As you know from my previous blog entry, it is my opinion that using the cloud (some server out there in cyberspace) for MES data is not a good idea. Here I will explore some of the risks that led me to this conclusion.
My first concern is with the confidentiality of the data. Although certainly the very nature of the internet poses some security risks, I do think that it is largely over stated, particularly by those who want to sell security solutions. Most of us are pretty safe in common transactions. Obviously large or visible organizations are more at risk, but also have tighter security protocols.
However, you may not realize that some content that you create or post “in the Cloud” does not stay confidential. Here is an example of the terms and conditions of a popular Cloud solution:
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.1
However, if you have your formulations, production stats, costing, regulatory compliance data, and other very confidential internal information off site on someone else’s server, all it takes is one greedy technical person with a memory stick, and that data can be in your competitor’s hands tomorrow. While I realize that most providers take exceptional security provisions, even the most secure systems can be hacked. Perhaps one could make the argument that data on a secure server is more secure than on one of yours, precisely because the supplier has more security experience. But there is no substitute for locking the server room door, and disconnecting the MES server from the outside world.
True that the same greedy individual with a memory stick and access to your server room can do the same damage – but she can do that damage as your trusted employee no matter where your data physically resides.
Secondly, as we all know, once something is on the internet, it is there forever. That picture of you mooning the dean during hell-week may cost you the top job some day. Even if it is removed from the primary server, with the replications, backups etc that are performed on these servers, there is a copy somewhere – maybe it will never surface, maybe it will. But, if it was never there, it cannot surface.
For regulatory data, there is usually a provision that the data must be kept for a period of time (with net contents data it is usually 2 years plus shelf life), after which it can be destroyed. However, if there is additional data in existence, it must be available to regulators in an audit situation. Even if one has nothing to hide, it is usually just good business practice to supply only the information that is required, no more. Who knows what silly oversight may show up in a single datum from 4 years ago that at the very least will cost time and energy to investigate and justify? On your server, you can ensure old data is deleted. Someone else may archive it, or keep old backups, or whatever.
Conversely: data is NOT like money in one way: there is no Deposit Insurance. If you keep your money in a bank, and the bank is robbed, your money may have been stolen, but the bank and insurance company make good by giving you the same amount of money – different bills, but every bit as negotiable. If your data is stolen, corrupted, or erased, and this is done effectively from backups and archives as well, it really is your data that was stolen. No one can give you equivalent data!
But in many ways cloud computing may parallel banking: At one time banks paid reasonable interest for your money (about half the rate they charged for lending it) – now they pay almost nothing and invent new fees every day for each transaction or service. ATMs started as a way for the bank to save money on teller salaries and are now costing consumers up to $3.00 or more so that they can do the teller’s job for the bank! As cloud providers consolidate and become the same kind of oligopoly that the banks are, there will be changes to agreements that will result in charges for anything measureable – per user, per month, per cpu, speed, priority, GB transferred, GB stored, number of transactions, maybe even types of transactions, database access cycles, connect time, cancellation fees or transfer of data to another institution… In the digital age, everything can be measured, and hence charged for.
Unscrupulous, or financially troubled vendors may even hold data for ransom. Or, a bank error in paying your bill may cause the cloud supplier to restrict access to your data until you are paid in full.
I am not saying that data should not be on the cloud. Sharing family photos is a great idea, as are numerous other cloud applications. But storing your mission critical, sensitive, confidential or regulatory data outside of your system is, in my opinion, too big a risk.