9 Cloud Security Questions you need to ask Service Providers

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Companies in Ireland and the UK who are considering cloud adoption might already have a general idea of the security risks inherent in cloud computing. However, since different providers may not offer the same levels of risk mitigation, it is important to know which providers can give sufficient assurance on cloud security.

Here are 10 cloud security questions to ask service providers vying for your attention.

1. Where will my data be located?

There are a variety of reasons why you will want to ask this question. One big reason is that there are certain countries that don’t have strict legislation (or any legislation at all) pertaining to cloud computing. In that case, the provider won’t be as motivated to apply high levels of risk mitigation.

So if your data is hosted off shore, then you might want to reconsider or at least conduct a deeper study regarding the security conditions there.

2. Do you have provisions for regulatory compliance?

Certain standards and regulations (e.g. PCI DSS and possibly the EU Data Protection Directive) have specific guidelines pertaining to data stored in the cloud. If your organisation is covered by any of these legislation, then you need to know whether your provider can help you meet requirements for compliance.

3. Who will have access to my data?

In a cloud environment, where your data is going to be managed by people who aren’t under your direct supervision, you’ll have to worry as much about internal threats as you would with external threats.

Therefore, you need to know how many individuals will have access to your data. You also need to know relevant information such as how admins and technicians with data access rights are screened prior to getting hired. You also need to determine what access controls are being implemented.

4. How is data segregated?

Since there will be other clients, you will want to know how your data is going to be segregated from theirs. Is there any possibility of an accidental or intentional data breach due to poor data segregation? Find out if your data is going to be encrypted and how strong the encryption algorithm is.

5. How will you support investigative activities?

Sometimes, even if strong cloud security measures are in place, a data breach can still happen. If it does happen, the provider should have ways to track each user/administrator’s activity that can sufficiently support a detailed data forensics investigation.

Find out whether logs are being kept and how detailed they are.

6. Are we protected by a Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity plan? How?

Don’t be fooled by sales talk of 100% up-time. Even the most robust cloud infrastructures can suffer outages too. But the important thing is that, when they do fail, they should be able to get up and running in the soonest time possible.

Don’t just ask about their guaranteed RPOs and RTOs. Find out whether your data and applications will be replicated across multiple sites. Unless the provider says they will be, you need to find a provider with a better infrastructure.

7. Can I get copies of my VMs?

In a cloud infrastructure, your servers are actually in the form of files known as virtual machines (VMs). Because VMs are just files, they should be easily copied. There may be issues though, like the VMs might be stored in a not-so-popular proprietary format. Another possible issue is that the provider may simply not allow copying.

Having copies of your VMs can be useful should you later on decide to transfer to another provider or even duplicate your cloud infrastructure on your own.

8. What will happen to my data when I scale down?

One outstanding benefit of cloud computing is that when your business demands drop, you can easily scale down computing resources and reduce your cloud spending.  But what will happen to your data when you decommission virtual servers? Will they be discarded?

You might want your data to be retained up to a certain period. On the other hand, you might also want them to be deleted immediately. Ask about the provider’s data deletion/data retention policies and see if they are in line with yours.

9. What will happen to my data if I decide to close my account?

There might come a time when you’ll want to terminate your contract with your cloud provider. Just like in issue #8, you’ll want to find out more about data deletion/data retention policies.

Although some providers can give you detailed answers, many of these answers can include a lot of technical jargon that can leave you totally confused. If you want someone you can trust to:

  • simplify those answers;
  • help you pick the right cloud service provider, and
  • even make sure cloud security is really upheld once your cloud engagement is  under way

Contact Us

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  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

Without Desktop Virtualisation, you can’t attain True Business Continuity

Networking

Even if you’ve invested on virtualisation, off-site backup, redundancy, data replication, and other related technologies, I’m willing to bet your BC/DR program still lacks an important ingredient. I bet you’ve forgotten about your end users and their desktops.

Picture this. A major disaster strikes your city and brings your entire main site down. No problem. You’ve got all your data backed up on another site. You just need to connect to it and voila! you’ll be back up and running in no time.

Really?

Do you have PCs ready for your employees to use? Do those machines already have the necessary applications for working on your data? If you still have to install them, then that’s going to take a lot of precious time. When your users get a hold of those machines, will they be facing exactly the same interface that they’ve been used to?

If not, more time will be wasted as they try to familiarise themselves. By the time you’re able to declare “business as usual”, you’ll have lost customer confidence (or even customers themselves), missed business opportunities, and dropped potential earnings.

That’s not going to happen with desktop virtualisation.

The beauty of virtualisation

Virtualisation in general is a vital component in modern Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery strategies. For instance, by creating multiple copies of virtualised disks and implementing disk redundancy, your operations can continue even if a disk breaks down. Better yet, if you put copies on separate physical servers, then you can likewise continue even if a physical server breaks down.

You can take an even greater step by placing copies of those disks on an entirely separate geographical location so that if a disaster brings your entire main site down, you can still gain access to your data from the other site.

Because you’re essentially just dealing with files and not physical hardware, virtualisation makes the implementation of redundancy less costly, less tedious, greener, and more effective.

