Cloud is the New Wild West

By Stephanie Blanchard, Digital Editor — October 09, 2013

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 opened up unexplored regions. Moving ever westward, the American Frontier attracted entrepreneurs and settlers as well as bandits and outlaws. The rapid adoption of the cloud is similar: the opportunities are exponential, but so are the risks.

According to research released by Gartner this summer, while only 38% of surveyed organizations are using cloud services today, it’s actually 80% that plan on using it in some form within 12 months  - including 55% of organizations which are not currently doing so. Gartner cites three key factors for increased usage: solving specific problems, increasing business impact, and creating a diverse solution portfolio.

Right now, though, there is a sinister “Shadow IT” happening, similar to the lawless nature of the Wild West. That’s when employees skirt around the controls, compliance and governance rules in place, because they prefer working with consumer-grade apps. Take file-sharing services, for example. It’s a category, like collaboration and development, which has seen a lot of new entrants to the space. According to research by Skyhigh Networks, organizations are using an average of 19 different services.

From the end-user perspective, it’s an individual choice. For the enterprise, it’s a nightmare. Many of these services are not enterprise ready, lacking certifications or authentication abilities, no encryption, etc. Keen IT personnel may see these services as high risk, fly-by-nights, but employees want what they want, said Rajiv Gupta, CEO, Skyhigh Networks, in an interview with Mobile Enterprise.

Gupta pointed out that sometimes these choices are made simply because equivalent enterprise options do not exist, or even likelier - the employee is not aware of the options. And once an end-user is happy with a particular app, she or he is not likely to go elsewhere unless forced.

If there are multiple services in place though - how are employees effectively collaborating with each other? When two dozen individuals are each using two dozen different things, it's safe to say the enterprise can lose control, and increase risk. And forget about the economy of scale.

It’s Getting Cloudy
Formerly with Cisco, and with more than 20 years in enterprise software and security experience (and 45 patents to his name), Gupta has talked with many businesses over the years. Within the last two, mobile and cloud in particular kept coming up over again, with “mobile to cloud” being the forward thinking fear. That is, enterprises could see the writing on the wall: as employees use mobile directly to cloud, the company is completely blind to that traffic, a problem coming for sure.

Skyhigh’s data, collected from organizations across various verticals - financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, media and services - represents more than 3 million users. Here’s the takeaway: the average number of cloud services in use by an organization is 545. Some enterprises are using as many as 1,769. Gupta does not see that number going down either. His company addresses this pain point, by adding hundreds of services each month to its secure access solution.

“If someone asked me right now to name all the services, I might be able to get to 95,” Gupta said. When someone with vast experience is unable to cite all the apps available, what are the chances a company can? Nil.

The data also shows that IT routinely blocks services based on perceived productivity concerns rather than actual risk. For example, low-risk services are blocked 40% more than those that are high-risk. Box is blocked 34% of the time, but RapidGator, a high-risk service, is blocked only 1% of the time. Codehaus is rarely blocked (2%) while Apple iCloud (95%) is almost always blocked in the financial services sector.

In addition, tracking services such as Clicky and Woopra and others are the least blocked (9%) despite the fact that such services deliver zero business benefit and expose the organization to watering hole attacks, said Gupta.

Effective Expansion
Policies might be set with the idea no one should be watching Netflix at work, a valid point if the job doesn’t call for reviewing films. Youtube, Pininterest and Instagram are all routinely blocked presumably for wasting bandwidth or wasting company time. But while blocking familiar services, IT inadvertently ignores those that really should be blocked.

If enterprises base decisions on risks, as opposed to concerns only about productivity or bandwidth or just banning familiar apps, the rapid rise of cloud services going forward does not have to correlate to an increase in security issues.

The gold is there. Cloud services certainly are an opportunity for enterprises to improve performance, agility and productivity. “Unfortunately, there is also a lot of fool’s gold, and a lot of shysters as well,” Gupta said.

While the Wild West was a time of heroes and hardship, it was also a time of discovery and advancement. It’s up the enterprise to decide: Where will it take the cloud next?

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