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In the Rush to the Cloud, Don’t Forget About Data Governance

Migrations to the cloud are an extension of the operational perimeter of the business

Cloud computing has become an integrated part of IT strategy for companies in every sector of our economy. By 2012, IDC predicts that IT spending on cloud services will grow almost threefold to $42 billion. So it's no surprise that decision makers no longer wonder "if" they can benefit from cloud computing. Instead, the question being asked now is "how" best to leverage the cloud while keeping data and systems secure.

Data governance and compliance issues are typically the same whether information is in a private or public cloud environment or on-premise. That said, when organizations are considering moving business data to the cloud, a sound data governance approach must be in place to avoid costly data protection mistakes. At the heart of a sound data governance strategy is ensuring that only the right users have access to the right data at all times.

While the economic advantages of the cloud are compelling (the ability to quickly expand infrastructure to meet demand, low usage-based pricing and near infinite scalability), many organizations have yet to master data governance of their existing, in-house infrastructure. It's a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Against that backdrop, it should come as no surprise that cloud services can actually exacerbate existing data management and protection issues, adding a host of new concerns:

  • How do I enforce existing security policies and procedures when my data is in the cloud?
  • If my cloud provider is sued, can the suing party get access to my data?
  • How do I get access to full reporting that I need for my IT governance and compliance responsibilities?
  • How do I know what other data is in my cloud?
  • How do I know if my cloud is secure?
  • How do I automate access rights management in the cloud?

The Data Deluge Dilemma
Organizations have more digital data than ever before that must be continuously managed and protected in order for it to remain safe and retain its value. While data governance is often thought of more as a discipline than a technology, software can help companies implement data governance policies through automation, without disrupting existing business processes.

Concern about data governance has increased substantially over the past two decades, driven by the rapid growth in digital collaboration and an exponential increase in the amount of data that is created, shared, streamed and stored. Organizations now possess increasingly more information about their customers and partners - whether it's stored in a cloud environment or not - and failure to protect this data can be damaging. Partners and customers expect their information will be consistently protected before conducting business with a company. Therein lies the need for comprehensive data governance to manage and protect critical data, which has become a key issue for the cloud.

For years, IT has worked at capacity to manage and protect data manually as best it could - responding to authorization requests, migrating data, and cleaning up excessive access. Yet, despite this effort, IT has been falling further and further behind for the past 15 years. There is simply too much data being created too quickly to manage, protect and realize its full value without continuous, up-to-date information about the data: metadata.

Put simply, metadata is data about the data you hold in your organization. Use and analysis of metadata is already more common than we realize, and automated collection, storage, analysis and presentation of metadata will become a necessity not only for in-house data stores, but for cloud infrastructure as well.

Metadata frameworks for data governance from companies like Varonis non-intrusively collect critical information, generate metadata where existing metadata is lacking (e.g., file system filters and content inspection technologies), pre-process it, normalize it, analyze it, store it, and present it to IT administrators in an interactive, dynamic interface. Once data owners are identified, they are empowered to make informed authorization and permissions maintenance decisions through a web-based interface. In addition, data owners can do all of this on their own without IT overhead or manual back-end processes.

Those organizations that have learned to harness metadata to underpin their data governance practices will have a far greater chance of a extending those management and protection capabilities to the cloud, assuming that the cloud providers are equally metadata-capable.

Due Diligence in the Cloud
To coin a phrase from John Walker, Professor of Science & Technology, School of Computing & Informatics and member of ISACA Security Advisory Group: "You are not merely buying a cloud, you are choosing a partner and that choice has to be based on thorough due diligence. This process is essential. The most important barrier to the adoption of cloud computing is assurance - ‘how do I know if it's safe to trust the cloud provider?' With today's complex IT architectures and heavy reliance upon third-party providers, there has never been a greater demand for transparency and objective metrics for attestation."

Migrations to the cloud are an extension of the operational perimeter of the business. It is a partnership that joins on-premise business objects with those located in the extended perimeter of the cloud. Both are subject to the same access controls and policies. Any approach to utilize the cloud must be achieved in tandem with organizational controls to create a robust, contractually obligated partnership between client and provider - nothing short of this should be considered secure.

There is an urgent need to address security and compliance challenges associated with an organization's cloud initiatives. IDC research has found that security and compliance are among the top three challenges to cloud computing. Without adequate information on the security and compliance profile of the data, including its ownership, access controls, audits and classification, cloud initiatives can fall short of expectations and put sensitive data at risk. Understanding the data owners, authorized users and user activity is critical to garnering organizational input, which in turn, is critical to defining the security and compliance profile of the data for your internal datacenter and the cloud. CFOs and CIOs are hesitant, IDC says, to move critical data and processes into the cloud when there is still little visibility on access and ownership, traceability and data segregation. It is vital that organizations have data governance in order to provide secure collaboration and data protection for their customers, partners and employees. Without it, companies will find it virtually impossible to manage and protect digital information in the cloud or anywhere else.

More Stories By Wendy Yale

Wendy Yale leads marketing and brand development for Varonis’ global growth efforts. She is a veteran brand strategist with 16 years of marketing experience. Prior to Varonis, Wendy successfully managed the global integrated marketing communications team at Symantec. She joined Symantec from VERITAS, where she led the interactive media marketing team. Beginning her career as a freelance producer and writer, she has developed projects for organizations such as the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Film and Video Magazine, Aloha Airlines, the International Teleproduction Society and Unitel Video. Wendy has held senior posts at DMEC and ReplayTV, and holds a B.A. degree in Geography from Cal State Northridge. You can contact Wendy at wendy@varonis.com.

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