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The UK’s changing cloud landscape

While cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular among both businesses and consumer, there is still some concern and confusion about the technology. In fact, a recent survey by data security firm Citrix found that only 16 per cent of people in the US understand what the cloud actually is.

This is not an isolated case. The cloud is arguably one of the most misunderstood, yet widely accessed, technologies in the history of computing. However, almost all of them regularly accessed the cloud for one reason or another, be it storing files through dropbox or banking online.

Business also regularly find themselves at odds with cloud computing. In Right Scale’s 2016 State of Cloud report, which surveyed 1000 businesses, security and compliance were identified as two of the three biggest challenges of cloud adoption, alongside lack of expertise.

Customers often ask about the security of migrating their data to the cloud and where their documents, files and systems will be held. Whether this is for compliance purposes or simply for peace of mind, it is a valid question, which — due to larger cloud providers operating data centres in numerous locations worldwide — many IT specialists have traditionally found difficult to answer.

Although data sovereignty laws are very stringent in the European Economic Area (EEA), it can be difficult for businesses that operate globally to navigate the inconsistent rules and regulations from one country to the next. At the same time, ensuring an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects can be overwhelming. Some businesses also fear the potential impact of data leaks and many have become wary of migrating to the cloud. In 2015, for example, there were over 1,505 data leaks, according to research firm InfoWatch Analytical Center. To make matters worse, 90.8 per cent of the leaked data was personal data.

However, the UK-based data centres recently opened by Microsoft solve that problem for professionals making use of the company’s Azure or Office 365 cloud services. By simply requesting that a particular set of data be housed in UK facilities, rather than overseas, businesses can now safely make use of the cloud to improve efficiencies and reduce costs while ensuring compliance with data sovereignty laws.

Healthy profits

This is good news for the UK’s medical and military sectors in particular. The NHS has traditionally had an uneasy relationship with cloud computing, due to security concerns and difficulty accounting for the storage location of sensitive information. Complying with information governance laws only further complicated matters.

Microsoft’s UK data centres mean that NHS trusts can now make use of Microsoft Azure’s cloud-based infrastructure to store patient record systems while remaining fully compliant. This opens up a wealth of accessibility options to health practitioners, allowing them to use simple devices to view and edit records without requiring the processing power to run the entire system. As a result, practitioners can move away from the archaic practice of physically mailing patient records to one another. Furthermore, cloud computing's subscription-based model ultimately reduces the capital and operational expenditure (CAPEX and OPEX) of trusts owning their own IT assets.

This benefit isn’t exclusive to health services. Businesses from all sectors can take advantage of the cost savings and operational conveniences that come from migrating systems to the cloud, with more local data centres now further improving the reliability and performance of their systems as well as the traceability of information storage.

As companies increasingly operate globally, migrating to the cloud offers a more secure alternative to running your own remotely accessible services. In addition to offering a competitive advantage, migrating to the cloud mitigates the risk exposure to growing businesses. Even the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has got on board with this change in the UK cloud computing landscape, stating that they will use Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure cloud services. The reasons for the move include value-for-money and security."We can now work on documents collaboratively and understand more about the ways we are working," said Mike Stone, chief information officer at the Ministry of Defence. "We will be able to see how much time teams are spending in meetings, on email and on the phone."

With the opening of designated UK data salving businesses concerns about compliance and security, all that remains is to tackle the question of user understanding and expertise. The reality is that IT departments normally find that cloud-based systems are no more difficult to understand than existing systems. The most difficult part is identifying exactly what is needed and implementing the project, which is why most businesses should turn to specialist IT consultants to handle the process of setting up and explaining the software.

The alternative can often be mishmash of services that don't operate together effectively. “The cloud, as it is known, poses many issues, chiefly related to compatibility,” explained Vivienne Rojas, cloud-computing expert at ISO. “With more and more providers offering cloud-based services, the technology has suffered from chaotic development, making it almost impossible for companies to ascertain the quality of services offered,” Rojas added.

While the cloud is certainly a misunderstood medium, it is one that is easy to understand and make effective use of once it is in place. The biggest significance of Microsoft's newly opened UK data centres is that they reflect the way businesses operate. UK data storage may not be a requirement for all businesses, the adoption of cloud is becoming increasingly essential for businesses that hope to operate effectively and succeed in the changing technological landscape.

In light of Brexit, it is likely that businesses will continue to face evolving compliance issues. At present, many businesses won’t benefit from knowing that their data is stored in the UK, but some, such as law firms and suppliers to Government, might.

My advice to all UK businesses is to assess your current IT systems and reach out to a specialist IT consultant where necessary, to help roll out a sustainable and secure cloud migration.

Kerry Burn, co-founder of The 848 Group (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/Omelchenko