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IT execs at RSA extol virtues of cloud computing, with familiar caveats

Ellen Messmer | Feb. 17, 2011
Deciding to move enterprise data into cloud-computing environments is still a decision fraught with anxiety over security, as well as operational and legal issues, say IT managers, but the prospect of cost savings and ability to "burst" data into the cloud during peak periods is proving irresistible.

"Two to three years ago there weren't really mature offerings," she says, but she now senses a much better outlook in the cloud market. And the European Union has begun to re-think its data protection rules, which could lead to more flexibility on data-transfer restrictions, but that will probably take some time. But some types of data, such as national-security data that companies like GE have, simply aren't candidates for the public cloud, she adds.

It's clear many IT professionals looking into international cloud-computing options are getting the feeling, warranted for not, that countries apply restrictions on cross-border data flows simply for economic reasons to keep data-computing in their countries. But at any rate, Jim Reavis, co-founder and director of the Cloud Security Alliance, who also spoke at an RSA session, acknowledged that the legal concerns related to international cloud computing across country borders are substantial.

Sensitive data that falls under the Payment Card Industry (PCI) requirements are often debated due to worries about litigation, and many U.S. and European laws act to discourage data-sharing across country boundaries, he noted.

"The Patriot Act comes up over and over again," he said. "The long reach of Uncle Sam is giving a chilling effect on cloud from a legal perspective." This can apply just to the question of data backup. International restrictions applied under law about data transfer are slowing cloud adoption and leaving IT managers sometimes resigned to sticking to the traditional hosted model, he said.

But the appeal of the dual private cloud and public cloud combo is huge, said Dave Cullinane, chief information security officer at eBay, who joined Kelly on the panel at RSA.

Cullinane, a co-founder of the Cloud Security Alliance, says eBay has become an adopter of cloud-computing and uses the Microsoft Azure cloud operating system, which has been out for a year now.

EBay has taken the approach of building a private cloud based on Azure that can be extended when a burst of additional capacity is needed into Microsoft's (MSFT) Azure-based data centers. "It's a private cloud, but we can also run it at Microsoft," said Cullinane.

EBay might go along at a certain pace from March through August but after that, especially as the holiday season starts, eBay's site visits and processing needs spike upward radically, he said. At that point, eBay can "burst capacity into Microsoft's data center." The alternative would be building a data center at huge cost. For eBay, which operates in many countries around the world, cloud computing is viewed as a good approach. Cullinane says eBay is saving $90 million per year in electricity costs alone.


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