But virtualisation, when used for BC/DR, is mostly focused on the server side. As we’ve pointed out earlier in the article, server side BC/DR efforts are not enough. A significant share of business operations are also dependent on the client side.

Desktop virtualisation (DV) is very similar to server virtualisation. It comes with nearly the same kind of benefits too. That means, a virtualised desktop can be copied just like ordinary files. If you have a copy of a desktop, then you can easily use that if the active copy is destroyed.

In fact, if the PC on which the desktop is running becomes incapacitated, you can simply move to another machine, stream or install a copy of the virtualised desktop there, and get back into the action right away. If all your PCs are incapacitated after a disaster, rapid provisioning of your desktops will keep customers and stakeholders from waiting.

In addition to that, DV will enable your user interface to look like the one you had on your previous PC. This particular feature is actually very important to end users. You see, users normally have their own way of organising things on their desktops. The moment you put them in front of a desktop not their own, even if it has the same OS and the same set of applications, they’ll feel disoriented and won’t be able to perform optimally.

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How to Improve Corporate Efficiency through IT

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When revenues are low, what do you do to improve your profit? Obviously, those same revenues should at least remain the same. So, the objective would be to deliver the same products and services for less cost. More for less. Such is the essence of corporate efficiency.

There are many things that can make a company inefficient. There are outdated procedures, poor coordination between departments, managers’ lack of business visibility, and prolonged down times, to mention a few. As a company grows, these issues get more severe.

You can overcome all these by deploying the right IT solutions. But don’t IT solutions increase spending instead? Au contraire. The last couple of decades have seen the rise of IT solutions that help companies realise obvious cost savings in no time.

Streamline processes and keep departments in-sync

Company inefficiencies are largely due to outdated systems and procedures. These systems and procedures were not built for the dynamic and complex business environments of today that are being shaped by increasingly onerous regulations, fierce and growing competition, significant economic upswings and downturns, new battlefronts (like the Web) and logistical strategies (like outsourcing), and IT-savvy crooks.

So when your employees force outdated systems to meet today’s business demands, they’re just not able to deliver. At least not efficiently.

Another major cause of inefficiency is the discordance among departments, business units, and even individual staff members themselves. There are those who still use highly personalised spreadsheets and other disparate applications, which make data consolidation take forever and the financial close a perennial headache.

Costly devices like mobile phones, netbooks, and tablet PCs, which are supposedly designed to provide better communication, are not fully maximised. If these are subsidised by the company, then they also contribute to company inefficiency.

One way to deal with these issues is to deploy server based solutions. By centralising your IT system, you can easily implement various improvements that can pave the way for better communication and collaboration, stronger security, faster processes and transactions, and shorter down times for troubleshooting and maintenance. All these clearly translate to cost savings.

Gain better visibility

Corporate efficiency can be improved if your decision makers can make wise and well-informed decisions, faster. But they can only do this if reports they receive from people down the line are timely, accurate, and reliable. Basically, data should be presented in a way for managers to gain quick insights from.

If your people take too much time scrutinising, interpreting, and reconciling data, you can’t hope to gain a significant competitive advantage. Equally important to managing an ongoing project is the speed at which you make a go/no go decision to start or stop a project. A wise, quick decision will help you avoid wastage.

The same holds true when making purchases and investment decisions. It’s all about quickly eliminating waste and investing only on those that will give you fast, positive returns.

Clear business visibility will allow managers to allocate resources where they are most effective, to pinpoint what products and services being offered are more profitable, and to identify which customers are giving better business from an overall perspective.

These are all possible with business intelligence. We know, we know. You’ll say BI solutions will force you to break the bank. Not anymore. At least, not all. There are already two main types of BI solutions: on-premise and SaaS. The latter will generally cost you less.

Of course, each type has its own advantages, and you’ll really have to look into the size of your organisation, the number of source systems your decision-making platform is connected to, integration requirements, budget, etc. to make sure you get the most out of your investment.

But IT solutions cost an arm and a leg

Again, not anymore. These days, you can find IT products that are faster, more functional, and more powerful than their predecessors at a fraction of the cost. When it comes to getting more affordable IT products and services, you now have many options.

For example, you can turn to open source solutions to save on license costs. These solutions are typically backed by vibrant and helpful communities where you can find an extensive source of technical support – many of which are for free. With popular open source products, you can easily tap from a large pool of developers with affordable rates any time you want to make system enhancements or customisation.

On another front, virtualization solutions allow you to save on CAPEX and OPEX by eliminating certain expenses normally used for setting up infrastructure or buying hardware and maintaining them. Server virtualisation, for instance, will allow you to consolidate servers and put them together into just one machine, while desktop virtualisation will enable you to eliminate unproductive hours associated with desktop down times by allowing you to redeploy a malfunctioning desktop very quickly.

Closely related to those are cloud-based solutions like SaaS (Software as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), and DCoD (Data Center on Demand). SaaS and IaaS will help you realize savings in acquisition and maintenance costs for software and hardware, while DCoD’s scalable services allow you to request for additional capacity, power and storage only as you need them, thus making you spend only according to your current infrastructure requirements.

Like we said, there are many, many options out there just waiting to be tapped.

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  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK