Up in the cloud

Cloud computing, cyber security and data protection: what you need to know. By Joseph Blass

By now most if not all of you will have heard of cloud computing (or ‘the cloud’) – and risks posed to computer users everywhere by cyber attacks, hacking, viruses and malware. You may also have been reading about a cyber security skills shortage and wondering how it might impact business. On top of those concerns is the perennial one of how to best protect data and information from loss or damage due to fire, flood, theft, human error and computer crashes.

Cloud computing has attractions to many organisation seeking to reduce costs, improve business flexibility and provide the best service across the organisation and supply chains and to the customer base. The cloud can be suitable for almost every business from a one person home based business up to a multinational conglomerate. However, the ideal cloud solution for a one-man operation, a 50-person business or a business employing 100,000 people will differ greatly. Tiny businesses might do well with nothing but an off-the-shelf Microsoft Office 365 package, while huge businesses will build their own cloud infrastructure. An interesting question arises around the SME (20 – 200 person) that needs a bespoke service but cannot justify building such a service themselves.

If an organisation wants its staff to work on any device (smartphone, tablet, thin client, laptop or desktop) at any time and anywhere in the UK or abroad and the organisation uses multiple applications and runs a database, a simple solution will not suffice. For such an organisation, the hosted desktops option of cloud computing is the route to take. That’s because the same familiar Windows ‘desktop’ is seen regardless of the device being used and is the gateway to employees’ work files and the applications they use.

Anytime, anywhere, with hosted desktops
With hosted desktops, staff work the way they did before the migration of their employer’s IT to the cloud happened. And they have the freedom to work wherever and whenever because hosted desktops use 4G/3G and broadband connections. Customers, supply chains and partners likewise benefit; customers because they can be serviced more effectively through the cloud approach, supply chains and partners because their IT can be integrated with a shared or private cloud.

What about cybercrime and data and information security?
Whether a company keeps its IT in-house, moves it to the cloud, or uses a hybrid solution, it will have to continue to take steps to minimise risks posed by cybercrime – and by possible loss of data and information by more conventional threats: fire, theft etc. A company keeping IT in-house or using cloud solutions can counter cybercrime through an array of tools and expertise, and by educating its employees about good cyber behaviour so that their web ‘surfing’ and email handling habits don’t create risks. To help keep on top of cybercrime, however, it may have to employ or bring in external specialists – and there is a shortage of those.

The shortfall in experts would be creating escalating problems were it not for the nature of shared cloud computing. Within cloud computing’s data centres, shared cloud users are catered for by the same sort of security tools and support enjoyed by private cloud users. The benefits of cloud computing solutions such as hosted desktops include affordability, because the cloud service the SMEs use is shared with others businesses but the services and security benefits can be on a par with far more costly solutions.

When using a hosted desktop, instead of SMEs having to individually seek out and buy the expertise and tools, which can be expensive, they benefit from a pooling of those resources. The data centres themselves are designed, built, secured and managed to the same quality as data facilities owned by large corporations. Within the data centres, backup disciplines and regimes support blue chipstandard business continuity. Included from the top tier cloud computing providers is data restoration in a secondary data centre to enable business continuity to happen if ever required.

A small business wishing to keep IT in-house can deploy off-the-shelf anti-virus and other tools, and manage its own back ups and data restoration. It will also have to educate management and employees about safe web surfing and email behaviour, in order to help keep threats at bay. Even with a highly capable team behind it, an SME will not easily be able to replicate the security and conditions available in a purposebuilt data centre designed to a level that few SMEs can (or would want to) afford. Additionally, the expense of such a team, when measured against a solution such as hosted desktops, would make the arrangement impractical.

Concentrate solely on the business
For many SMEs and the largest companies, outsourcing IT to the cloud means they can concentrate solely on the business and let the cloud provider focus on all computer and security issues including the availability of experts or lack of them.

It is worth noting that if the provider is ISO 27001 certified, so much the better, because certification guarantees that every action taken in a data centre is in compliance with what is the international gold standard in information security management. For companies in construction and civil engineering, where the integrity of large amounts of data and information is rightly considered paramount, ISO 27001 is an additional safeguard.

Joseph Blass is CEO of WorkPlaceLive. With roots going back to 1996, WorkPlaceLive was founded in 2006 as a provider of cloud computing services. One of the first UK providers of hosted desktop services, its hosted desktops allow customers and their employees the freedom to work from anywhere in the world, from any device, as easily as they would in their office.