For whatever reason, we Irish like to own houses and property, we don’t like to rent. Perhaps it’s a deep seated suspicion of the absentee landlord. Do we have a similar attitude to cloud?
There’s something reassuring about having your data in a physical format. When I started working in Data Processing, the hefty plastic of an open reel tape containing the back-up of a database file could be labelled and stored on a rack a short walk away. Whatever might happen, at least we knew where that tape was, just beyond this room full of disks, all present and correct.
As communications technology limped behind computing, there was another aspect of the tape worth considering – the ‘bits per second’ speed of a van full of tapes, versus that of the copper circuit. Your data needed to be close by. For a certain generation of IT professional, this has been a formative experience, most of which no longer holds true.
Does your data really need to live on-site?
Moving from your own traditional compute resources to cloud – into the rental market — makes a lot of sense, but the adoption of cloud depends on trust. The recent stories about the interception of data within the services of global brands on behalf of governments will do little to reassure the sceptical, and delight the conspiracy theorists.
Concern over the Patriot Act has frequently been cited as a reason why European organisations should be cautious in locating their data within US-owned services and facilities.
When this is robustly addressed in terms of legality (see this PDF and the Data Protection Commissioner’s guidance on cloud here) the focus of attention shifts not to interception within the law, but interception outside of the law, or at least in some obscure grey area where the rules are unclear and transparency irrelevant.
Even where data can be fully encrypted within the cloud, the sceptic will question whether the spooks have tricked you into believing the encryption algorithm you are using will protect your privacy when it is merely lulling you into that most dangerous condition – the illusion of safety. At the other end of reaction is a lack of surprise, a resigned ‘of course they’re looking at my data’, a view born of familiarity with advertising around your free email or your social media feed changing in response to your private communications.
Using the existing cloud, or building again?
This is clearly a very specific challenge for governments as they work through their plans to deliver cloud-computing efficiency. The Strategy published last year recognised the value of public cloud services for information that was to be made openly available, but proposed the creation of a number of ‘community cloud’ Data Centres specifically for Irish Government, where common systems could be securely deployed by a number of IT services companies.
I can see the value of this approach, but I’m not convinced that there needs to be more than two or three of these, given that massive scale underpins cloud economics.
The siting of up to ten data centres around the country would be an unusual approach. It also dismisses the private sector investment in cloud that already exists within the State, a valuable resource. Once the geographic resilience of the state has been addressed, there is no need to have a data centre in every county or parish, as the adjacency of services due to the restrictions of network speeds is no longer a realistic concern.
Control by each Government agency of its own systems is an essential requirement, and decentralised control on an elastic service platform is what cloud provides, as evidenced by the geographically diverse companies using Amazon Web Services, the European zone of which is deployed fully in Dublin.
If Europe and the world can use Dublin for cloud services, why can’t Ireland?