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Why cloud computing is safe

Cloud computing has been gaining popularity in the business space over the last couple years. Organizations are abandoning server-based data centers in favor of a third-party-provided solutions. Yet as more data is stored digitally, the danger of hacking grows. Companies are losing significant income to data breaches, and cybercriminals are developing new, sophisticated ways to steal data.

So why are companies taking their information to the cloud? Many executives want to push their businesses to the cloud but don’t fully understand how it works. As such, they may be wary over the idea of removing confidential information from complete corporate oversight. However, the cloud is not as penetrable as its name might imply.

Three factors driving cloud safety
According to Forbes, there are three principal factors helping to keep data secure when it is in a cloud platform. The first is redundancy. Losing data can be almost as harmful as having it stolen. When a server fails or a hacker gains access to a corporate network and deletes or attempts to ransom vital information, companies can lose months of productivity. Most cloud networks, however, typically keep data in at least three locations.

This means that lost data at one location, such as data loss caused by a server failure, will not have the disastrous impact that it could in an organization relying on an on-premise data center. By keep copies of each file, cloud solutions are making sure mission-critical data is accessible until the user no longer wants it.

The second factor is the safe sharing policy. Anyone who has ever used the popular Google Docs knows how file sharing works. Rather than making a copy, the user must enter the email address of anyone they want to see the file. These extra users can’t share the file on their own (unless given express permission), they simply have access to the information. This is how safe sharing works. It prevents any unauthorized copies from being created or distributed. Users have access to their own data and can control exactly who sees it.

The last factor driving cloud safety is encryption. Provided a user keeps track of their password, it is very difficult for a hacker to gain access to the files. They are being stored either entirely in the cloud or at a secure, remote facility in an unknown location. Since the user’s connection to this information is encrypted, following it to gain access would be difficult, if not impossible for a human hacker.

“Cybersecurity today is more about controlling access than managing data storage.”

It’s all about access
As TechTarget pointed out, cybersecurity today is more about controlling access than managing data storage. When hackers breach data, they typically do so because they have access to sensitive information. This can be a password or even a corporate email address. Cybercriminals infiltrate and steal information based on the access they’ve gained, typically from an unknowing authorized user.

Cloud solutions help monitor this access, keeping secure data under control. The providers offering these platforms have the expertise and the resources to keep cybersecurity evolving alongside the threats. In most cases, they have more resources than the client companies using their solutions.

The cybersecurity arms race
One popular cloud vendor is Microsoft. Each year the company invests over $1 billion into cybersecurity initiatives for its Azure platform. The money, explained Azure Government CISO Matthew Rathbun in an interview with TechRepublic, isn’t just about maintenance, it is about innovation:

“Ninety percent of my threat landscape starts with a human, either maliciously or inadvertently, making a mistake that somehow compromises security,” said Rathbun. “In an ideal state, we’re going eventually end up in a world where there’ll be zero human touch to an Azure production environment.”

Overseen by talented specialists with ample resources, cloud solutions are a safe form of data protection in today’s digital business space.

Why companies must change their infrastructure for optimal data visualization

The digital revolution has brought a host of new opportunity and challenges for enterprises in every sector of business. While some organizations have embraced the wave of change and made efforts to be at its forefront, others have held back. These institutions may not have sufficient staff to implement the changes or may be waiting for a proven added-value proposition.

In other words: No technology upgrades until the innovation is proven useful. There is some wisdom in this caution. Several reports have noticed that productivity and efficiency are not rising at expected levels alongside this technology boom. However, as Project Syndicate noted, this lag may be a case of outgrowing the traditional productivity model, meaning that not every employee action is measured in the old system. 

However, there is another reason to explain why more technology does not automatically equal greater efficiency and higher profits. If a company buys some new software, it will see a minor boost. However, it will reap the full rewards only if staff properly learn to use said platforms.

Part of this problem stems from the misunderstanding that technology can only improve current work processes. This is not true. When looking at a basic enterprise operation like data visualization, technology has created an entirely new workflow.

Examining the traditional business model
In the traditional business model, all data visualization was manual. Employees would gather data from various endpoints and then input it into a visual model. Common examples of this process included pie charts and bar graphs. The employee would then present the data to the executive, who would use it to make information-based decisions.

While acceptable, this process is far from optimized. Most data had to be generated in spreadsheets before it was collected, using formulas made by staff. Collecting and framing the information is a time-consuming process that will absorb at least one individual. As employees are involved at every step of this workflow, there is a potential for human error.

The time involved prevented companies from acting on real time information. In the interim, intuition and "gut feeling" were used as substitutes for data-backed decisions. The people involved raised the level of risk that the data in question may be inaccurate or misleading.

Charts work because the human mind can understand pictures so much faster than words.Charts work because the human mind can understand pictures so much faster than words.

