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Fill tech gaps in bring your own cloud with cloud services

Tom Nolle discusses how cloud services can make the 'bring your own cloud' movement work in an organization's favor.

Mobile devices evolved from the company-buys-your-device to the bring your own device (BYOD) model as consumer smartphones became popular. The same thing may be happening with the cloud. BYOC, or "bring your own cloud," is the set of opportunities that let users or workers support their activities with personalized cloud-hosted services. While BYOC, like BYOD, is generally a balance of cost advantages versus security/compliance risks, there are cloud trends that could upset the balance, and BYOC planners need to watch them.

Cloud storage is the most common class of cloud service fueling BYOC. Consumers can get five or ten gigabytes of free online storage to hold and back up commonly used business files. This is a cost-effective alternative to corporate cloud storage, which would be very expensive for a large number of workers. The trend seems to be toward offering more free storage per service, and more cloud providers are offering free "drive" services every day. If cost were the only issue, cloud storage would move decisively to bring your own cloud.

Cost isn't the only issue, though. Companies are wary of how employees might secure their BYOC storage and even applications. They are also concerned that the company might be at risk if the employees store malware or illegal material via BYOC and it then moves throughout the company.

The most publicized security breaches have come not on personal accounts but in company networks and data centers.

But for many organizations, employees keeping company data in their personal cloud or using personal cloud apps present no greater risk than employees storing data on laptops. Some believe that centralized company storage and applications are more attractive to hackers because the reward for their efforts is greater. The most publicized security breaches have come not on personal accounts but in company networks and data centers. Properly managed, it's reasonable to assume that BYOC might be as safe, or even safer, than company-owned cloud storage and applications.

The major forces driving BYOC are largely balanced today. BYOC is growing but not sweeping the market and cloud providers are proving that by sustaining, and even increasing, free personal cloud offerings. How will that balance hold up, though, as other trends drive cloud pricing and features?

The general movement to software as a service (SaaS) versus the use of IaaS cloud services seems to favor BYOC. Companies who deploy their own apps in the public cloud aren't likely to offer those apps for free as services to others, but nearly any productivity enhancing, graphics, or data management application made available in SaaS form could in theory be deployed at lower or no cost, in some limited way, to consumers. These could then be brought into the company as BYOC.

BYOD, while not strictly a cloud trend, is certainly being promoted by the cloud. When there are more cloud services available to consumers, they're more likely to depend on them personally, and to use them with enhanced phones or tablets. These encourage companies to adopt BYOD policies to avoid duplicating workers' mobile devices. Furthermore, company applications running on BYOD generate the same level of risk as personal cloud applications. A security breach on a user device creates a risk for whatever applications use it and for whomever owns them.

The reverse side of this trend is that if BYOC becomes truly popular and certain personal cloud storage and applications are known to be used regularly with valuable company data, it's possible that the entire service would become an attractive target for hackers. So far, cloud security experts are discounting this issue, reasoning that even widespread BYOC use wouldn't create an easy central target for malware. However, it's possible that future SaaS services such as analytics could become magnets for BYOC, increase this risk, and create back-pressure on BYOC trends.

Workers themselves believe that the element with the greatest potential to heighten BYOC commitment would be enhanced functionality in document processing, productivity and collaborative tools. Productivity software and video conference tools are high on the list of BYOC candidates because of the cost of company-cloud services, but the quality of the tools is limited. Recent changes in this space could help, or hurt, BYOC.

When Skype announced it would support group video for up to 10 people, there was immediate interest in using the facility for some business applications. Formal meeting software can cost several hundred dollars per month for a company, and if video meetings are small and extemporaneous, a BYOC solution would be cheaper and more flexible.

On the other hand, Microsoft seems to be creating counter-pressure by linking incrementally free cloud services for mobile devices with Office 365 licenses. Today, at least, Office is the benchmark for personal productivity tools and most cloud-based services offered to users on a free-for-personal-use basis don't support all the features that Office does. That can be problematic in a BYOC mission because document formatting issues might overwhelm BYOC savings.

None of these secondary trends are likely to drive radical changes to BYOC adoption. The only issue that could create a shift by itself is the mobile-empowerment drive now beginning. If mobile workers are supported by a carefully orchestrated set of company tools, it would be harder to integrate their personal cloud tools into their activity, and BYOC could be curtailed. If mobile workers in the future operate somewhat autonomously, then each worker has the latitude to do what they like within their own little productivity system. That could be the start of something very big for bring your own cloud.

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Do you see BYOC adoption becoming stronger or weaker in the future?