Risks en route to cloud
Security in the cloud worries many companies, but security and risk management during migration should be of greater concern.
Security and control of data are commonly cited as being among the top concerns of South African CIOs and IT managers. There is a prevailing fear that business-critical applications and information hosted anywhere but on-premises are at greater risk of being lost or accessed by cyber criminals.
In fact, data hosted by a reputable cloud service provider is probably far safer than data hosted on-premises and secured by little more than a firewall.
What many businesses overlook, however, is the possibility that the real business risks and data security issues could occur before the data has actually moved to the cloud, or during the migration to the cloud.
When planning a move to the cloud, risks are posed by attempting to rush the process. Poor selection of the cloud service provider, failure to ensure data quality and security, and overlooking critical integration issues can present risks both to data security and business continuity.
Large local companies have failed to achieve ambitious plans to rapidly move all their infrastructure and applications to the cloud due to an 'eat the elephant whole' approach, which can prove counter-productive and risky. To support progress to the cloud while mitigating risk, cloud migrations should be approached in small chunks instead, as this allows for sufficient evaluation and troubleshooting throughout the process.
Look before leaping
Before taking the plunge, companies must carefully evaluate their proposed cloud service and environment, and strategically assess what data and applications will be moved.
Cloud migrations should be approached in small chunks.
Businesses must consider questions around what cloud they are moving to, and where it is hosted. For example, if the data will be hosted in the US, issues such as bandwidth and line speed come into play: companies must consider the business continuity risks of poor connections and distant service providers.
They must also carefully assess the service provider's continuity and disaster recovery plans, the levels of security and assurances they offer, and what recourse the customer will have in the event of data being lost or compromised or the service provider going out of business. Moving to the cloud demands a broader understanding of security technologies and risk among all project team members than was needed previously, in non-cloud environments.
In addition, when considering a move to the public cloud, one aspect that can't be mitigated is what was once an exclusive use environment for the company in a non-cloud form is now a multi-tenant shared environment, which potentially brings its own security risks.
It is up to the company to perform a comprehensive due diligence analysis on the cloud vendor to ensure the multitude of security risks are adequately addressed through preventative security measures put in place by the vendor.
Data on the move
Once a suitable cloud vendor has been identified, the data to be migrated must be assessed, its quality must be assured, and the data must be effectively secured.
The recommended first step is to identify the data to be migrated, considering, for example:
* Are there inactive customers on this database?
* Should the company retain that data, archiving it on-premises, and move only active customers to the cloud?
Once the data to be migrated has been identified, the company must review the quality of this data, identifying and addressing anomalies and duplicates before moving to the next phase of the cloud migration. Since poor quality data can undermine business success, the process of improving data quality ahead of a cloud migration can actually improve business operations, and so help mitigate overall business risk.
Moving data from the company's internal network to an external network can present a number of risks.
Adequate levels of data encryption and/or masking must be applied and a secure transport layer implemented to ensure the data remains secure, wherever it is.
In the move to the cloud, the question of access must also be considered - both for individual users and for enterprise applications. It is important to consider all points of integration to mitigate business continuity issues. In many cloud migrations, companies tend to overlook points that haven't been documented and integrated, presenting business continuity challenges. A robust cloud integration solution simplifies this task.
The risk of business processes failing should also be considered during the migration to the cloud. Companies must allocate sufficient time for testing - running systems in parallel for a period to ensure they all function as expected.
While there are risks in moving to the cloud, when the process is approached strategically and cautiously, there are many potential benefits to the migration process. Done well, the process can result in better quality data, a more strategic approach to data management and security, and more streamlined business processes.