Unlocking data analytics 
Of course, with the arrival of the internet of things, companies have a lot more data collection at their disposal. Connected devices have provided a whole new network of information. This gold mine, also known as big data, has one downside: There is too much of it. A human cannot hope to categorize and analyze the information in any acceptable timeframe.

Enter data analytics. Using advanced technology like machine learning, companies can create and implement this software to study their data, creating automatic visualizations based on trends and prevalent patterns. According to Fingent, these software solutions employ mining algorithms to filter out irrelevant information, focusing instead on only what is important.

However, companies cannot simply go from a traditional system to a fully fledged data analytics solution for one reason: data segmentation. Many enterprises divide their information based on different departments and specializations. Each group works internally, communicating primarily with itself. While this method is helpful for organization, it greatly impedes data analytics potential.

If companies have siloed their data, the program will have to reach into every source, work with every relevant software and bypass every network design. In short, it will have to work harder to communicate. While modern data analytics solutions are "smart," they cannot navigate barriers like this easily. They are designed to optimally read only the information that is readily available.

For organizations to fully capitalize on the potential of internal data analytics, infrastructure overhaul is needed. Departments – or at least their data – must be able to freely communicate with one another. This process entails implementing a common software solution that is in use across the entire company.

The good news is that many modern solutions fit this need. Solutions like cloud platforms store relevant data in accessible locations and train employees to not segment their work. By creating an infrastructure that is open to the data analytics program, organizations can start to act on information, rather than relying solely on their gut. 

Data analytics can give companies real time answers to their challenges. Data analytics can give companies real time answers to their challenges.

Should companies embrace Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge?

As of late June 2018, one of Microsoft's newest software platforms, Azure IoT Edge, is generally available. This means that commercial enterprises and independent consumers now have access to it and, thanks to Microsoft's decision to take the platform open source, can begin modifying the technology to fit specific needs.

Every innovation brings new opportunity and unforeseen challenges, and there is no reason to suspect that Azure IoT Edge will be any different. Even programs created by technology industry leaders like Microsoft have their potential disadvantages. 

What exactly is Azure IoT Edge?
Simply put, Azure IoT Edge represents Microsoft's plan to move data analytics from processing centers to internet of things enabled devices. This sophisticated edge computing technology can equip IoT hardware with cognitive computing technologies such as machine learning and computer vision. It will also free up enormous bandwidth by moving the data processing location to the device and allow IoT devices to perform more sophisticated tasks without constant human monitoring.

According to Microsoft, there are three primary components at play:

  1. A cloud-based interface will allow the user to remotely manage and oversee any and all Azure IoT Edge devices.
  2. IoT Edge runtime operates on every IoT Edge device and controls the modules deployed to each piece of IoT hardware.
  3. Every IoT Edge module is a container that operates on Azure services, third-party software or a user's personalized code. The modules are dispersed to IoT Edge machines and locally operate on said hardware.

Overall, Azure IoT Edge represents a significant step forward in cloud computing and IoT operations, empowering devices with functionality that wasn't before possible.

Devices like drones will be able to carry out more sophisticated tasks using Azure IoT Edge. Devices like drones will be able to carry out more sophisticated tasks using Azure IoT Edge.

The cybersecurity concerns of Azure IoT Edge
It is worth remembering that IoT hardware has a long and complicated history with cybersecurity standards. Considering the bulk of IoT technology adoption has been driven by consumer, rather than enterprise, products – issues like security and privacy were placed second to interface design and price point.

Research firm Gartner found that 20 percent of organizations had already reported at least one IoT-centered data breach within the three years leading up to 2018. This risk has led to IoT security spending that is expected to cost $1.5 billion globally in 2018. Some companies scrambling to make their IoT hardware more secure may want to leave this problem as a priority over incorporating Microsoft's newest software platform.

Another potential issue is Microsoft's decision to make the platform open source. The original code is public knowledge and now available to all to modify for personal use. While this flexibility will greatly help the product's user base expand, open source programs have not historically been the most secure from cybercriminals.

Many ecommerce websites ran on the Magento platform, an open source solution that became the target of a brute force password attack in 2018, which ultimately proved successful. The resulting data breach led to thousands of compromised accounts and stolen credit information.

A Black Duck Software report tracked open source programs as they have become more widespread. While the overall quality of open source code is improving, the study found that many organizations do not properly monitor and protect the code once it has been put in place, leaving it vulnerable to exploitation from outside sources.

"Microsoft annually invests $1 billion in cybersecurity research."

The Microsoft advantage
However, Microsoft is arguably in position to address the major security concerns with its Azure IoT Edge platform. The company invests over $1 billion in cybersecurity research each year. According to Azure Government CISO Matthew Rathbun, a lot of this money is spent  with Azure in mind:

"Ninety percent of my threat landscape starts with a human, either maliciously or inadvertently, making a mistake that somehow compromises security," Rathbun told TechRepublic. "In an ideal state, we're going eventually end up in a world where there'll be zero human touch to an Azure production environment."

