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Is regulation needed for cloud ‘data portability’?

29 Jul 13

A leading cloud technology figure has called for government regulation to protect consumers who move their data and images onto cloud applications.

Optimizer HQ CEO Manas Kumar, which develops cloud solutions for companies globally, says many popular cloud apps are designed to be one-way, making it hard for customers to leave.

Kumar says numerous cloud service providers do not allow their customers to export data in a usable format which means consumers are vulnerable to loss or being locked into long-term contracts, despite the opportunity to have a month-to-month arrangement.

In the same way the government moved to regulate phone number portability, a set of industry standards are required to ensure “data portability” for cloud based applications and with them, Kumar believes New Zealand has the opportunity to become a world leader in cloud data protection.

“Most consumers do not have the technical knowledge required to manage transfer of data from one provider to another let alone cope with the complexities of exporting data which is not available in a common format,” he says.

Kumar says managing portability of data from the cloud is just one potential pitfall of an emerging trend facing Kiwi consumers and small businesses.

“Many of us saw the Christchurch earthquake as an example of a worst case scenario in terms of loss of data after a disaster," he says.

"Unfortunately all that was seen was the benefits of handing over storage of our data and images to a cloud app.

“Storing files and information in the cloud is becoming mainstream among thousands of businesses but little has been publicised about the issues around exporting data from one provider to another or moving business from one provider to another using a common language of exchange."

Kumar adds there are other issues consumers need to be aware of including the stability and uptime guarantees offered by most cloud providers.

“Beware of the classic “force majeure” or “act of God” clause that all cloud application providers have in their terms of use agreement," he says.

"It is important to read those terms carefully and understand the impact of any potential downtime to your business and assess the solutions offered exclusive of any price sweeteners or other incentives - don’t compromise on business continuity for the sake of short term savings.

"Many cloud providers including Optimizer HQ have premium services with guaranteed uptime, so it is important to discuss all options."

In order to protect themselves from loss of data in the cloud, consumers should form an appropriate backup and exit strategy from each application.

“Look into the background of the company you’re dealing with and ask your providers about their network infrastructure," he says.

"Due to the poor bandwidth available in New Zealand, most cloud providers with a global customer base typically host their servers outside of New Zealand.

"If your usage requires it, request your cloud providers to host your data locally, even if it costs you a premium. One advantage of this means the data will come under the protection of New Zealand law.

The opportunity to take a global leadership role in facilitating a safer, better and more open cloud will also help the country become 'knowledge exporters' as well as pioneers in technology and other industries according to Kumar.

"I believe the Government in conjunction with industry experts needs to develop an ISO standard designed for Data Portability and Management and have top tier cloud vendors conform to that standard," he says.

"Part of that conformance, would measure reliability, scalability, uptime, service, etc and also whether or not the vendor supports data export policies using common data formats such as XML or ODF or both.

As a result, Kumar believes this will create a gold standard for cloud vendors, a standard which consumers will know to look out for and which will help New Zealand create a competitive advantage in technology exports.

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