IT disaster recovery, cloud computing and information security news

Are compliance issues holding back multi-cloud environments?

Multi-cloud environments provide substantial business continuity and disaster recovery benefits but  recent research suggests that compliance issues may be holding some companies back from establishing them. Mark Hickman looks at the issue…

Almost every enterprise is using the cloud in some way, whether for infrastructure services, or to provide software-as-a-service applications to users.  For some time, confidence has been growing in the cloud’s role in IT infrastructure, to the point that we are hearing increasing talk of serverless computing – where a company places its entire infrastructure in the cloud, which dynamically expands and contracts resources to meet business needs.

In the future, serverless computing may become a reality.  But for now, IT staff continue to battle with the challenges of managing the hybrid environments they already have, rather than feeling able to push everything to the cloud.  These complex hybrid environments often include multiple operating systems and cloud service providers, as well as increasingly common use of virtualized servers and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).

WinMagic recently conducted research to try and establish whether companies are getting the benefits they want from cloud technology and what, if anything, is holding them back from greater use, maybe even slowly moving towards this new serverless computing world.  There were some really interesting findings.  The role good security and compliance policies play in realising the business benefits were clear; 87 percent of IT decision makers (ITDMs) surveyed said they limit their use of the cloud because of the complexity of managing regulatory compliance. 

Equally clear, was that many companies fear that compliance is balanced on a knife edge, and having a hybrid infrastructure with multiple cloud vendors heightens the risks of falling foul of regulatory requirements, such as those imposed under the new General Data Protection Regulation. A quarter (24 percent) said that it meant, as a result, they only work with a single cloud vendor in their infrastructure, rather than exploit the benefits multi-cloud environments can provide like cost effectiveness, flexibility, reliability, security and avoiding vendor lock-in.

The survey, conducted by Viga for WinMagic, of ITDMs in Germany, India, the UK and US, noted that 63 percent felt the need to use multiple infrastructure management tools was also a hugely restricting factor in their use of multiple cloud vendors.  This is hardly surprising as, the more tools you have, the more complexity and points at which security and compliance processes can break down are introduced.   ITDMs realise this, with over a quarter (28 percent) stating they would “not be completely confident” that IT systems met all the required processes and standards if an audit was called “today” and 7 percent went as far as to say there was “a high risk of them failing.”

But there are companies that manage to overcome these challenges by using platform-agnostic management tools.  When they do, it enables them to implement solid security and compliance policies across on-premises and cloud providers in a way that treats the hybrid infrastructure as a single composite unit over which encryption, access rights, data protection and data sprawl can be effectively and seamlessly managed.  That ability to take a holistic view of compliance increases confidence, and brings additional tangible business benefits:

  • 63 percent improved the efficiency of their systems
  • 57 percent now had enforced compliance across the infrastructure
  • 56 percent say they are more secure
  • 32 percent have made measurable cost savings
  • 30 percent believe their risk exposure is lower.

The pain, stopping the gain

The pain caused by poor proprietary management tools, is leaving companies restricted on their infrastructure choices and places them at greater risk of regulatory fines.  But poor security compliance is so much more dangerous, putting company data at risk of data breaches, both accidental and through theft, by hackers or even employees.  The reality is that both are entwined – you cannot achieve good compliance without management tools that are fit for the purpose in mixed operating system, multi-cloud environments.

Good security management tools won’t just help you understand and visualize the overall estate, they’ll help you improve productivity and manage compliance through enforced encryption, virtual machine management, password controls and key management. Critically, they will also enable the kind of reporting that will demonstrate that you are following the requirements of regulators and the law to the letter.

Reduce the burdens and worries

The most productive way to pursue a multi-cloud mixed infrastructure and achieve all the benefits that come with it, is to invest in tools that can manage the whole estate and ensure its security and compliance.  Proprietary tools may claim to offer the ‘best solution’ for the management of their platform, but you need to manage beyond the single vendor.  You want the benefits of a multi-cloud mixed environment – by their very definition proprietary tools fall short of the task you need them to do.  And trying to navigate a collection of management tools will add to your IT burdens, inevitably leading to the kinds of human error that expose you to data breaches or audit failure, and keep you in a constant state of worry.  And, as we saw earlier, ITDMs say it halts the adoption of the very cloud technologies they want to exploit.

Without a doubt, the cloud is proving its value to enterprises.  But we need to address the management of mixed and multi-cloud infrastructures if we are to overcome the compliance crisis that exists, and have the confidence, as ITDMs, that we can achieve the infrastructure we desire, without compromise.

The author

Mark Hickman is Chief Operating Officer at WinMagic.

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