The Secure Cloud/Rogue Cloud Conundrum
While some companies, like those that fit the example Hurwitz gave, are certainly correct in weighing security and compliance in every IT decision, many small businesses simply react to incorrect or incomplete information regarding security concerns in the cloud.
"Despite its myriad benefits, many small businesses don't take full advantage of the capabilities of the cloud," says Tom Powledge, vice president of products and services for Symantec's cloud and small business group. "What's unusual about this trend is that it's more often due to a problem with users rather than the technology itself."
A 2013 Symantec survey titled "Avoiding the Hidden Costs of the Cloud" revealed a startling number of sneaky cloud deployments, i.e. cloud deployments without management's permission. "In fact, seven in 10 small businesses have experienced rogue cloud deployments within the last year, resulting in issues such as the exposure of sensitive information," says Powledge.
Further, SMBs often find their data in the cloud via key vendors and partners.
"We recognize that even if we didn't want to use the cloud, any vendor we partner with is likely already using it for their solutions or on the backend. Adopting these solutions and leveraging the cloud helps us stay in control," says Richard Reinders, an information security analyst at Lake Trust Credit Union.
"Security could be an inhibitor for cloud adoption for some people, but for us the cloud can increase security rather than reduce it," Reinders added. "Recently our antivirus software triggered on a piece of malware that came in through targeted email and was able to quarantine it through cloud-based analysis, not because of any signature already there. We use the cloud for our gain and for our purposes, including fraud detection, malware scanning and various day-to-day operations."
As small businesses come to view cloud services through a wider lens, they will likely make better security decisions. More of them are also likely to make the move to the cloud simply because they can often get more sophisticated services and security there than they can provide for themselves.
"Additionally, we've recently begun to see the emergence of cloud-based services that are designed with high-security and regulatory compliance in mind," says Coalfire's Noah Weisberger.
"Got a small doctor's office that needs to send and receive faxes in a HIPAA-compliant fashion, or a law firm with the need to store encrypted files in a shared location with robust access control & reporting? No problem," says Weisberger. "A number of online cloud providers have either released, or are working to release, offerings that meet key needs around security and compliance."
What SMBs Use in the Cloud
According to CompTIA's Third in Annual Trends Cloud Computing study, the most popular cloud application services among small business included Web presence (50 percent), email (48 percent), virtual desktop (44 percent), business productivity (43 percent), collaboration (34 percent), and analytics (33 percent).
However, the adoption numbers and breadth of adoption may actually be higher than that.
"For example, they may use low cost VOIP services, e.g. Vonage, that are cloud-based. They may be using payroll services such as ADP and Intuit that function over the cloud," Bala adds. "Many SMBs use online banking, which is cloud-based. And they may be using automation tools that are cloud-based, such as Salesforce.com. So in my opinion, many SMBs are heavily cloud-based and more will follow suit."
For most small businesses, cloud use tends to be heavy on the application end.
"The most common cloud services relate to social media, document creation and storage, online communication and collaboration, and specialized data services like CRM," says Professor Bob Bunge.
As to other cloud services, small businesses have yet to explore those in significant numbers.
"While a number of SMBs have already begun to incorporate cloud-based services into their technology portfolio, particularly around SaaS, many have been hesitant to take the plunge and incorporate full-blown PaaS (Platform-as-a-Services) or IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) capabilities," says Weisberger.
However, the cloud is still young and small businesses are just beginning to feel their way through its many advantages.
"Cloud computing has ushered in a new era of possibilities for small businesses," says Cindy Bates, vice president of U.S. SMB at Microsoft. "It used to be that only the largest companies had access to the technology capabilities that the cloud now makes accessible to businesses of all sizes --things like video conferencing, Instant Messaging and low-cost data storage. Cloud computing delivers all of this and more, in a low-cost and low-maintenance manner. It has made it easier than ever to get a business up and running."
Pam Baker has written for numerous leading publications including, Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, the NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers.
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