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Cloud Computing: Could the Public Cloud be More Secure than a Private One?

By Dick Weisinger

It seems counterintuitive, but some, possibly with interests in the public cloud, are arguing that the use of private clouds could open up organizations to more risk than if they were to go the route of the public cloud.  How could that be?  The reasoning boils down to the fact that building a cloud environment is complex task and organizations without top-notch expertise and that try to do it for themselves may be asking for trouble.

The nature of the cloud is that data from different applications are moved together and coexist on the same physical machine or on adjacent local network nodes.  A cloud ‘done right’ strongly and securely partitions data between adjacent applications.  While data from different applications in the cloud may reside as neighbors within their storage areas, the data is never comingled.  Butif through flawed  configuration software bugs in the virtual machine infrastructure software, application data potentially can  become vulnerable.  For private clouds, the argument has been that even if the private cloud environment had some sort of insecurity, the data would still be inside the firewall of the organization, so it should be isolated from any attempt to try to hack into it.

Joe McKendrick, lead analyst for Unisphere, summed up some of the concerns that some people are voicing about the use of a private cloud structure by saying “One of the major show-stoppers so far with public cloud is fears about putting your data and your business out with an outside third-party provider.  There’s a lot of discussion about private cloud where companies basically assemble their own clouds and provide their own online services across the enterprise as a remedy for this. They believe that because the data and applications stay within the bounds of the enterprise, there’s a little bit more control.  But the problem is then that there aren’t enough controls within the enterprise to guard this data.”
Traditional applications running in an organization are self contained and securely architected.  With the introduction of private clouds, the data from these applications will often be replicated and copied across numerous servers.  McKendrick said “The foundation of private cloud is essentially having the enterprise make data and applications accessible to anybody across the enterprise who needs it and there are a lot of questions that raises.  What happens is a lot of data is replicated or taken out of the production environment, where it may be secure, to other environments where controls may not be as stringent.”
While it still seems a bit difficult to believe, there is clearly some amount of truth in the argument that because public cloud vendors employ teams of security experts for  architecting their system, that they can potentially offer a cloud environment that is more secure than the private cloud, the more compelling argument in favor of the public cloud still is the cost savings.
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