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The 13 things you should know before going cloud

Cloud Security Alliance makes it easier to plan cloud computing smartly

There’s a lot of hype about cloud computing but not as much clarity into exactly how to adopt cloud computing for your particular environment or specifically to address all the security “what ifs” the technology raises. A group called the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) is trying to provide that insight.

The CSA, whose membership includes Microsoft, as well as Google, HP, Oracle and other marquee names -- 60 companies and 11,000 individuals in all -- was formed in early 2009 to try to educate the tech community about cloud computing, establish standards and basically give companies a clear path to bring cloud computing to their enterprise.nI listened in on a Web cast today by Jim Reavis, executive director of the CSA, which was hosted by security vendor RSA.

While intrigued by the promise of cloud computing, which is a company contracting with a third party to deliver compute cycles without the expense of building and maintaining their own data center, concerns about cloud security abound. (That’s an overly-simplified definition that doesn’t get into the whole private versus public cloud, but it should suffice for the moment.)

To help companies navigate the myriad issues regarding cloud computing and to properly evaluate the qualifications of a cloud vendor, CSA has made available what it calls the Cloud Controls Matrix Tool, a free download that lays out in a speadsheet all the considerations that should go into a cloud decision. While the tool was introduced back in April, CSA is already working on version 2.0 that may launch in November.

In all there are 13 general categories of considerations for going cloud and they are divided into two main categories, governance issues and operational issues, said Reavis. Under governance, he said a company evaluating cloud vendors needs to do a risk management assessment, asking what are the risks and who accepts the risk, the cloud provider or you? What compliance and audit assurances are given? How is information lifecycle management handled? How is electronic discovery provided when that becomes necessary? Under operating concerns, what assurances does the provider offer for business continuity and disaster recovery? What kind of data encryption is provided? How is access controlled? Such questions and more need to be asked of the prospective cloud vendor and detailed in requests for proposals, contracts and service level agreements, Reavis said.

The idea for the Matrix Control spreadsheet is to help companies make sure all bases are covered before making a decision.

“Our idea is that for IT security, audit functions [etcetra] that this could bridge the gap with your current knowledge and current tools to look for the presence of appropriate security controls in any type of cloud environment,” Reavis said.

To further expand the knowledge base of players in the cloud market, CSA is also launching a certification program, the Certificate for Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK), which is an online training and testing program that will be available starting Sept. 1. The certification costs $295, although CSA is discounting it to $195 through the end of the year.

Although cloud computing is all the rage, there is understandable reluctance to go “all in” as one top vendor puts it, without having security, governance and other concerns fully addressed. This CSA effort is a solid effort to make the cloudy picture more clear.

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