04/07/2011

By Adrian Booth, Communications Consultant at AB Communications

Let’s face it, wondering about the wisdom of storing our precious data up there somewhere in the cloud invokes niggling background concerns around data safety and security.

We are right to feel protective about our data. A company can burn to the ground yet rise phoenix-like from the ashes just as long as valuable information about orders, customers, products, services and so much more is safely backed-up somewhere away from the melted desk-tops and servers. Those companies located on flood plains have their own challenges.

Many firms go to great lengths to encrypt their information to stop staff downloading precious data to memory sticks, so the proposition of putting valuable and sensitive information out there on some anonymous megaserver can be daunting.

A lot of different companies now offer cloud computing solutions, so one of the obvious questions we should probably ask ourselves when weighing the options is 'do I trust this company to keep my data safe?'

In some ways, bigger and better known companies are going to be the ones most worried about their own reputations because they have a lot further to fall in reputation. A proven security breach for one of the bigger cloud companies would generate massive negative publicity, and no-one can afford that.

Large companies and institutions do a lot of business analysis and consideration when moving to the cloud. It is an equally major decision for smaller businesses who don’t have IT departments and may consider such a move daunting.

I recently got the opportunity to ask Microsoft’s Kerry Bentley about the safety and security of data the company holds in the cloud for its customers. She told me: 'We respect our customers’ data privacy and understand the importance of keeping it safe and free from intrusion, and accessible.'

'If a customer wants to encrypt information they save with us though, that is their right.'

'Office 365 is designed to deliver, reliability, availability and performance with a guaranteed 99.9% uptime, financially backed service level agreement. Our customers should feel very secure that their information is safe in the cloud'.

'As long as you are a subscriber of Office 365 you will be able to access your data. At a recent focus group, someone came up with a good way of describing how a customer’s data is safeguarded: when you put your money in the bank, you trust that bank to look after it, keep track of it and to manage your account appropriately. That’s exactly what it is like. Our customers can absolutely trust us to keep their data safe.'

So Microsoft is pretty sure about the safety and security of the customers’ data then. That could be something to do with having nine layers of state-of-the-art security measures in place to protect it, including intrusion detection systems, and multiple data centres to provide what they call “fully-operational backup”.

Powerful anti-virus systems included with an offering like Microsoft Office 365 highlight one of the advantages of working with a bigger company that has a highly skilled specialist team working 24/7 to deal with security issues.

Self-protection works well for the consumer in this regard. A company like Microsoft won’t want viruses loose in their system, and that means very sophisticated firewalls keeping unwelcome intrusions at bay. They deploy technology that would be way beyond the resources of smaller companies.

Incidentally, with Office 365, you don’t have to keep your server up-to-date with patches and malware free either, as that’s all updated automatically as part of the service.

When it comes to security concerns a little closer to home, Office 365 security measures are managed through tightly controlled identities from a central admin page. Access to documents can be carefully administered and records of who changed what and when etc can be generated. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a computer wiz to manage this either.

There’s no doubt, Microsoft has thought long and hard about the safety and security of their clients’ stored information, which should be a prime concern with any major cloud computing provider, and an issue well-worth looking into if you are shopping around.

Watch Tanya Shirlow, SMB Marketing Lead at Microsoft UK, who discusses the advantages of cloud services.

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