Monday, April 20, 2009

Cloud computing, law enforcement and business continuity

In our Above The Clouds white paper, we identified various obstacles to the growth of Cloud Computing including data confidentiality and auditability as well as business continuity in the event of an outage at the cloud vendor.

Recently, a colocation facility owned by Core IP Networks LLC was raided by the FBI and the entire datacenter was shut down. "Millions of dollars' worth" of computers, many owned by other companies colocated in the datacenter that had no connection to the companies being investigated by the FBI, were confiscated and those sites went offline. Some of the companies subsequently went out of business. Spreading one's cloud application over multiple physical datacenters may protect against natural disasters, but if those datacenters are all operated by a single provider or in a single jurisdiction, customers might still be exposed to other business continuity disruptions such as this one.

Core IP Networks' CEO, Matthew Simpson, posted a letter to inform customers of the situation as well as to voice concern over the unfairness of the FBI's operation to many of the innocent "bystander" customers who suffered service outages as a result. His letter concludes: "If you run a datacenter, please be aware that in our great country, the FBI can come into your place of business at any time and take whatever they want, with no reason." Indeed, noted technologist and technology blogger James Urquhart wonders whether the U.S. legal system will be a hindrance to cloud computing adoption.

The problem is hardly unique to the United States. The massive government-initiated shutdowns of Swedish ISP's used by the Pirate Bay, a group being investigated for trafficking in copyrighted digital media, similarly resulted in unexpected downtime for many companies unrelated to the Pirate Bay but who had the misfortune to be housed in the same facility.

These incidents also illustrate what we called reputation fate sharing in the paper: the behavior of a single cloud customer can affect the reputation of other customers, perhaps to the extreme degree that computers belong to innocent bystanders are seized.

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