Monday, October 26, 2009

Flying in the Clouds requires many levels of TRUST

I have been fortunate to present introductory concepts and practices in Cloud Computing at 3 different conferences of late. The audience is very active, usually about 50 attendees in the room. However, it's very interesting that every time I poll the audience on who has used cloud services or a cloud provider, I usually get anywhere from 0-1 hands raised. It seems most folks are still feeling out cloud and a lot of it has to do with an overall lack of trust.

I receive a lot of questions on security and data ownership concerns throughout my presentations, but one in particular struck me as a great discussion point. Right when I was building confidence that I had all the answers to everything anyone wanted to know about Cloud, a question got asked that really got me thinking more about cloud and the requirement for TRUST. This particular person simply asked: “What do you do to prevent Cloud employees, particular Administrators with System level access, from jeopardizing or leaking your company’s sensitive information”? It’s a very pertinent question, and although there is no silver bullet solution, the answer ultimately relies on TRUST. If you are going to implement in the Cloud, you must have multiple levels of TRUST. After all, you’re putting protected (and potentially sensitive) company information in the hands of others, and that in itself takes a lot of TRUST. The answer to the questions asked-- you need to trust your provider just the same as you trust your employees (Do you trust your employees?) It's important to follow some of the practices below to help solidify trust in your cloud provider:

(1) Choose your cloud providing vendor wisely. If you don’t TRUST your cloud provider, then you won’t sleep at night. If data ownership and security will bother you to no avail, then you might not be ready for the cloud and using a provider. You must pick a vendor you TRUST to protect your must sensitive information. Do you TRUST your spouse? Yes, of course! This same level of TRUST must exist for your Cloud provider; otherwise you could be doomed for an early divorce. Make sure to meet your Cloud Provider face to face so that you know them well. Interview your Cloud provider. Interview your Cloud provider’s employees. Treat your provider’s employees it as if you’re hiring their employees, because they are now part of your “team”. You need to equally TRUST them as if they were your own, because the will have the same access and privileges. Make sure you have their contact info, background check results, and overall level of confidence from having met them face-to-face.
(2) Iron clad contracts. Template NDA’s are not sufficient for this new paradigm that cloud computing presents (using other people's assets). Your legal team may not be ready for cloud because legal doesn’t TRUST anyone...sorry legal! Talk to legal and explain the model, so that the contracts and non-disclosures provide adequate protection for the worst possible failure (such as sensitive data leak). This is your insurance plan, so make sure you cover your bases and have contractual stipulations to protect your cloud relationship.
(3) Stage an unannounced vulnerability test on your cloud provider. Similar to when TSA is testing airport security with their security tiger team, you can execute a mock infiltration test scenario without the cloud provider security team knowing its coming. This will help you establish the confidence and TRUST that your data and systems have the highest level of protection (unless, they fail the test…)
(4) Walk before you run. Try before you buy. Date before your marry. Don’t put the most mission critical systems or applications in the cloud until you have confidence, cultural acceptance, and level of comfort through a cloud pilot. Build the TRUST needed through incremental successes and then go for the big enchilada when you’ve reached an appropriate milestone-- i.e cloud tested, verified, and trusted.
(5) Ask for weekly or monthly performance reports that show how effective and secure the cloud provider is performing. Make them earn your TRUST through metrics , quantitative analysis, and statistics.
(6) Tour the facilities where your cloud provider will host your solution. Make sure they show you exactly where your space will be located. You need to see your hosting space in person to TRUST that will be adequate.
(7) Ask for reference qualifications. See if others TRUST the provider as well. Ask the references how they overcame their trust concerns (peer advice).
(8) Ensure there are Key Performance Indicators that are contractually tied to the performance. This includes incentives and disincentives on their Service Level Agreements. Make them perform to the level of TRUST they have committed to.
(9) Keep a contingency plan and contingency architecture in case things don’t work out in the cloud and you need to drop back to Earth. If the TRUST fails and the cloud fails, you need a back-up plan so you are not left without the infrastructure to deliver your business capabilities. Cloud is a new, so a contingency is very important.
(10) Consult with diverse set of stakeholders in your organization to get their "cloud advice". Talk with the SOA, EA, IT Architects, developers, business users to get their opinions and recommendations. Make sure a broad group is surveyed to ensure cloud decisions are not made in a vac cum.

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