The problem with regional clouds

Analysis

The problem with regional clouds

Ambrose McNevin

A favourite internet conspiracy theory says that the only reason the US won’t allow Chinese telecoms gear to be sold on its soil is because it knows about the back doors built into the US-designed and US-built telecoms equipment that has been sold around the world for the past 40 years.

A few years ago, it seemed likely that different data protection laws around the globe would drive the emergence of regional and federated clouds. Commentators speculated that these clouds might be built on a country-by-country basis and extended to friendly neighbours, or built around trading blocs – for example, a European Union (EU) cloud or an Asian Free Trade Area (Afta) cloud. This would ensure data was physically and digitally subject to relevant compliance and security legislation while allowing greater freedom of movement for digital goods and services.

clouds_barbed_wire.jpg

However, recent security and data protection events have pushed the topics of federated clouds and secure networks into unforeseen areas.

The security implications of Edward Snowden’s revelations about snooping by government security agencies has left the IT industry reeling (see panel) and could lead to not just regional clouds, but different types of cloud blocs and communications networks.

In February this year, Germany proposed building a European communications network to keep comms data away from the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s GCHQ. German chancellor Angela Merkel does not like the idea of having her phone hacked and Germany doesn’t want all its emails passing through the US. The French reacted positively to the move, however.

Great firewalls

Now imagine a world of multiple networks and ‘great firewalls’, with data being refused entry across borders based on where it originated and where on the network it has been.

Imagine a world of multiple networks and ‘great firewalls’, with data being refused entry across borders based on where it originated and where it has been

Short of building a whole new physical network layer and encrypting everything at the logical layer (to such a degree that it would too expensive to bother trying to hack), the notion of a new network could be an expensive folly. And no public network can be 100% secure.

As well as contemplating the far-reaching implications for the telecoms industry, we should ask what impact the slowing or restriction of movement of data across the network would have on co-location companies and cloud service providers.

Merkel also criticised companies such as Google and Facebook for building datacentres in countries with less stringent data protection requirements than Germany’s (which are among the world’s toughest). At a personal, business and national level, data – and its security – is currency, and the Germans take this stuff pretty seriously.

One senior executive at a large co-location provider told DatacenterDynamics that decisions on new-build locations were guided first by market demand, then power, connectivity and data protection/security.

As to what would stop a company building in a particular country, the first thing on the executive's list was an unstable political environment. The second was a political system which, even if stable, was not subject to the rule of law. This is not as uncommon as you might think. It is fair to say that direct foreign datacentre investment in Ukraine is not booming right now. He wasn’t too keen on the idea of Turkey, either.

Spectacular own-goal

The fall-out from the Snowden affair will continue. The US has scored a spectacular own-goal. One irony is that the revelations have shifted the security focus away from issues such as China’s Great Firewall and Russia’s restrictions on freedom and criminal elements, and instead placed it onto the US and its spies.

Companies are already asking for cloud maps of where their data is stored, what networks it will transit and what territorial laws it will be subject to

Companies are already asking for cloud maps of where their data is stored, what networks it will transit and what territorial laws it will be subject to. A company such as investment house Blackrock, for example, assesses network security and political stability for all its proposed datacentre locations.

We are potentially facing a confluence of more regulation and nationally (or regionally) operated secure networks, leading to a world where movement of data is restricted. From popular uprisings to online shopping, the world has been changed immensely because of the speed and ease with which data can move around. Any attempt to block or decelerate it will have huge implications.

It looks like we could be a step closer to internet fragmentation.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the March/April 2014 edition of DatacenterDynamics Focus


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