Data in the cloud

Effective management of enterprise data is both an opportunity and a concern for organisations using cloud-based services

Many organisations tell us that their fear of losing control over enterprise data is increasingly outweighed by the benefits offered by cloud-based services, such as lower costs for infrastructure, accelerated speed-to-market and more scalable solutions.

Gartner estimated that worldwide cloud services revenue would surpass $US56.3 billion in 2009, a 21.3 per cent increase from 2008. The market is expected to reach $US150.1 billion in 2013. Increasing numbers of enterprises are placing their data in the cloud. However, the effective management and use of data in the cloud presents significant challenges for most organisations.

The cloud’s impact on data accessibility

Organisations using cloud-based services often overlook issues surrounding access to their enterprise data. In traditional data management deployment approaches, licensing models based on hardware capacity metrics add complexity and costs to implementation and support as business demand increases. At the same time, the customer retains most of the risk and responsibility for the overall design and maintenance of the data management infrastructure. But the nature of data is now changing with the increasing adoption of alternative delivery models. It is no longer only resident inside the firewall or on platforms that the organisation owns and controls.

Clear understanding of data use in the enterprise and interdependencies for data access must be established before examining vendors’ cloud-based offerings. During the next few years, more enterprises adopting cloud-based services will base their choices on providers’ ability to reliably deliver and provide access to their data. Enterprises will seek improved ways of finding, accessing and sharing their data across on-premises and cloud-based services. They will also look for ways of monitoring and preventing service deficiencies in the network of data and applications in the cloud to ensure services are delivered efficiently, and they will want a way to manage all of this in one place.

Data sharing across cloud-based services

Enterprises will need to find more seamless ways to access, integrate and share data between cloud-based services. They will demand that vendors provide a single point of entry. An example would be the use of a “one-stop shop” data access service to manage event calendars, contacts, transactions, product information in various applications hosted in the public cloud, regardless of whether they are software-as-a-service-based or developed internally.

As cloud-based alliances and technology partnering emerge to improve data sharing, data management offerings will play an increasingly important role in meeting the analytical and operational needs of data and transactions in the cloud. Users will be able to acquire the ability to access and maintain consistent data across cloud-based domains. This is good news, as any data that is critical for business operations must not depend on the availability or capability of a single cloud-based provider’s infrastructure.

Data portability

Enterprises will be confronted with the need to move valuable data from one service domain to another when they switch providers or bring strategic information back in house. Organisations migrating data from one part of the cloud to another or into internal applications face significant data integrity issues, including incomplete, inaccurate or failed data migration. There will also be the challenge of data integration with the new application. Stringent information-management policies IT requires.

Legal and regulatory borders for physical access

Use of cloud-based services will be bound by legal and regulatory policies. Many policies apply when sensitive data such as personal or financial information is moved outside the jurisdiction of those regulations. While cloud-based services would largely not promote the keeping of data within an enterprise’s national borders, some geographical requirements or national preferences will restrict where data can legally reside.

Steps you can take

Examine the information delivery expectations across various corporate roles to determine you data management needs. Evaluate providers’ ability to support access to source data, transforming and moving data, and, possibly, consolidation of data into internal applications or external applications in a consistent and integrated manner as part of the organisation’s integrated architecture (which has been ‘extended’ into the cloud).

Organisations in countries where regulatory controls dictate where data can reside should ensure service providers’ data hosting plans comply with local regulatory requirements, but do not impose data location restrictions on providers unless compliance is mandatory.

Eric Thoo is a principal research analyst at Gartner.

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