Cloud computing, server farms and information security – is Kenya ready?

What you need to know:

  • Companies offering these services have a high concentration of server farms scattered across the globe with a view to providing services on a 24/7 basis.
  • Have you ever wondered why YouTube servers never get “full” despite millions of users uploading videos every minute?
  • What guarantee does your cloud service provider give you in terms of protecting the information assets that you are surrendering to the cloud?

In recent months, there has been increased talk about cloud computing services within Kenya's ICT sector. What exactly are cloud computing and its associated services?

As usual, Wikipedia provides a good starting point with diagrams, and defines cloud computing as Internet-based computing in which large groups of remote servers are networked to allow centralised data storage, and online access to computer services or resources.

In simpler terms, there exist companies that put together a large number of computer servers in order to offer computer services to a large group of clients through the Internet. The clients may include individual users, corporate organisations and even governments.

As an individual, you may have been using cloud services without even realising it. Your popular free email account (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) and your Facebook, Twitter or YouTube services are all hosted “in the cloud”. This means the companies offering these services have a high concentration of server farms scattered across the globe with a view to providing services on a 24/7 basis.

WITHOUT BLINKING

They provide redundancy and resilience such that if a set of servers in one geographical location fails, the other set automatically takes over the load and continues to provide the services. That is why YouTube or Google Search is not about to fail anytime soon, even if, God forbid, some calamity were to befall the Google headquarters.

In other words, if the server farms in the United States fail, the ones in, say, Europe or Asia would continue to provide the service without blinking. This 24/7 availability is one of the key drivers for moving IT services into the cloud.

The second driver is scalability. Have you ever wondered why YouTube servers never get “full” despite millions of users uploading videos every minute? The server farms are able to dynamically allocate more space to users as and when it is required.

ECONOMIES OF SCALE

From a corporate point of view, this means an end to delays caused by the procurement and installation of bigger servers in order to accommodate that new service or product.

The third driver for adopting cloud services is the anticipated reduced operational cost for the IT department. Specifically, outsourcing software, hardware and support to the cloud service provider means that the organisation realises lower operational costs due to the economies of scale that the service provider can use to offer a lower unit cost for ICT services.

Is Kenya ready to reap the benefits of cloud computing, particularly from a corporate point of view? There are a couple of issues to be addressed, including information security and power supply.

What guarantee does your cloud service provider give you in terms of protecting the information assets that you are surrendering to the cloud?

ENFORCING COMPLIANCE

Furthermore, are you able to audit or confirm the presence and execution of these security procedures?

Whereas the cloud service provider may offer and even demonstrate to you the requisite information security arrangements, the absence of the necessary legislative and regulatory framework to enforce and monitor compliance implies that there is little recourse for a client in the event of a security breach.

Perhaps this is why the big international cloud-service providers have not bothered to build sophisticated server farms or data centres in Kenya.

With the cost of power expected to come down, the legislative and regulatory vacuum will remain the biggest hurdle towards large-scale provision and adoption of corporate cloud services.

Let's fix this as a matter of priority.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Twitter:@jwalu

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