Getting the Cloud under Control

Many organizations are concerned about the use of cloud services; the challenge is to securely enable the use of these services without negating and the benefits that they bring. To meet this challenge it is essential to move from IT Management to IT Governance.

Cloud services are outside the direct control of the customer’s organization and their use places control of the service and infrastructure in the hands of the Cloud Service Provider (CSP). The service and its security provided cannot be ensured by the customer – the customer can only assure the service through a governance process. A governance based approach allows trust in the CSP to be assured through a combination of internal processes, standards and independent assessments.

Governance is distinct from management in that management plans, builds, runs and monitors the IT service in alignment with the direction set by the governance body to achieve the objectives. This distinction is clearly defined in COBIT 5. Governance ensures that business needs are clearly defined and agreed and that they are satisfied in an appropriate way. Governance sets priorities and the way in which decisions are made; it monitors performance and compliance against the agreed objectives.

The starting point for a governance based approach is to define the organizational objectives for using cloud services; everything else follows from these. Then set the constraints on the use of cloud services in line with the organization’s objectives and risk appetite. There are risks involved with all IT service delivery models; assessing these risks in a common way is fundamental to understanding the additional risk (if any) involved in the use of a cloud service. Finally there are many concrete steps that an organization can take to manage the risks associated with their use of cloud services. These include:

  • Common governance approach – the cloud is only one way in which IT services are delivered in most organizations. Adopt a common approach to governance and risk management that covers all forms of IT service delivery.
  • Discover Cloud Use – find out what cloud services are actually being used by the organization. There is now a growing market in tools to help with this. Assess the services that you have discovered are being used against the organization’s objectives and risk appetite.
  • Govern Cloud Access – to cloud services with the same rigour as if they were on premise. There should be no need for you to use a separate IAM system for this – identity federation standards like SAML 2.0 are well defined and the service should support these. The service should also support the authentication methods, provide the granular access controls and monitor individuals’ user of the services that your organization requires.
  • Identify who is responsible for each risk relating to the cloud service – the CSP or your organization. Make sure that you take care of your responsibilities and assure that the CSP meets their obligations.
  • Require Independent certification – an important way to assure that a cloud service provides what it claims is through independent certification. Demand the CSP provides independent certification and attestations for the aspects of the service that matter to your organization.
  • Use standards – standards provide the best way of avoiding technical lock-in to a proprietary service. Understand what standards are relevant and require the service to support these standards
  • Encrypt your data – there are many ways in which data can be leaked or lost from a cloud service. The safest way to protect your data against this risk is to encrypt it. Make sure that you retain control over the encryption keys.
  • Read the Contract – make sure you read and understand the contract. Most cloud service contracts are offered by the CSP on a take it or leave it basis. Make sure that what is offered is acceptable to your organization.

KuppingerCole has extensive experience of guiding organizations through their adoption of cloud services as well as many published research notes. Remember that the cloud is only one way of obtaining an IT service – have a common governance process for all. If a cloud service meets your organization’s need then the simple motto is “to trust your Cloud Provider but verify everything they claim”.

This article has originally appeared in KuppingerCole Analysts' View newsletter.



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