In a world of constant technical innovation, sometimes businesses implement new technologies and end up experiencing unexpected consequences. And one of the most popular new technologies today is the cloud. By now most businesses have heard all about the tremendous benefits the cloud has to offer - lower capital outlay and predictable ongoing expenses, significant flexibility, and low IT manpower requirements, to name a few. The cloud even makes it easier to recover from disaster. Given all these advantages, it's unsurprising that we're seeing a continual increase in cloud popularity - more than nine in ten organizations are discussing or already implementing the cloud in some form. In order to understand not just the benefits of cloud, but also the challenges organizations are experiencing through their deployment, Symantec launched a global survey of more than 3,000 businesses. The results show several common costs that businesses may be overlooking in their haste to take advantage of the cloud's benefits.
The first cost uncovered by the survey is that of rogue clouds, or cloud initiatives that are pursued without proper organization approval. Because of the ease with which cloud projects can be deployed, this is likely to be an ongoing problem in many organizations. Examples of this include unauthorized use of file sharing services such as Dropbox or use of cloud-based customer relationship management software. These situations can place confidential information such as customer contact details and intellectual property onto the cloud without IT awareness, resulting in increased risk of exposure.
The survey showed that this is a common problem, reported by three-quarters of all organizations, with a higher prevalence among enterprises than SMBs. The results of such rogue cloud projects were not limited to confidential information exposure, although that was experienced by 40 percent of those reporting rogue clouds. They also experienced other challenges such as account takeover issues, stolen goods and services, and defacement of Web properties.
Given these costs, the question is why employees would take this risk. Surprisingly, about 20 percent simply don't know any better; they don't realize they shouldn't. But most of the time, they find it too time-consuming or expensive to go through the proper channels. They simply find it easier to avoid going through IT.
Backup and Recovery in the Cloud
Storage is one of the most useful services the cloud has to offer - inexpensive and easy to provision. The downside of mixing traditional and cloud-based storage, however, is that it adds complexity to the backup and recovery process. This is evidenced by the number of backup solutions used by businesses today. Two-thirds of enterprises, and half of SMBs, are using three or more solutions to back up their data. This is a challenge with cloud technology still maturing; more than 40 percent of businesses have had to restore information from backups after losing it in the cloud. Of these, two-thirds have also experienced at least one incident of failed recovery.
In addition to actual failure of recovery operations, slow recovery is a concern in the cloud. Only one-third of businesses feel that cloud data recovery is fast. In fact, more than 20 percent reported that it would take them three days or longer to recover all their information from the cloud, which could be disastrous.
A related storage issue is efficiency. The strength of cloud storage is how easy it is to provision - when more is needed, a few clicks of the mouse will deliver extra capacity. The surprising finding of the survey, however, is that storage utilization (actual usage of the capacity that is provisioned) is low. Businesses are only utilizing 17 percent of what they are paying for, which may indicate a mindset left over from physical storage. This means that, on average, organizations are paying for roughly six times as much storage as they are actually using. And this situation is further illuminated by the fact that half of businesses report little or no deduplication of cloud data. Enterprises, specifically, are using 26 percent of their storage, whereas for SMBs this drops to an extremely low 7 percent. With IT often struggling to do more with fewer resources, this represents an area where costs could be trimmed without sacrificing performance.
One limitation of cloud storage comes in tiering the data, or moving less important files to less expensive, slower storage in order to save money. This is relatively simple with traditional storage, but businesses report that it's more of a challenge in the cloud. Roughly a third of organizations feel that moving files within the cloud environment is cumbersome.
eDiscovery and Compliance
One issue that often gets put on the back burner of companies is compliance. With a variety of day-to-day issues to handle, there is often little or no time for strategic initiatives or long-term planning in IT today. Compliance is a real concern, however, as 23 percent of businesses can attest to. That is the proportion of organizations that have been fined within the last 12 months for privacy violations in the cloud. They are aware of this need, however. Approximately half of organizations are concerned about meeting compliance requirements related to the cloud, and even more are concerned with proving that compliance.
eDiscovery requests for information stored in the cloud are also becoming more common. One-third of organizations have had these requests within the last 12 months. Unfortunately, two-thirds of those requests have been met with missed deadlines, and nearly half (41 percent) have resulted in the inability to find the information at all.
With more business functions relying on the Web, SSL certificates are also an area of concern in the cloud. Proving security of websites and applications is a vital part of a healthy business, but only 27 percent of organizations feel that it's easy. Adding a third party such as a cloud provider is also making it more challenging - only 40 percent of businesses feel confident that their cloud partners' certificates comply with their own internal standards.
Avoiding These Costs
There's no doubt that adopting the cloud is beneficial; adopting it intelligently, however, is even better. The key to avoiding the cloud's hidden costs is to focus efforts on the information that needs protection, and the people within the organization that have access to it.
- Create policies such as limiting cloud deployments to approved projects, and designating where sensitive information may be stored.
- Educate employees on these policies, and enforce them. With policies in place, technology can be used to complement them. Platform-agnostic tools deliver the greatest degree of flexibility, whether working with physical, virtual or cloud resources.
- Get the most out of your cloud deployments by deduplicating the information they store in the cloud.
By taking these steps, the cloud can deliver all of its benefits while minimizing the pains.