Data, Data, Who Has My Data?

Wayne Rash

Chances are pretty good that the huge data loss this week by T-Mobile and a Microsoft subsidiary won't affect you much. At least not directly. By now, companies have seen that personal communications devices such as the T-Mobile Sidekick series that had its data eaten in the server outage aren't suitable for enterprise communications. A data breach by members of the U.S. Secret Service using the device a few years ago demonstrated that.

But the problem really goes beyond just the celebrity-studded Sidekick. While the hundreds of thousands of bereft Sidekick users are no doubt devastated by the loss of their lunch dates and tweets, the real culprit is an unwise use of the public cloud as a place to store information that actually matters -- at least that part of the public cloud in which there's no accountability, no provision for failure, and apparently, no backup.

In reality, the problem with wireless devices such as the Sidekick is that they manage their data in places you don't control. In today's enterprise, there are lots of opportunities -- and lots of temptations -- to move at least part of your data into the cloud. It's convenient, it's cheap, and it's widely available. Unfortunately, it may not be safe or secure, and it may not meet your compliance requirements.

This is not to suggest that the mere fact of storing data in the cloud is the same thing as being unsafe. There are companies, Salesforce.com for example, that manage their security quite well, allow customers to meet their compliance requirements, and provide a well-designed and flexible platform for data in the cloud. But not every cloud provider is Salesforce.com.

So what do you do to protect yourself against the risks of massive data loss, a data breach, or stupidity at the provider level? First, make sure that you know where your data is. If you don't know where to find your e-mail, your customer list or your warehouse inventory, then chances are it's not protected. Second, make sure that your provider has adequate backup and data preservation capabilities. Third, consider keeping really important information in-house.

Yes, the cloud is a wonderful thing, and most likely there will come a time when we'll all keep our data out there, somewhere. But with the history of the Sidekick outage, earlier Google outages and other cloud catastrophes, do you really want to risk your company this way?

The cloud is a great place for some things. And some providers have made it a great place for a lot of things. But in general, you keep the crown jewels locked up for a reason. This week's events are just one more illustration of that reason.



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