We’re Moving to the Cloud—So Where is That Exactly?

The enterprise view of cloud is changing.

The majority of conversation around cloud used to focus on security—with skeptics claiming the cloud was too insecure a place for an enterprise to place its data, processes and trust. But that hurdle, while still on the agenda, is no longer top of the list. That accolade now rests with the subject of data locale.

Data locale is, in essence, very simple to describe. It’s where your cloud data and processes live. From a practical point of view, it tends not to be overly focused on the actual servers and buildings they reside in (the data center), but more about the country in which they are located.

This might seem like an obvious thing to consider when using cloud services, but many organizations have no idea where their data is stored or where their processes are happening. Most of us wouldn’t ship important documents to an unknown location for storage and processing. But this is exactly what many organizations using cloud providers are inadvertently doing.

However, simply asking a cloud provider where its enterprise cloud resources are based may not help. Many cloud providers will not divulge this information. For those that actually do, it may still be difficult. The complex, distributed nature of some cloud operations (particularly file storage) means cloud resources for any given organization may be spread over many data centers, possibly even many countries.

Long Arm of the Law

This unstructured and uncontrollable approach causes obvious governance concerns; however, for many organizations there is a bigger issue to consider.

Many countries have specific regulations relating to the storage and processing of data relating to individuals. This manifests itself most visibly in the European Union where the soon-to-be implemented General Data Protection Regulation will bring organizations operating in those 27 European countries into a single regime of data-related rules, with associated penalties for noncompliance.

While the regulations do permit data to be stored in non-EU countries under certain conditions, e.g., the U.S. via the Safe Harbor agreement, many enterprises in the region are resisting. Instead they are choosing to be ultra-cautious and specify that any cloud facilities used must be in-country and all data must remain within that country’s geographical borders. And remember, cloud systems have backups, the location of these also falls under this remit.

This “in my country or not at all” approach is becoming prevalent not only in parts of Europe (Germany, Switzerland and Austria being prime examples), but also Australia and the Middle East. In the latter region, this is not due to any overriding legislation or regulations, but is based on a combination of scaremongering, corporate preference and data connection speeds.

The Advantages of the Cloud

Despite these challenges, many organizations rightly see a significant benefit to be gained by moving to the cloud. So when selecting a cloud vendor, what are key things to consider in relation to data locale?

Select a vendor with a global network of data centers. Solely having US-based servers is no longer a viable option in the global economy. Data centers in Europe and the Far East are an integral component for any vendor wishing to service global enterprises.

Require 100% transparency regarding the location of data, processing and backups for all aspects of the cloud solution. Ideally an organization would like to “define” where in the world their cloud resides. But having knowledge of where these live is the absolute minimum.

Look for flexibility and local partnerships. No cloud vendor can hope to have data centers in all of the countries required by their customers. But they can be responsive and flexible when faced with a cloud blind spot and work with local hosting partners to deliver a solution that works for all.

As enterprise consumers become more cloud-savvy, their requirements will naturally develop and grow more demanding. While the cloud may happily remain a mythical location “somewhere in the sky” where consumers store photos of their loved ones, this is not the case for the enterprise needing to demonstrate effective governance of its information.

Those moving to the cloud need to do so with absolute confidence. The cloud industry has answered initial objections relating to security. Now it is time to provide transparency and flexibility regarding where cloud data and services are located. Let’s face it: enterprise users deserve to know where their cloud is based—and pretty soon they’re going to start demanding it. 


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