The cloud has become one of the most revolutionary technological innovations to emerge in recent years. Cloud-based services such as Google Apps and Office 365 have essentially broken the link between locations and services. Instead of having to install software on a specific piece of equipment, the use of a piece of software can be licensed to a particular user, who can then access it from essentially whatever internet-capable device they choose.
This can relieve companies, particularly SMEs, of the burden of having to manage IT infrastructure. It can also have substantial benefits in terms of security. In very simple terms, companies like Google and Microsoft are very likely to be significantly better placed to manage data security than SMEs with little to no IT expertise.
By this point in time, all organizations, should understand clearly that their data is likely to be one of their most precious assets, if not their single, most precious asset. It is dangerous to assume that SMEs are immune to attacks on their data or straightforward data theft because they are small in comparison to the big, global players. Cyber-attacks on or data thefts from SMEs may not hit the headlines the way data security breaches from big companies do, but they happen and they happen often, what’s more, their effects can be devastating. Providers of cloud services have a degree of data-security expertise, which is way above and beyond anything any SMEs could reasonably be expected to have.
As a starting point, it’s worth dispelling any lingering myths about ownership of data in the cloud. Although social media sites and cloud-based services both run on the internet, they are entirely different concepts. While some social media sites may claim at least some degree of ownership of the data on them, reputable, fee-charging cloud services are quite clear about the fact that the data they hold belongs to their customers rather than to them. The responsibility for protecting it is, however, theirs. This includes protecting it from their other customers, so even if two companies who are bitter rivals are using the same cloud service, they can be sure that their data will be kept entirely separate and there will never be any danger of their competitor seeing it.
On a more mundane but equally important level, cloud-service providers are skilled at protecting their customers from well-known online hazards such as viruses, malware and, of course, spam. In straightforward terms, effective protection against viruses and malware means using security products which are quickly and effectively updated by their creators as they become aware of new internet threats i.e. new viruses and new forms of malware. It also means ensuring that these product updates are applied promptly at the end user side. Cloud-service providers take care of all of this, which can be an important benefit to their customers.
Cloud-service providers also have the infrastructure and expertise to guarantee their users virtually constant uptime. In other words, all users have to do is access the service and use it. They do not need to worry about the details of how it runs or what happens when there is a problem. The cloud-service providers achieve this by having large-scale, distributed operations with a significant degree of redundancy built in. This requires huge up-front investment to set up and significant technical knowledge to manage. They also create major logistical challenges as cloud-service providers need to ensure that they can always get the supplies they need whenever they need them, whether that means storing them or having arrangements in place for a supplier to deliver them.
“Data protection is more than just security. Google’s strong contractual commitments make sure our customers maintain control over the data and how it is processed, including the assurance that your data is not used for advertising or any other purpose than to deliver Google Apps services”
As pioneering organisations within the cloud industry, Google and Microsoft fully understand the security implications of the cloud model. Their cloud services are designed to deliver better security than many traditional on-premises solutions. With a focus on security ingrained within their DNA these two cloud providers ensure customers data is protected using everything from account controls, compliance audits and the industry leading certifications. If your organisation has not considered the cloud before due to security concerns it is probably time to take another look.