For non-technical people, thinking of data being “cloud-based” might get them thinking data files floating somewhere above our heads in cyberspace, just waiting to be plucked from the air when we need them. Many people fail to realize that even though data is stored virtually off-site, all of those files are actually on a server somewhere. That server might be located across town or across the country or even overseas. While you might not think that it matters exactly where your data is stored (as long as it’s safe from unauthorized access and you can access it when you need it) the physical location of your cloud storage servers is actually very important, for several reasons.
Certain industries, notably health care and finance, are bound by strict security protocols designed to protect personal information. Companies that collect and store protected information must meet certain standards regarding administrative, physical, and technical requirements to ensure that data does not fall into the wrong hands.
The problem is that not all cloud storage and service providers are located within the U.S., and are therefore not bound by the same regulations as domestic providers. Data stored on a server overseas, for example, may not be as physically secure as that stored here in the U.S. As a result, a company that uses a service that relies on overseas data centers could find themselves out of compliance with federal regulations, and face significant fines and sanctions as a result.
For instance, many data centers are located in India, but India does not have a legal framework for cloud computing in place, nor are there any laws regarding data protection. Therefore, if your cloud storage provider stores data on a server in that country, it does not comply with U.S. laws.
For that reason, it is important to not only understand the data protection compliance standards for your industry, but to only work with cloud service providers who also understand and adhere to those rules. You must know exactly where your data is stored at all times, and ensure that it is not moved or stored in a location that doesn’t met the necessary requirements.
When a hurricane, like the one that hit the New York metro area in 2012, hits and dozens of data centers are taken offline due to power outages and flooding, many businesses will switch to backup generators, at least for a short time. Many will transfer operations to other locations outside of the storm zone, but hundreds of clients will be left without service. When choosing a cloud provider, knowing where the provider is located will help you prepare for disasters, or at least ask questions about data center emergency preparations.
For example, if your provider relies on a data center located in a tornado-prone area, is the physical structure built to withstand powerful winds? What are the emergency plans when the tondo sirens sound? If your data has to be migrated to a backup facility because the data center is damaged, where is that backup facility physically located? What about earthquakes, volcanoes, a tsunami, etc.?
Latency and Downtime
Technically speaking, the further away your cloud storage facility, the longer the has to travel to get to your desktop. The longer it takes for data to make that round trip is greater the latency. With the highly sophisticated networks used today, latency is usually measured in fractions of seconds. This means it won’t be noticeable to the average user, but in some industries (financial or even gaming industries), extended latency is a significant issue. When you need to react to shifts in the market with split second accuracy (or shoot zombies), even a short delay could result in the loss of thousands of dollars (or a virtual death).
Assuming that you are legally able and willing to store your data in a distant location, keep in mind that significant distances between your business location and your data can lead to longer recovery times should something go awry. If you have to recovery significant amounts of data to an alternate location on the other side of the planet, it can take some significant time to verify the data and resume operations at the alternate site.
Ideally, best practice dictates that you should not only know exactly where your data is stored at all times, but also that it should be stored in multiple locations. That way, should something go wrong — such as a natural disaster — you will not experience any downtime or lost data at all. You don’t want to be left with your head in the clouds, attempting to recover data or worse, engaged in damage control because you weren’t on top of your data storage requirements.
- World-class security
- Compliance, trust, and transparency
- Low Cost
- High Performance
- Business Continuity Options
- High Availability
You can read about the Cloud Computing Standards here.