Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Cliff Beek, Yeshim Deniz

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 Twistlock, the leading provider of cloud container security solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Twistlock is the industry's first enterprise security suite for container security. Twistlock's technology addresses risks on the host and within the application of the container, enabling enterprises to consistently enforce security policies, monitor...
Automation is enabling enterprises to design, deploy, and manage more complex, hybrid cloud environments. Yet the people who manage these environments must be trained in and understanding these environments better than ever before. A new era of analytics and cognitive computing is adding intelligence, but also more complexity, to these cloud environments. How smart is your cloud? How smart should it be? In this power panel at 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, pane...
Blockchain is a shared, secure record of exchange that establishes trust, accountability and transparency across supply chain networks. Supported by the Linux Foundation's open source, open-standards based Hyperledger Project, Blockchain has the potential to improve regulatory compliance, reduce cost and time for product recall as well as advance trade. Are you curious about Blockchain and how it can provide you with new opportunities for innovation and growth? In her session at 20th Cloud Exp...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Most Influential ‘Smart Cities - IIoT' Account and @BigDataExpo has been named fourteenth by Right Relevance (RR), which provides curated information and intelligence on approximately 50,000 topics. In addition, Right Relevance provides an Insights offering that combines the above Topics and Influencers information with real time conversations to provide actionable intelligence with visualizations to enable decision making. The Insights service is applicable to eve...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Hitachi, the leading provider the Internet of Things and Digital Transformation, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Hitachi Data Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd., offers an integrated portfolio of services and solutions that enable digital transformation through enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics. We help globa...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR), an industry leader in automated, scalable and secure networks, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Juniper Networks challenges the status quo with products, solutions and services that transform the economics of networking. The company co-innovates with customers and partners to deliver automated, scalable and secure network...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place in November in Silicon Valley, California.
Developers want to create better apps faster. Static clouds are giving way to scalable systems, with dynamic resource allocation and application monitoring. You won't hear that chant from users on any picket line, but helping developers to create better apps faster is the mission of Lee Atchison, principal cloud architect and advocate at New Relic Inc., based in San Francisco. His singular job is to understand and drive the industry in the areas of cloud architecture, microservices, scalability ...
Back in February of 2017, Andrew Clay Schafer of Pivotal tweeted the following: “seriously tho, the whole software industry is stuck on deployment when we desperately need architecture and telemetry.” Intrigue in a 140 characters. For me, I hear Andrew saying, “we’re jumping to step 5 before we’ve successfully completed steps 1-4.”
@DevOpsSummit has been named the ‘Top DevOps Influencer' by iTrend. iTred processes millions of conversations, tweets, interactions, news articles, press releases, blog posts - and extract meaning form them and analyzes mobile and desktop software platforms used to communicate, various metadata (such as geo location), and automation tools. In overall placement, @DevOpsSummit ranked as the number one ‘DevOps Influencer' followed by @CloudExpo at third, and @MicroservicesE at 24th.
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
As pervasive as cloud technology is -- and as persuasive as the arguments are for using it -- the cloud has its limits. Some companies will always have security concerns about storing data in the cloud and certain high-transaction applications will always be better suited for on-premises storage. Those statements were among the bottom-line takeaways delivered at Cloud Expo this week, a three day, bi-annual event focused on cloud technologies, adoption and associated challenges.
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will look at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deli...
Quickly find the root cause of complex database problems slowing down your applications. Up to 88% of all application performance issues are related to the database. DPA’s unique response time analysis shows you exactly what needs fixing - in four clicks or less. Optimize performance anywhere. Database Performance Analyzer monitors on-premises, on VMware®, and in the Cloud, including Amazon® AWS and Azure™ virtual machines.
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in compute, storage and networking technologies, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...