Azure IoT Edge represents a bold step forward in empowering IoT technology and improving automated productivity. While there are risks associated with every innovation, Microsoft remains committed to staying at the forefront and protecting its platforms. Companies should be willing to invest in Azure IoT Edge while remaining vigilant about the possible risks. 

Is a hybrid cloud solution right for your company?

Over the last decade, many companies have been shifting IT responsibilities to the cloud, a solution that allows various users and hardware to share data over vast distances. Cloud programs frequently take the form of infrastructure as a service. A company that can't afford in-house servers or a full-sized IT team can use cloud solutions to replace these hardware and personnel limitations.

Large companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google are all behind cloud services, propelling the space forward and innovating constantly. However, there are still limitations when it comes to cloud adoption. For as convenient as theses services are, they are designed for ubiquitous usage. Organizations that specialize in certain tasks may find a cloud solution limited in its capabilities.

Those businesses wishing to support service-oriented architecture may wish to consider a hybrid cloud solution, a new service becoming widespread throughout various enterprise application. As its name suggests, a hybrid cloud solution combines the power of a third-party cloud provider with the versatility of in-house software. While this sounds like an all-around positive, these solutions are not for every organization.

"Before businesses discuss a hybrid solution, they need three separate components."

Why technical prowess matters for hybrid cloud adoption
TechTarget listed three essentials for any company attempting to implement a hybrid cloud solution. Organizations must:

  1. Have on-premise private cloud hardware, including servers, or else a signed agreement with a private cloud provider.
  2. Support a strong and stable wide area network connection.
  3. Have purchased an agreement with a public cloud platform such as AWS, Azure or Google Cloud.

Essentially, before businesses can discuss a hybrid solution, they need all the separate components. An office with its own server room will still struggle with a hybrid cloud solution if its WAN cannot reliably link the private system with the third party cloud provider. And here is the crutch. Companies without skilled IT staffs need to think long and hard about what that connection would entail.

Compatibility is a crucial issue. Businesses can have the most sophisticated, tailored in-house cloud solution in the world but, if it doesn't work with the desired third party cloud software, the application will be next to useless. It isn't just a matter of software. Before a hybrid cloud solution can be considered feasible, equipment like servers, load balancers and a local area network all need to be examined to see how well they will function with the proposed solution.

After this preparation is complete, organizations will need to create a hypervisor to maintain virtual machine functionality. Once this is accomplished, a private cloud software layer will be needed to empower many essential cloud capabilities. Then the whole interface will need to be reworked with the average user in mind to create a seamless experience.

In short: in-house, skilled IT staff are essential to successfully utilizing a hybrid cloud solution. If businesses doubt the capabilities of any department, or question whether they have enough personnel to begin with, it may be better to hold off on hybrid cloud adoption.

Without being properly installed, a poorly implemented solution could cause delays, lost data and, worse of all, potentially disastrous network data breaches.

Cloud technology has been designed to keep business data secure. Poorly installing a hybrid solution could weaken this stability.Cloud technology has been designed to keep business data secure. Poorly installing a hybrid solution could weaken this stability.

The potential benefits of the hybrid cloud
However, if created the right way, a hybrid cloud solution brings a wide array of advantages to many enterprises, particularly those working with big data. According to the Harvard Business Review, hybrid cloud platforms can bring the best of both solutions, including unified visibility into resource utilization. This improved overview will empower companies to track precisely which employees are using what and for how long. Workload analysis reports and cost optimization will ultimately be improved as organizations can better direct internal resources and prioritize workers with stronger performances.

Overall platform features and computing needs will also be fully visible, allowing businesses to scale with greater flexibility. This is especially helpful for enterprises that see "rush periods" near the end of quarter/year. As the need rises, the solution can flex right along with it.

Hybrid cloud services are also easier to manage. If implemented properly, IT teams can harmonize the two infrastructures into one consistent interface. This will mean that employees only need to become familiar with one system, rather than learning different apps individually.

Companies processing big data can segment processing needs, according to the TechTarget report. Information like accumulated sales, test and business data can be retained privately while the third party solution runs analytical models, which can scale larger data collections without compromising in-office network performance.

As The Practical Guide to Hybrid Cloud Computing noted, this type of solution allows businesses to tailor their capabilities and services in a way that directly aligns with desired company objectives, all while ensuring that such goals remain within budget.

Organizations with skilled, fully formed IT teams should consider hybrid cloud solutions. While not every agency needs this specialized, flexible data infrastructure, many businesses stand ready to reap considerable rewards from the hybrid cloud.