The Art of Touching Running Systems

Some days ago, I went for a run. It was a quiet Sunday morning. Some other runners were peacefully doing their laps while other people walked their dogs. Maybe you know the feeling: after a few minutes, the runner’s high kicks in. Your feet move effortlessly, your mind is free to wander and nothing seems more natural than running. Suddenly though, you stumble – maybe because of a root you did not see –and you realize that running is a complex process.

“Never touch a running system” is one of the most cited mantras in ICT. True as it might be though, there is always something better on the horizon – or up in the clouds – that makes change worthwhile. The true art of managing an IT infrastructure is thus not to avoid change, but to plan well and make safe, bold moves at the right time. The key to success is keeping an eye out for stumbling blocks.

In today’s complex IT infrastructures, there are many “touch points” where disturbances can arise. Sometimes they come in the form of in-house regulations or processes as I pointed out previously in my blog. Sometimes though, they also come in the form of politics. An example that especially addresses enterprises all around the globe is the Patriot Act. Cloud customers are unsettled about where their data is being stored. This has slowed broader implementation of public cloud computing. Because of the Patriot Act Europe becomes a more interesting place for vendors who operate outside of US – but how long can someone really afford to base a value proposition on this?

Europe has the chance to play an important role in the cloud computing business because of things like the Patriot Act but also in terms of digital leadership. Take Germany for example: A recent study of the BSA confirms its top position regarding cloud computing, but this position is in danger. Therefore, it is vital that European legislative bodies are aware of this battleground between the so-called old and new worlds; for once, they can really make a difference! My request to all legislative bodies: Please do not simply copy ideas from other parts of the world without applying common sense first! The cloud business is simply much too important for the future of the entire IT industry to be bogged down by legislation that misses the needs of individuals and enterprises alike. This would only result in frustration on a wide scale and loss of economic power in the end.

Take the global civil commotion about ACTA, for example. It sounds like a good idea to protect copyrights better. But in times of digital goods and social media we also have to be alert to the subtle difference  between copying and sharing. Cloud Computing is much about sharing. What if ACTA limits an enterprise’s rights to share e.g. paid research with its teams? What if ACTA forces all cloud providers to constantly control all documents in their cloud? What would people think of such a ‘big-brother’ service? How would it affect cost? How would it affect privacy? These are very important questions that have obviously not been resolved yet. Worse than that, a lack of clarity will result in a loss of trust. We must not let that happen to cloud computing!

On the contrary, we need a constructive debate about a global concept of data privacy that ultimately transcends national boundaries. This is not possible if all countries go their own way. Moreover, we need local interest groups and national governments to join forces here. In Germany, we have 17 different government agencies for data protection causing different interpretations of the law and lots of confusion. Further interest groups should be part of the developments, like eco (German association of internet economy) or BVDW (German association of digital economy). Therefore, I think it is a good time for BitKOM as most prominent and influential of all to take the lead and unite the forces in order to come up with a tangible proposal on how to promote a global cloud computing ecosystem, that harmonizes national markets with international laws. After all, the German market is seen as one of the most promising role models for cloud computing throughout the world.

I am convinced that the data privacy discussion will not endanger the cloud concept because the cloud is just too promising and useful. It is just one of many touch points we need to be prepared for so that we do not stumble.  So what can you as an enterprise lookout for on your way?

  • It is most important to evaluate your trusted cloud partner thoroughly. Obtain information about different providers, different offerings, different terms and conditions. Where is the provider from? Where are his cloud data centers located? Take the time to study the fine print. Make sure you know what rights and duties you have and what rights and duties other parties have. Check the SLAs. Make sure you understand how they are calculated. Set up a process for staying aware of any changes in these conditions.
  • Last but not least, it is also crucial to know the internal processes and standards as well as the international regulations and compliance issues. Is your cloud provider a good consultant in that respect?

As a reward, you will have the solution that fits your requirements best. You will know exactly with whom you are dealing and whom you can trust with your data. It’s like having completed a run: you will feel very satisfied. You will have peace of mind when thinking about your cloud service.

You will not only be perceived as opinion leader and role model in your industry, but your customers will appreciate it as well. Meanwhile, please, BitKOM, eco, BVDW and others: please embrace this opportunity for European IT providers and support! Go ahead and touch those running systems!

Yours sincerely,

Andre Kiehne

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Author: Andre Kiehne

Director Solution Sales, Microsoft Germany GmbH

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