Data Ownership Questions Every Cloud Customer Must Ask

Data ownership is a key area of concern for organisations moving servers into the cloud. Traditionally, organisations have become comfortable with hosting and managing servers within their own environments. There is a certain feeling of security when a system administrator or CTO can point at a piece of hardware and say “that’s my email server” or “those are my database servers which host our customer transaction records”. These servers are the lifeblood of IT services and it is no surprise that organisations want to host them in a trusted and resilient environment.


Often the feeling of being able to see or touch the physical server outweighs other significant considerations regarding data backup and disaster recovery processes. It is these critical areas which are often best served by an offsite cloud based solution. Knowledge that your servers are safely hosted in your own self-managed comms room is not much comfort if that room suffers a critical network outage or, worse still, fire or flood.


When you deal with a cloud environment, your perception and the actual proximity to your data is going to be very different. Sure you can interact with your data as if your servers are just in the next building. But in reality, not only is your data going to be hosted outside your premises, in some instances, it may even be hosted outside Australia.



The thought of losing control can dissuade many from the cloud


The thought of practically losing control over their data can easily dissuade companies from moving to the cloud. And regardless of the many benefits of hosting servers within a mature cloud environment, the questions commonly asked by organisations seeking to gain trust in the cloud remain valid. This article will focus on some key questions an organisation should ask a potential provider before moving to the cloud.



The Big Question – Who owns my data?


When you migrate servers to a cloud service provider, you are essentially hosting your intellectual property on someone else’s infrastructure. In some instances this may not be an issue. But if your servers hold confidential or sensitive business data, then the question “who owns my data” certainly begs an answer. Other relevant questions you need to ask include:



How will data be treated within contract as well as when the contract expires?


What happens to your data if you decide to scale back an individual server or discontinue your environment completely? How long will the cloud service provider commit to hosting your data once the server is decommissioned? You need to ask these questions and know more about the provider’s ‘tear down’ and ‘data deletion’ policies.


What security do you have that the provider will, in fact, delete your data? The answers to these questions will help you gain peace of mind and understanding regarding your cloud service providers product and processes.



How will data be segregated?


In most cases, you’ll be sharing computing resources with other cloud customers. Surely you wouldn’t want those customers to gain access to your data whether intentionally or accidentally. So make sure clear and effective measures are taken to ensure your data can only be accessed by people in your organisation.



Can I get a copy of a Virtual Machine?


In a cloud environment, the servers you’ll be managing – i.e., the servers that will be holding your applications and data – are going to be virtual servers. Virtual servers or virtual machines (VMs) are files that can be created, copied and backed up just like any other file.


Sometimes you’ll want to have copies of your VMs. One reason might be because you want to raise your own virtual infrastructure. Another is when you want to migrate to another provider and take your VMs with you. Since there can be some proprietary-related issues like incompatible VM formats, be sure to ask whether copying of VMs is allowed or even possible.



Are there any Virtual Machine Licensing issues?


Before you take copies of your VMs, you may want to investigate first the licensing details of the VMs’ operating systems and how they may affect your ability to take a copy. If the cloud service provider owns the server licenses of the VMs you want to take out, this can create legal problems. Tackle this issue before you commit, so you will know your limitations and evaluate how these may affect your IT service strategy.



Can I see where my data is hosted?



Request a data centre tour with your potential service provider and see whether your servers are going to be hosted in a business grade data centre which will be supportive of your organisational requirements.


You will also want to ask your service provider how their cloud solution resources are distributed and how their network is structured. This will help you determine whether the provider’s infrastructure can support high levels of resiliency and availability.



Onshore or offshore?


Depending upon where your data is hosted, there may be quite different and inhospitable legal frameworks dictating who may access your data. There may be legislation like the United States Patriot Act, which may allow their government to look into your data.


If you are considering hosting servers and data with a solution provider who leverages off shore resources you should investigate the implications of hosting business critical services under the legal jurisdiction of a different country.


Even with the outstanding benefits of cloud computing, some companies are not easily convinced to adopt primarily because of issues such as data ownership. But as with any outsourcing, choosing the right provider is key. We hope this article has armed you with some ammo to find out who those providers are!

Related Stories