The leaky cloud

Cloud storage was certainly a hot button for 2011 and will be equally as hot this year. Though there has not been widespread adoption of storage or software as a service (SaaS) by either broadcasters or content producers, they still search for less-costly storage and application alternatives. It seems worth a bit of time to examine some of the issues to consider when the general manager says, “Let's move to the cloud.”

At first, the cloud sounds like the perfect solution for storing content and providing easy access to applications. The cloud is ubiquitous. Users can access, modify and store their work from any location. All they need is a small client or browser. Requiring little investment in local software or hardware, what's not to love about such a solution?

Here are some things to consider before moving your valuable content to someone else's servers.

One adjective describes broadcasters, and that is reliable. So, a first question to toss back at the GM might be: How reliable is the cloud service? Let us look at a couple of eye-popping examples of recent cloud failures.

Last April, Amazon's EC2 Elastic Computer Cloud service crashed, causing widespread outages. News services, including The New York Times and dozens of other companies, effectively went dark for as long as 24 hours.

Jason Glassberg, co-founder of security company Casaba, called the issue “a big ol' black eye” for Amazon. “Reliability is probably the No. 1 concern with cloud services,” he said.

A research vice president in the Technology and Service Providers group at Gartner, Lydia Leong said, “There are a lot of moving parts in cloud IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service]. Any one of them going wrong can bork your entire site/application.”

Amazon is not the only high-profile cloud vendor to suffer outages. Microsoft's Office 365 and Windows Live servers did the same when they died in August and again in September. Google's Apps for the [cloud] domain and Gmail also have seen several large-scale crashes. Considering those issues, what about security?

Once your content is moved to someone else's servers, you lose absolute control over that data and who has access. In fact, your content may not even be stored in the United States.

Microsoft 365's terms of service (TOS) say, “As a general rule, customer data will not be transferred to datacenters outside that region. There are, however, some limited circumstances where customer data might be accessed by Microsoft personnel or subcontractors from outside the specified region (e.g., for technical support, troubleshooting, or in response to a valid legal subpoena.”

You might not even be notified if a vendor moves your data to another country. Again, from Microsoft's TOS, “The requirements of providing the service may mean that some data is moved to or accessed by Microsoft personnel or subcontractors outside the primary storage region. For instance, to address latency, routing data may need to be copied to different data centers in different regions. In addition, personnel who have the most technical expertise to troubleshoot service problems may be located in locations other than the primary location.”

Ask who has access to your content without permission. Will you be notified if your data is given to the cops/FBI? Can cloud vendors disclose your data without your permission? The answer is probably.

In Microsoft's TOS for the 365 product, the Q&A section says, “In a limited number of circumstances, Microsoft may need to disclose data without your prior consent, including as needed to satisfy legal requirements.”

Given such legal and technical concerns, how willing are you to put your content in someone else's hands? Is there a cloud in your future?

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