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Remote and flexible working in the cloud: Understanding the needs of enterprises

Remote and flexible working is undoubtedly very popular with staff but if it is going to be supported by the cloud, a number of company concerns have to be addressed.

On demand applications via the cloud like Google Apps and Microsoft's Office 365 generally work well, and they usually come in cheaper when compared to on-premise systems after service and support costs are taken into account.

However, despite the hype, only a tiny proportion of firms have actually moved towards cloud email or cloud office systems, according to analyst Gartner.

Don't believe the headlines

Despite a steady flow of headlines regarding large organisations adopting cloud-based productivity suites like Google Apps and Office 365, Gartner's research has put the market clearly into perspective.

Gartner says there are currently about 50 million enterprise users of cloud office systems, but this only represents 8 percent of overall office system users (excluding those in China and India).

Gartner though predicts a major shift towards cloud office systems will begin "by the first half of 2015", reaching 33 per cent penetration by 2017.

Gartner analyst Tom Austin says, "Despite the hype surrounding migration to the cloud big differences in movement rates continue, depending on organisations' size, geography, industry and specific requirements."

Austin said, "While 8 per cent of business people were using cloud office systems at the start of 2013, we estimate this number will grow to 695 million users by 2022, to represent 60 percent."

Email is pivotal to cloud strategies

Gartner says that although email remains the world's primary collaboration tool, others, such as team sites and online communities are growing in importance.

But email is "typically pivotal in decisions to move or not to move" towards cloud office systems, said the analyst house. It estimates that by the end of 2014 at least ten percent of enterprise email seats will be based on a cloud or software-as-a-service model. This figure will rise to at least one-third by the end of 2017.

Gartner said the explosion in the number of mobile devices now carried by each user could drive a number of organisations towards cloud office systems, as they can reduce the IT burden of software installation, upgrades of locally installed office software and general maintenance.

But other research shows the majority of firms block staff access to bring your own services (BYOS) in the cloud - like Google Docs and Dropbox - because of security and compliance fears.


Despite remote synchronisation services over the web, including a number of free ones having been available to PC and mobile users for years, with consumers often keen on such systems, companies apparently aren't so keen.

Research from data governance software firm Varonis Systems questioned 100 US IT decision makers and found that 80 per cent of companies do not allow their staff to use cloud-based file synchronisation services.

However, the same research found that 70 per cent of companies would use such services if they "were as robust as internal tools", according to respondents. For the research, IT decision makers were interviewed about an "emerging shift" from bring your own device (BYOD) to bring your own services (BYOS).

Despite the flexibility and ease of use promised by BYOS, the research found that only 20 per cent of companies currently allow these services, due to fears of security breaches, data leakage and compliance issues.

To protect themselves against these perceived threats, 59 per cent of organisations use a combination of policies backed up with blocking techniques and technologies to "stem the tide of enterprise files spilling onto external servers and devices", according to Varonis. A further 20 per cent of companies rely on policies alone to try and stop "the mass leakage of proprietary and regulated data".

David Gibson, vice president of strategy at Varonis, says, "As workers are increasingly required to work on the move, companies and employees yearn for the ease of use and convenience of file synch services."

He pointed out that even organisations that block such services may have employees using them when they're not connected to the corporate network, "breaching the defences of a corporation and introducing a host of new vulnerabilities".

The challenge for companies, said Gibson, was to provide a BYOS platform to staff that had the robust controls of internal systems while empowering staff to do their work from any location and on any device safely.

Internal data centres still pivotal for cloud

What happens in the data centre has a key effect of the take-up of remote and flexible working systems via the cloud, and what is going on here also seems to back up Gartner's warnings about "hype".

The internal data centre market will see "accelerated growth" in 2013 despite the progress of cloud connectivity and hosting technology, says analyst Ovum.

In its "2013 Trends to Watch: Data Centre Technology" report, Ovum says companies will focus more on data centre cost-savings and more efficient internal IT delivery methods, such as virtualisation and emerging software-defined networks (SDNs).

Ovum says in its report, "The hype surrounding cloud computing can lead some organisations to predict the end of the internal data centre. For many organisations though the question of workload classification remains a difficult issue - and the default position is to keep it on-premise".

Ovum added, "Even if the workloads are fully understood in terms of risk, cost and value, the ability to move them is the Achilles heel of current technologies."

Roy Illsley, an Ovum analyst, says, "This scenario is highly unlikely to change unless workloads between cloud technologies become truly portable, or security and privacy concerns evaporate."

Security, Outages and lost data

Security remains the chief obstacle to enterprise adoption of cloud computing resources, said Gartner. But it explains the biggest concern should not be that data could be compromised in the cloud, but rather that there may be a cloud outage that could lead to a big data loss.

Gartner analyst Jay Heiser says there is a perception that the most significant risk in using the cloud is that sensitive data can be leaked. But he says there has been little evidence of that.

Sony suffered a data compromise potentially affecting tens of millions of its gaming customers in 2011 related to its cloud, but there is little evidence that the data was used to actually exploit customers' personal details.

More common threats are cloud outages and potential data losses, said Heiser, and many enterprises are ill-prepared for such incidents as a result of poor business continuity planning

Cloud provider Amazon Web Services has experienced at least three major outages in the past couple of years, with companies like Evernote and Carbonite losing customer data, and websites like Reddit and Imgur being put out of action.

So imagine what would happen if Google's or Microsoft's cloud office productivity services got knocked out?

Heiser says, "It remains a common complaint that cloud service providers are being ambiguous about what they're specifically doing to protect customer data."

Heiser says cloud customers have to evaluate what data is the most important to them, and make sure that cloud provider service level agreements (SLAs) and security arrangements protect it up to the level required.

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