Cloud Computing is a hot topic of discussions in every technology forums.  Enterprises are implementing, Businesses are planning and Governments are practicing. Vivek Kundra – CIO of the United States (2009-2011) during his Dell World 2011 keynote address said that “The federal government’s shift in strategy to the cloud saves taxpayers $5 billion annually at this time.”   Having said that there are “10” typical challenges to the Cloud computing that every business must answers when moving towards Cloud environment.

1. Data Location:

  • The question is where is your data stored and who could access the data ?  Is it in the jurisdiction of a country where government can access data?
  • Check what does your local legislation stipulate about moving your data on cloud ?  EU data protection directive states that privacy sensitive data should always be located within the European Union.
  • Are there any incidences wherein political or geo-political frictions can compromise your data integrity ? For example a secret court order mandated Google and Sonic reveal WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Applebaum’s Gmail contact list from the last two years.

2. Data Segregation: How is your data segregated from others data?  What happens when others data corrupts the server?

3.  Regulatory Compliance: Customers are ultimately responsible for the security and compliance with regulatory laws (e.g., SOX, HIPAA etc) of their own applications that are hosted in cloud. All departments of your organization must be involved when going towards cloud and explore what is the local regulations stipulated for moving your data on the cloud and the cloud service provider complies with the legislation of the customer’s country.

  • Lesson: Must explore that your service provider is aware of the regulatory compliance and practice. Track your local regulatory compliance because they keep changing.

4. Data Recovery: Find out how the data will be recovered in case of systems shut down or any catastrophe.  Or what are the business continuity plans in case of an eventuality.   Most of the time service provider does not tell you where the data reside due to multiple data center, but they must tell you how the data will be recovered or what if you decide to change the service provider.

  • Some 150,000 Gmail users logged in to their precious account only to see a blank slate. Thankfully Google was able to revert beyond its failed multi-layered backup strategy and reach back to archaic backup tapes-yup tapes.
  • Microsoft’s Hotmail experienced database errors at the end of 2010 – the result: Thousands – 17,000 users to be exact – of empty email inboxes entering 2011. Fixing things up lasted for 3 days but not all users will have their account restored – the other 8 percent of users have to wait for 3 days more.

5. Data Access: How can you control the access to applications and your data.  A clear strategy must be laid down by the service provider and agreed by the customers.  Is it based on license, site and how secured is it? What has service provider done to provide secured access to your data ?

6. Business Viability: What happens if the service provider goes bankrupt or the businesses are bought over by another business? Have a clear exit policy.

7. Contract Termination: If you need to know what happens to your data once the contract is terminated and what are the risks involved in data migration at the time of entering into the contract.

  • Does the service provider have any provision regarding data transfer?
  • For how long do they store user’s data after termination of contract?
  • Is your data protected after termination of contract?
  • Is the service provider liable for any loss of data?

Systems Breakdown:

  • When Amazon Web Services, the online retailer’s cloud computing arm, went dark, along it took down  HootSuiteReddit and Foursquare, among others.
  • Salesforce’s hour-long outage outraged tens of thousands of businesses. This was a serious blow to cloud computing from one of the first cloud computing giants.
  • A network update started off series of events that disrupt services to the Amazon cloud clients for four days. You can learn about the details of the outage from Amazon’s explanation below.
  • Caveat: When choosing a cloud provider, you need to know whether it can offer you better backup via redundancy than yourself. If it’s not better, then why bother signing up with the provider?

9. Bandwidth: Bandwidth is another challenge in some countries that limits business response to public cloud.  Hence estimate; is the bandwidth sufficient to address the services?

10. Security: Another important questions that comes to mind is how secured is your connectivity and what are the recommended options provided by the services provider to secure the pipe.  Do they care to provide the security consultancy and peace of mind; because you need peace of mind to focus on your core business activity?

You must understand that cloud computing is rapidly evolving; so expect hiccups to happen along the way. Be sure you have a way or two as your safety net – something that can help you thrive when your chosen cloud services go wrong.