popular among the new wave of applications running in containers. Redis speeds up just about every data interaction between your users or operational systems. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Dave Nielsen, Developer Relations at Redis Labs, will shares the functions and data structures used to solve everyday use cases that are driving Redis' popularity.
Increasing IoT connectivity is forcing enterprises to find elegant solutions to organize and visualize all incoming data from these connected devices with re-configurable dashboard widgets to effectively allow rapid decision-making for everything from immediate actions in tactical situations to strategic analysis and reporting. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Shikhir Singh, Senior Developer Relations Manager at Sencha, will discuss how to create HTML5 dashboards that interact with IoT devic...
There is an ever-growing explosion of new devices that are connected to the Internet using “cloud” solutions. This rapid growth is creating a massive new demand for efficient access to data. And it’s not just about connecting to that data anymore. This new demand is bringing new issues and challenges and it is important for companies to scale for the coming growth. And with that scaling comes the need for greater security, gathering and data analysis, storage, connectivity and, of course, the...
Peak 10, Inc., has announced the implementation of IT service management, a business process alignment initiative based on the widely adopted Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework. The implementation of IT service management enhances Peak 10’s current service-minded approach to IT delivery by propelling the company to deliver higher levels of personalized and prompt service. The majority of Peak 10’s operations employees have been trained and certified in the ITIL frame...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
SYS-CON Events announced today TMCnet has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC) is the world's leading business-to-business and integrated marketing media company, servicing niche markets within the com...
Between the mockups and specs produced by analysts, and resulting applications built by developers, there exists a gulf where projects fail, costs spiral, and applications disappoint. Methodologies like Agile attempt to address this with intensified communication, with partial success but many limitations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Charles Kendrick, CTO & Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, will present a revolutionary model enabled by new technologies. Learn how business and devel...
If there is anything we have learned by now, is that every business paves their own unique path for releasing software- every pipeline, implementation and practices are a bit different, and DevOps comes in all shapes and sizes. Software delivery practices are often comprised of set of several complementing (or even competing) methodologies – such as leveraging Agile, DevOps and even a mix of ITIL, to create the combination that’s most suitable for your organization and that maximize your busines...
Struggling to keep up with increasing application demand? Learn how Platform as a Service (PaaS) can streamline application development processes and make resource management easy.
New Relic, Inc. has announced a set of new features across the New Relic Software Analytics Cloud that offer IT operations teams increased visibility, and the ability to diagnose and resolve performance problems quickly. The new features further IT operations teams’ ability to leverage data and analytics, as well as drive collaboration and a common, shared understanding between teams. Software teams are under pressure to resolve performance issues quickly and improve availability, as the comple...
The IoT has the potential to create a renaissance of manufacturing in the US and elsewhere. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Florent Solt, CTO and chief architect of Netvibes, will discuss how the expected exponential increase in the amount of data that will be processed, transported, stored, and accessed means there will be a huge demand for smart technologies to deliver it. Florent Solt is the CTO and chief architect of Netvibes. Prior to joining Netvibes in 2007, he co-founded Rift Technol...
Join IBM June 8 at 18th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn how to innovate like a startup and scale for the enterprise. You need to deliver quality applications faster and cheaper, attract and retain customers with an engaging experience across devices, and seamlessly integrate your enterprise systems. And you can't take 12 months to do it.
This is not a small hotel event. It is also not a big vendor party where politicians and entertainers are more important than real content. This is Cloud Expo, the world's longest-running conference and exhibition focused on Cloud Computing and all that it entails. If you want serious presentations and valuable insight about Cloud Computing for three straight days, then register now for Cloud Expo.
Based on the open source Cloud Foundry technology, IBM Bluemix is an open-standard, cloud-based platform for building, managing, and running applications of all types such as web, mobile, Big Data, and new smart devices. Bluemix abstracts and hides most of the complexities that are associated with hosting and managing cloud-based applications. As an application developer, you can focus on developing your application without having to manage the infrastructure that is required to host it. For mob...
The proper isolation of resources is essential for multi-tenant environments. The traditional approach to isolate resources is, however, rather heavyweight. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Igor Drobiazko, co-founder of elastic.io, will draw upon their own experience with operating a Docker container-based infrastructure on a large scale and present a lightweight solution for resource isolation using microservices. He will also discuss the implementation of microservices in data and applicat...
As you respond to increasing requests for new analytics, you need fast and flexible technology in your arsenal so that you can deploy the right workload to the right platform for the need at hand. Do you need self-service and fast time to value? Do you have data and application control and privacy needs, along with strict SLAs to meet? IBM dashDB™ is data warehouse technology powered by in-memory computing and in-database analytics that are designed for fast results, scalability and more.
Machine Learning helps make complex systems more efficient. By applying advanced Machine Learning techniques such as Cognitive Fingerprinting, wind project operators can utilize these tools to learn from collected data, detect regular patterns, and optimize their own operations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Stuart Gillen, Director of Business Development at SparkCognition, will discuss how research has demonstrated the value of Machine Learning in delivering next generation analytics to im...