At E3, Sony spent a great deal of time apologizing for its PlayStation Network outage, which left its millions of customers without multiplayer gaming for over twenty days. When it was over, Sony’s reputation was severely damaged, and the aftermath has many people once again placing cloud computing under a microscope.
Many people only think of cloud computing in terms of business, where the stakes are often much higher for the users than for players on a gaming network. Nevertheless, PSN offers online services that are critical for the full functionality of their products, especially for games that are MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing games), those played exclusively online.
For businesses that depend on the availability of online services, the recent Amazon and PSN outages were jolting reminders that such services are only as strong and stable as the Internet is at any given time. The PSN debacle was not simply a loss of service. Evidence suggests that the hackers who forced Sony to temporarily disable the network made off with millions of user account credentials and other sensitive information before the shutdown.
How Secure Is Your Data?
Cloud customers may have overlooked a critical question. How secure is their data in the cloud? Short of inspecting the facilities and examining the internal code and security of a provider’s network, customers can only rely on the word of the provider and the testimonials of other customers.
Any sensitive data that can be accessed from the web or other Internet protocol is potentially vulnerable to intrusion, regardless of whether that data is hosted by a cloud service or the company that owns it. The difference is that when your own company controls the security and stability of the data, you do not have to put your trust in a third party.
Moreover, businesses that rely on cloud services may become victims of a larger plot that does not directly involve them. For example, a small company that deals in accounting may not ever normally be a target for cyber-attack, but when that company’s data and applications are hosted by a mega corporation with ties to political parties and controversial economic agendas, the small company may simply get caught in the crossfire.
Will The Cloud Die?
Cloud services are becoming more prominent, and even major business software companies like Microsoft are expanding their cloud offerings. Because of this, it is reasonable to expect cloud computing to stick around for a while. Businesses that were already cautious will continue to be, while others will find the financial and technical benefits of the cloud too enticing to resist.
Do not expect to see a mass migration away from the cloud, but businesses do need to start holding cloud providers more accountable for security and stability, using the same standards to which they would hold internal IT departments. That will require more transparency on the part of providers, something they may not be immediately willing to do, especially if they are protecting their proprietary online software from prying eyes.
One possible solution to the issue of cloud security and stability is to use an open cloud, one that does not have the same proprietary software secrets of typical cloud service providers. Many major companies in the dedicated server market, such as Red Hat, are leading a movement to create open cloud standards and software stacks to support them.
With open standards and open source software for the cloud, customers will know exactly what they are getting when they sign up for service. Furthermore, if they find they are not satisfied with their current provider, it will be much easier to switch to another open cloud provider or host their own private clouds.
Another possible alternative to investing all of your data and applications in the cloud is to use a hybrid setup. With this setup, you could install your applications in the cloud and keep your data on premises on your own server or hosted by a company that provides dedicated servers, such as 34SP.com.
The Next Step
Sony’s problems with PlayStation Network have certainly made us think, but that does not mean the cloud is completely doomed. What it does mean is that we need tighter standards for services, better backup systems, and more openness and transparency with software, security, and cloud platforms.
Tavis J. Hampton is a seasoned writer with a decade of experience in IT, web publishing, and free and open source software. Some of his services include writing, web design, electronic publishing, and information management.