Making the Cloud a Safe in Every Way -- Except One
Roopinder Tara posted on November 14, 2016 |

With all this talk of your data and programs being on the cloud, you might imagine it as an amorphous, indistinct place in the sky. Depictions of it as a literal cloud do a lot to further this notion. The real answer is more down to earth. The cloud takes physical form as a bunch of buildings;very big buildings. More and more of them are being built thanks to the enormous amount of data that we are all uploading.

Not what you thought the cloud looked like? TheMicrosoft data center in Des Moines, Iowa, is 16 large buildings. (Image courtesy of The Des Moines Register.)
Not what you thought the cloud looked like? TheMicrosoft data center in Des Moines, Iowa, is 16 large buildings. (Image courtesy of The Des Moines Register.)

Predictions of cloud storage by Cisco. (Image courtesy of nSCREENMEDIA.)
Predictions of cloud storage by Cisco. (Image courtesy of nSCREENMEDIA.)

A single building in the Microsoft Azure data center in Des Moines, Iowa, is big enough to house two jumbo jets or a soccer field, said Microsoft’s Ryan Northrop. Microsoft was at Bentley's Year in Infrastructure conference in London as a Gold sponsor, which guaranteed it some stage time among the many infrastructure projects for which the event is a showcase.

Microsoft's buildings exist in pairs, each of which is redundant, so if one of the buildings takes a hit, the other can still serve you your data. That's the theory.

Microsoft’s data centers around the world. “We don’t have one in Antarctica,”Northrop joked at Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference. (Image courtesy of DATACENTERS.com.)
Microsoft’s data centers around the world. “We don't have one in Antarctica,”Northrop joked at Bentley's Year in Infrastructure conference. (Image courtesy of DATACENTERS.com.)

And Microsoft, with Azure, is not even the biggest cloud service provider. Amazon is. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the undisputed leader of cloud services, according to Datamation, with Microsoft and IBM forming the big three.

Amazon—The Shopping Site?

Amazon, best known as a shopping site, has emerged as the leader of cloud services, even though these services are far from the core business. There is a myth that Amazon had some excess servers lying around that were strung together and offered to the public. That couldn’t be further from the truth, said Amazon's Benjamin Black in Network World. All the hardware was purposefully built for AWS, said Black. Amazon realized that once it had created the Elastic Compute Cloud for its own use, the company could offer the service to the outside world, which led to AWS. Last year, it was a USD 6 billion revenue generator for Amazon.

With all this personal and business data under one roof, is it safe? As for prying eyes, there are not too many. Only 10 people staff the data center, said Northrop. And for each server, one person has access to the hardware and another to the software. It’s like the two keys required to launch a nuclear strike.

A Soft Target?

The cloud has become part of our lives, like the Internet, electricity, communications and other infrastructure of our work and personal lives. As such, it is worth caring for and protecting. Just like feeling safer in an upper story room in your hotel instead of being on the ground floor, it felt safer when the cloud was in the sky. Someone must be backing it up, keeping it safe, never prying into it, right? But then you remember, it’s on the ground, with a large perimeter, no defenses, no armed guards and no military defenses. The ground is also teeming with bad guys. What hope is there that they these data centers are not already a target? Already, data breaches and hacked accounts have become daily occurrences, but that will pale in comparison to the damage that could occur should even one of these large cloud services have their cloud networks compromised or destroyed.

To the companies that host us on the cloud: Thanks. But let's be careful out there. We are trusting you.


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