Analyst warns of cloud code loopholes

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Analyst warns of cloud code loopholes

Local code of practice could struggle on compliance.

Government-led moves to establish an Asia Pacific code of practice for cloud computing providers could be counter-productive by drawing attention away from more rigorous international standards, Ovum analyst Steve Hodgkinson has warned.

iTnews last week revealed that Australia's National Standing Committee on Cloud Computing was considering the adoption of a voluntary code of practice for cloud services, developed by the Institute of IT Professionals New Zealand and funded by the likes of Salesforce.com and Google.

The code sought to establish a "trust mark" for local and foreign-hosted cloud services, while determining the potential impact of overseas legislation like the US Patriot Act on cloud services from US-based companies.

Hodgkinson said while any code of practice — regardless of emphasis on cloud-like products — was a good idea, too much focus on the certification aspects of such a code could simply exacerbate the 'cloudwashing' of normal IT procurement, while drawing attention away from more rigorous international standards.

"A code of practice is good because it reinforces understanding of what it is to be a cloud provider and what it is to provide cloud services," he told iTnews.

"Compliance is a bit more of a difficult one; that somehow, somebody would provide cloud services a tick to say whether they are grade A, B or C. That is problematic in my mind because the field is moving so quickly that it's a bit hard for people in that compliance space to actually be on top of the game."

He urged those developing the code to focus on "education, thought leadership, case studies and a progressive increasing of everyone understanding of what it is to be a buyer and what it is to be a supplier".

"To try and get to the next step of certification to me is a step too far ... you have unintended errors in the certification process because they're overly conservative or overly relaxed and that will create more damage," he said.

Hodgkinson pointed to the British Government's G-Cloud, which saw hundreds of small suppliers attempt to provide services through the Government application store on the pretense of cloud-based delivery.

The Government ultimately adopted a panel of 250 suppliers, three-quarters of which were from SMEs.

But Hodgkinson said an overly broad code of practice locally could unwittingly allow smaller cloud services providers from reaching a similar level of certification without necessarily proving the same capabilities.

"If you look at the way Salesforce.com has operated in this market, they've been front-and-centre of making sure that they comply with any hurdle that's shown up," he said.

"When [financial services regulator] APRA started raising concerns about cloud services in financial institutions, Salesforce immediately met with APRA and demonstrated them that they comply because in a sense, those large organisations are effectively setting the benchmark for what it is to be a cloud service provider which are enterprise-grade."

Smaller providers, he said, should move to offer services compliance with international standards, rather than local codes.

One of the cloud committee's other goals is to contribute to the International Standards Organisation's Joint Technical Committee on developing and improving cloud standards.

Hodgkinson said the code would provide a "useful transitory step" for those organisations unsure of differences between standard IT procurement and cloud services.

"Slightly paradoxically that can include large enterprises, but for anyone that's not familiar with the thought processes and logic of cloud procurement — either buying it or selling it," he said.

"I wouldn't want to see too much talk of it being used as a relatively crude compliance thing in an immature, half-evolving market."

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