IT security headlines are often filled with news about the latest catastrophic data breach or malicious privacy violation. That heightened sensitivity to the potential risks of an IT security incident has had a significant impact on cloud technology, as many company leaders decide to keep their assets closer to home rather than entrust data to the virtual cloud. There is still a little trepidation over how well cloud vendors can protect enterprise information and maintain privacy, but there has also been some good news on the IT security front: a large majority of companies that have adopted the cloud are satisfied with the level of security they've achieved.
Cloud security in the SMB market
Small and medium-sized businesses are likely becoming more aware of their potential data breach risk, with 55 percent of SMBs experiencing one in 2012. When it comes to leveraging cloud technology, decision makers in smaller organizations share some of the same data security concerns as those in large enterprises. Recent research from Microsoft outlined the extent to which these perceptions exist:
- 60 percent of non-adopters worry about data security
- 45 percent are concerned with a lack of control
- 42 percent worried that the cloud may be unreliable
These perspectives are vastly different from the experiences of SMBs that have implemented the technology, with 94 percent of adopters saying their security environments actually improved following deployment. Respondents said that cloud-based applications were updated more frequently and were protected by more robust security tools than their on-premise systems.
One of the critical advantages for SMBs is the ability to access a wider pool of expertise. For instance, leveraging a cloud-based B2B integration solution would allow the IT partner to handle many of the technical aspects of the integration process. Seventy percent of survey respondents said shifting some of the IT burden to their cloud providers resulted in cost savings in product development, while allowing more room for expansion and innovation.
"Quite simply, the move to the cloud saved us money and freed up time to help us focus on what matters most - serving our members," said Matt McCombs, president and chief operating officer, DHCU Community Credit Union.
Majority of cloud deployments exceed expectations
The findings of the Microsoft survey are similar to research conducted earlier this year by Vanson Bourne and Luth Research. Analysts found that most companies were satisfied with their cloud implementations, with 98 percent of adopters saying the technology met or exceeded their security expectations. However, security still remains the primary reason that businesses do not migrate applications.
Despite the overarching positivity of both studies, it will be important for businesses to consider the cloud within the framework of a comprehensive IT strategy - one that accommodates data security needs as well as other critical cloud concerns. From a data security standpoint, IT leaders should ensure they have tools for maintaining visibility over data and a strategy for prioritizing its performance and security needs. For example, large-scale cloud deployments will likely necessitate a migration of information that is subject to compliance. This will inform the cloud provider vetting process, as business leaders will be able to evaluate vendors based on their understanding of regulations and industry best practices.
Shifting attention to other cloud issues
Once the concerns surrounding initial deployment are addressed, it is important to implement solutions to ensure that managing the technology does not become a burden. Management complexity is often considered to be a challenge for small businesses, but companies of all sizes would find diminished value in their investments without sufficient tools to keep track of them. Larger organizations can fall into the trap of cloud sprawl, in which they use many separate services. This makes it difficult to track where information is stored and is likely to unnecessarily raise the costs of cloud computing. Vanson Bourne's research identified several key technologies for mitigating this risk:
- End-to-end service automation
- Service-level management across cloud and on-premise systems
- The ability to migrate assets between cloud providers
Automation is a key attribute of the cloud, given its focus on self-service. streamlining IT provisioning and business processes reduces the risk of error from manual entry and will likely expedite the delivery of B2B services. In regard to service-level management, business leaders and IT departments must work together to implement meaningful SLAs for their organization, while technical teams will need to keep an eye on their cloud provider's promises and whether those SLAs are being met. Finally, interoperability has become a requirement to maintain agility. Companies should not only ensure they maintain ownership of their data and metadata within cloud environments, but that it is easy to migrate that information back out again if the business partnership is not meeting expectations.
Maximizing the benefit of the cloud requires a philosophy of continuous evaluation and improvement. The rapid rate of fluctuation in the market means that prices, providers' value propositions and the company's own objects are likely to shift quickly. As a result, it is necessary to create an IT strategy that includes room for the regular use of strategies such as gap analysis to measure actual performance against business needs.
One of the biggest benefits of cloud technology is that is gives small and mid-market business access to scalable solutions and technology that was previously only accessible by huge enterprises with large IT budgets.
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