By Jonathon Kirby
Before “cloud sprawl” can be fully understood, we need a basic understanding of cloud computing. One useful definition is: “a colloquial expression used to describe a variety of different types of computing concepts that involve a large number of computers connected through a real-time communication network (such as the Internet).”
The phrase also commonly refers to virtual servers that store information for an organization, including saved documents, organizational data and software programs. Understanding this, we can define cloud sprawl.
Cloud sprawl is the distribution of organizational data across multiple cloud-based applications. For example, having different business departments using different clouds—such as Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, iCloud and others—leads to cloud sprawl. This is not a good situation because the CIO and IT asset managers have lost control, corporate data is scattered about on multiple platforms and data security is at risk.
Such a situation commonly occurs in environments where an organization has not sanctioned a cloud application for its end users. Without an approved cloud application that enables users to share and exchange files instantly—with each user adding his or her own additions and changes—users will find a way to utilize a cloud application on their own.
No IT asset manager or CIO wants to be involved in such a situation because it removes control of security checks and organizational information from the IT asset manager and puts the responsibility on the end users and the cloud applications they chose. This can lead to a very ambiguous situation for the organization and should be avoided, since no due diligence process has been conducted on the cloud companies and no one can be certain that any safeguards are in use.
Trying to avoid situations like that does not mean that IT leaders are completely opposed to cloud applications. Often, they are conflicted.
On one hand, IT executives are inspired by the drive and creativity of their development teams, and they love the velocity of development and releases, and the innovation that results. On the other hand, they are worried about the integrity of the data and the security of corporate information. Stability of the software platform is also a concern.
There are, however, a lot of benefits to cloud computing that are difficult to overlook. They include:
· Cost efficiency: The ability to purchase enterprise license agreements and additional software licenses in bulk helps reduce the cost of software acquisition significantly. Upgrade costs are also reduced because they can be purchased in bulk.
· Almost unlimited data storage: Data storage in the cloud is limited only by the size of server space of the cloud network provider. Upgrading to additional storage space is typically as easy as purchasing additional space and can be available to an organization almost instantly.
· Recovery: Backup and recovery of data is simplified by cloud computing. Backup images of data can be created and stored independently of the rest of the organization’s data. The creation of these images can also be automated. This provides a backup plan: In the event of data loss, it can be recovered quickly.
· Ease of software integration: Software integration is much easier in a cloud environment than in a native one because software integration happens within the cloud, and each software application has its own instance. This creates a functional software environment that is easily integrated into itself with minimal effort.
· Ease of information access: Information can be accessed by any employee, anywhere, without limitation. Mobile employees can modify a document at the same time as an employee in the office, and the two documents can be integrated. Such rapid accessibility to information can be a tremendous asset to an organization in both creative and traditional ways.
· Rapid deployment: The deployment of new software can be a seamless experience for users in the organization. When new software programs are purchased, they are unlocked and become accessible through the organization’s cloud and can be used instantly.
There are many benefits to cloud computing that can help organizations in all industries. The advantages are significant enough that a large number of organizations have decided that the risks of cloud computing are outweighed by the benefits.
So, what can you do about cloud sprawl? You make a decision. That’s one of the only solutions to this issue, and it’s also one of the best. Most employees will adhere to a corporate policy as long as it doesn’t overly strain their ability to perform their job function.
If organizations allow cloud storage applications in their environment and designate a particular cross-platform application—such as Google, Android, Mac, iOS and Windows—employees are likely to comply. IT security can then take steps to monitor the uploads and downloads to and from that specific known application.
This means that data security can be maintained, the organization is safer and more efficient, and employees are satisfied.
Jonathon Kirby is a content and development specialist with the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM). During his six years at the association, he has worked on projects such as the IAITAM Best Practice Library, the five IAITAM certification courses and the IAITAM Member’s Digest.