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Data on the cloud: boon or headache?
Gartner says digital storage needs will grow from 329 exabytes in 2011 to 4.1.
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STORING and sharing large files via email has been a bugbear for collaboration and communication; no longer.

Now, users can upload photos, videos and image- rich presentations to the cloud.

With Singapore Telecommunications' (SingTel) Store And Share, for example, subscribers can store up to 10 gigabytes (GB) of data free, using both PCs and Macs, as well as mobile devices running on either the iOS or Android platforms.

Users of Store And Share can also use it to share files via SMS, social networks, instant messaging and email. In addition to editing photos and documents on the go, users can also schedule an automatic back-up of files of their choice using the Smart Backup feature.

Other companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Box and Apple, also offer a variety of cloud-based storage for users. Google Drive is the latest cloud storage service to join the fray, and provides 5GB of free storage for users.

The service is fully integrated with Google Docs, a popular collaboration tool for Google users. In addition, Google Drive works on Macs and PCs and Android phones; an iOS version is yet to be released.

Microsoft's SkyDrive offers 7GB free, Dropbox lets users enjoy 2GB of free storage, and both Box and Apple offer 5GB free to users.

Thanks to the proliferation of mobile personal devices, the ease of uploading data and accessing it has led analyst firm Gartner to predict that worldwide consumer digital storage needs will grow from 329 exabytes in 2011 to 4.1 zettabytes in 2016, driven by growth in user-generated content. (An exabyte is 1,000,000 Terabytes, and a zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes.)

Gartner also notes that in 2011, 7 per cent of consumer content was stored on the cloud, and expects that to grow to 36 per cent in 2016, driven by the need to share content and access it on multiple devices.

Corporate use

In the corporate landscape, there is little to differentiate between personal and office use of the cloud. Today's employees have untethered themselves from the confines of the desktop PC and, to some extent, are living in a BYOD (bring your own device) world.

Corporate data is intermingled with personal data, and is being shared and stored on the cloud. The argument is that this improves communication, collaboration, as well as worker productivity.

This is backed by a recent VMware study across 10 Asia Pacific countries of over 2,000 employees from multinational organisations. The study found that those using their own devices to complete work tasks saw significant boosts in productivity at all levels of business.

This occurrence is most prevalent in Thailand (81 per cent of respondents), India (72 per cent), China (69 per cent) and South Korea (68 per cent). In Singapore, that figure was 88 per cent.

VMware is an enterprise software company that offers virtualisation and cloud computing solutions.

Employees do not differentiate between personal and work uses of devices and apps, and 68 per cent of Singapore employees use Web-based apps to communicate with colleagues, while a further 44 per cent said they collaborate over such apps.

Challenges for CIOs

One of the challenges facing CIOs and IT directors is compliance and security of corporate information stored and shared on the cloud, on a personal cloud service. There could be risks as the data may be compromised or disclosed, to the detriment of the organisation.

A second challenge is data residency: Where does the data that is "stored" on the cloud reside?

What kind of issues does this pose for companies whose data might be hacked? Do residency of data and the ability to recover the data fall under the jurisdiction of the country in which the data resides, or the country the organisation operates out of? How would these issues be resolved?

More pertinent is the frequency and percentage of instances where corporate IT policies are being flouted as employees seek their own solutions to communicating and collaborating with colleagues and external vendors. What should CIOs, and their IT departments, do about this?

Says Arun Chandrasekaran, research director, Gartner: "The major challenge is whether it is possible for corporate data to be stored in a remote data centre that IT has neither visibility nor control of. This would result in breach of compliance, lack of security controls and manageability issues."

He points out that the main issue is in complying with data residency regulations that are mandated by federal and state governments, and central banks. Some laws stipulate that sensitive data needs to be stored locally on-shore.

CIOs will have to face these challenges sooner than later, and figure out how to wrest back control of corporate data while allowing employees the flexibility of BYOD, using Web- based applications, and collaborating with each other via cloud storage services.

 

This article was first published in The Business Times.

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