Public cloud vs. internal social networks

By Stacy Collett, Computerworld |  Security, Facebook, privacy issues

Jaime Gesswein says it's his job to be paranoid.

So when doctors and staff at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, Va., began requesting access to YouTube to view medical videos and Facebook for monitoring patients' comments, Gesswein, who's in charge of network security, was more than a little skeptical.

"I can look at all the disadvantages," including overuse of bandwidth, security risks and patient privacy issues, Gesswein says. "But if [social networks] are providing [hospital employees] with the information they need to give better care, you have to figure out how to balance access to these sites." He now grants access to about two-dozen workers -- less than 1% of more than 2,500 IT-using employees -- through a proxy server.

What concerns him more is the recent discovery that a few employees -- without IT's involvement -- have been using social networking tools to communicate with other facilities, doctors and administrators to share medical information.

"If it were [solely] up to me, I would say no way," Gesswein says, noting that medical staffers are often more influential than the IT employees in a hospital setting. "But it's the wave of the future. Those people who fight it are fighting a losing battle."

It's a common dilemma facing many forward-thinking organizations. Social networking and microblogging are changing the way people communicate, and they're starting to bleed into the enterprise -- with or without the IT department's knowledge or control.

In a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. employees and executives by Deloitte LLP in April, some 23% of the executives polled said their companies use social networking as an internal communications tool. The report on social networking and reputation risk in the workplace also found that one-third of respondents were using social networking tools to manage and build their brands, and 22% of executives said they would like to use social networking tools at their companies but hadn't figured out how to do so.

Can you trust the public cloud with company information? Or are you ready to start using a customized internal social network controlled by the IT department? Users discuss the pros and cons of each option.

Public social networking

Public sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and others have infiltrated all facets of employees' lives. It's only natural that people are going to go with what they know when it comes to communicating with co-workers and clients. But public sites lack the security and controls that organizations require -- not to mention safeguards against the snooping eyes of competitors.

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