Public cloud computing has transformed the way companies think about their IT infrastructure. The scalable storage and processing power of cloud services have made it possible for even small companies to compete with their bigger, more data-intensive competitors. Software and platform as a service offerings have opened up a vast range of possibilities for organizations that lack the capital to set up their own data infrastructure.
For many organizations, however, maintaining a private network environment may be necessary to safeguard sensitive data and proprietary assets. Although building a private cloud can make this data easy to access and secure, they don’t offer the same power and versatility provided through public clouds. Fortunately, a hybrid cloud environment can provide the best of both worlds. There are a few challenges that organizations must keep in mind when deploying a hybrid cloud.
The fundamental private-public architecture of a hybrid cloud model requires the nearly constant transfer of data from one cloud environment to another. Public cloud computing resources are capable of powering the resource-intensive analytics programs that deliver valuable business insights, but they need data to work with. Most of that data comes from the private cloud side of a hybrid deployment. Theoretically, a privately managed cloud should offer the highest level of security, whether it’s housed in physical, on-site, or colocated servers, or maintained in a virtual private network (VPN). However, in order to leverage the computing resources of the public cloud, the private cloud must make its data available.
When data is transmitted from one cloud environment to another, it becomes vulnerable to eavesdropping and cyberattacks (such as hybrid cloud DDoS attack) that bypass typical authentication security measures. Encryption is the best way to protect this data, making it all but impossible to access even if it falls into the wrong hands in the event of a security breach. Fortunately, powerful cryptographic tools like hardware security modules (HSMs), which generate encryption keys to encode data and govern access to it, make it easy for IT managers to provide assurances that valuable data will not be compromised when it’s transmitted from the private cloud to the public cloud.
Ensuring compliance with industry standards and government regulations on the handling of sensitive data is one of the most important tasks facing any IT infrastructure. When a single mistake or oversight could result in expensive fines or ruinous lawsuits, organizations can’t afford to leave anything to chance. Establishing comprehensive compliance protocols in one cloud environment is difficult enough, but hybrid clouds introduce additional complexities and problems. Both environments must meet compliance guidelines because potentially sensitive data will be moving freely between those environments.
To ensure full compliance, the components of a hybrid cloud model should be evaluated as completely separate environments, but also as a singular environment. Compliance needs to be a key consideration from the earliest planning stages of the deployment. Integrating two cloud environments and worrying about regulatory compliance after the fact is a recipe for an expensive disaster. Fortunately, meeting these requirements is easier to manage in hybrid clouds deployed in a data center environment since the data center has a vested interest in ensuring its own compliance standards.
Sensitive data can be compromised in a variety of ways. Whether corrupted, destroyed, inappropriately accessed, or simply lost, a data breach of any kind can spell disaster for an organization. In a hybrid cloud environment, even the most secure private cloud could put data at risk by sharing it with its public counterpart. Data security is always the responsibility of whoever owns the data, so companies using a hybrid cloud model must take special care to assess the security protocols and data practices of their chosen public cloud provider.
The hybrid cloud vulnerabilities here extend beyond the provider, however. In a workplace where people can access customer data with their own devices through the public portion of the hybrid cloud, organizations must account for the potential security risks posed by those devices, which may or may not be secured or connected to other networks. With so many points of access to the hybrid cloud, it’s imperative that strict, top-to-bottom guidelines identify every potential threat to data and rigorously enforce security protocols.
Setting up a hybrid cloud model necessarily means giving up some measure of control. In addition to security concerns, organizations need to pay close attention to the terms of a public cloud provider’s service level agreement (SLA), which establishes the terms, guarantees, and conditions of the service they’re providing. A critical factor here is server uptime and availability. If the public cloud provider’s servers go down, a hybrid cloud deployment could very well be crippled as well. Even a few minutes of downtime can cost a company dearly in the form of reduced productivity, lost opportunities, and tarnished brand reputation.
Any cloud provider’s SLA should be carefully reviewed by both IT professionals who know what level of service their deployment requires and attorneys who can identify potential concerns and liabilities. A good SLA will stipulate what recourse is available if services are disrupted or data is compromised, leaving nothing to chance for organizations looking to implement guard against hybrid cloud vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately, all the security protocols and legal agreements in the world often are powerless to prevent simple human error. Research has shown that for all the threats posed by cyber attacks, more than half of all data breaches can be traced back to human error. From emails with sensitive data being sent to the wrong people to using unsecured devices to access data, there are numerous ways that people put their IT infrastructure at risk without even knowing it, making human error perhaps the most serious of hybrid cloud security challenges.
Education and training is the best protection against this threat. Many employees might not understand the nature of a hybrid cloud model, making it more likely that they’ll engage in behaviors that could compromise the network. While they may not need to know the particulars about how it works, simply making them aware of potential risks and establishing clear guidelines for accessing data can go a long way toward eliminating the variable of human error.
Hybrid cloud environments provide a versatile solution for organizations looking for the security of a private cloud and the scalable power of the public cloud. No solution is perfect, though, so it’s important for them to keep the challenges associated with hybrid clouds in mind as they roll out their network deployments.
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