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The Expert’s View: Cloud technologies like a driverless car

The cloud is probably like the driverless car - it's probably safer than doing it yourself and it's probably the future but nevertheless people feel nervous about it anyway. That was the argument put forward by one attendee at a Business Reporter breakfast briefing on security strategies for transforming into a cloud-first enterprise at London's Savoy hotel.

Introducing the briefing, Chris Hodson, of Zscaler, told an audience of senior professionals from a range of industries that while companies talk about a journey to the cloud, often it is the cloud that is coming to us.

In fact, many companies who say they aren't 'going cloud' are in fact already using a significant cloud service: Microsoft's Office 365. And those companies that say they will not use the cloud for 'mission critical' data might not have considered the data emailed through Office 365 every day by their employees.

Nevertheless, there are obstacles to cloud adoption that were common to all attendees. The main obstacle, as made clear in the driverless cars example, is simple uncertainty about a new technology. Cloud computing can make executives fear that they are taking too much risk by putting their safety in somebody else's hands.

One attendee from the financial services industry said he had worked at companies with a 'no cloud' rule because of demands from clients. Even if the business itself is open to the cloud, its options are constrained by third parties.

Further limits can be placed by regulators. This is especially true in financial services, where there are strict controls about what can be done with customer data. In some industries, data must stay within certain national borders and cloud services cannot always guarantee meeting those restrictions.

"We don't want to spend time and money on a cloud deployment only to find that the regulator does not approve of it," said an attendee from a bank.

Some attendees said their cloud adoption was limited because they require specialised applications that are not supported by, or available on, cloud services. For others, cost was a concern. Cloud is generally pitched as cheaper but that isn't always the case.

Mr Hodson pointed out that often businesses don't compare like with like when assessing cloud costs. A cloud deployment might be more expensive than the existing system but the real comparison should be with the cost of bringing the existing system up to the required current standard. In such instances, he said, the cloud is usually cheaper.

Most attendees agreed that cost was actually a significant incentive for most businesses considering a move to the cloud. The flexibility of cloud services, which can scale-up capacity as needed, allows firms to manage rare peaks, such as 'Black Friday' sales, without needing to pay for that capacity all year round.

Meanwhile, said one attendee, from a business intelligence firm, the finance side of the business tends to like the fact that cloud services are an operational expenditure, rather than a capital expenditure.

Aside from cost, another benefit of the cloud is that it makes it much simpler to run many big data and artificial intelligence applications. Several attendees said they can now do much more with data that was previously under-used.

For many attendees, however, the most compelling reason to move to the cloud was simple: if you don't then it will happen without you. This happens in two ways. First, people within your business will start using cloud services informally as they become more useful than the IT-approved applications. This is already happening, one attendee explained, with services such as Dropbox.

Second, virtually all modern start-ups are setting up as cloudfirst businesses. They will reap the benefits of cloud services without the need to integrate with legacy systems. Established businesses will have to embrace cloud technology as much as possible or risk falling behind these new competitors.

But what about security in a cloud deployment? Like the passenger in the driverless car, we might worry about safety in this new world but most attendees agreed that this was not a significant concern.

“Security principles might be applied to cloud services differently,” said an attendee, “but they are still the same principles that we have used to secure our systems in the past.”

What’s more, he added, there is little practical difference between a cloud deployment and an outsourced data centre.

Attendees agreed that cloud services can be held to a higher security standard than on-premise solutions because they have greater capacity. Trusting cloud services to handle that part of security frees up resources within the business to deal with other in-house security concerns.

Overall attendees agreed that the move to the cloud should probably be happening more quickly but, despite the obstacles, it is coming, like it or not.