What is the greatest security risk to your cloud computing strategy?
Ability to enforce provider security policies: 23%
Inadequate training and IT auditing: 22%
Access control at provider site: 14%
Ability to recover data: 12%
Ability to audit provider: 11%
Proximity of company data to someone else's: 10%
Continued existence of provider: 4%
Provider regulatory compliance: 4%
Security may well have improved for some, but experts like Chris Hoff, director of cloud and virtualization solutions at Cisco Systems, believe that both consumers and providers need to ensure they understand the risks associated with the technical, operational and organizational changes these technologies bring to bear.
"When you look at how people think of virtualization and what it means, the definition of virtualization is either very narrow--that it's about server consolidation, virtualizing your applications and operating systems, and consolidating everything down to fewer physical boxes--or it's about any number of other elements: client-side desktops, storage, networks, security," he says. "Then you add to the confusion with the concept of cloud computing, which is being pushed by Microsoft and a number of smaller, emerging companies. You're left scratching your head wondering what this means to you as a company. How does it impact your infrastructure?"
Fortunately, there's some evidence of companies proceeding with caution. One example is Atmos Energy, which is using Salesforce.com to speed its response time to customers and help the marketing department manage a growing pool of clients, according to CIO Rich Gius.
The endeavor is successful thus far, so Gius is investigating the viability of running company e-mail in the cloud. "It would help us address the growing challenge where e-mail-enabled mobile devices like BlackBerrys are proliferating widely among the workforce," he says. But he's not ready to take such a big step because the risks, including security, remain hard to pin down. One example of the disruption that cloud-dependent companies can experience came in May, when search giant Google--whose content accounts for 5 percent of all Internet traffic--suffered a massive outage. When it went down, many companies that have come to rely on its cloud-based business applications (such as e-mail) were dead in the water.