Cloud storage keeps data out of reach of criminals

As chief information security officer for Amazon Web Services, Stephen Schmidt is surprised by how many businesses still fail to see the dangers of storing information on computers and servers in their offices rather than in the cloud.

Not only is that data vulnerable to physical calamities such as fire or hardware failure, the onus is also on the businesses themselves to protect their hardware and networks against hackers and other online attacks.

Maintaining so-called “on-premises” storage is particularly risky for small and medium-sized companies, the bread and butter of Canada’s economy, since they typically don’t have large IT staffs or the resources to spend on countering these growing threats.

Outsourcing data security to a cloud service such as the Inc. subsidiary AWS, on the other hand, is safer and cheaper because it allows businesses to take advantage of significantly greater resources, Mr. Schmidt says.

“If you have a customer who thinks they’re safer on-premises than they are on the cloud because they’re behind a firewall that somebody installed, they should seriously re-evaluate their risk.”

It’s an expected position from Amazon, which competes against a number of big technology companies including Google and Microsoft in selling cloud services to other businesses, but recent converts tend to agree.

Jour de la Terre, for example, began moving its data online last year. The 15-person non-profit, which promotes Earth Day activities in Quebec and France, had previously stored its websites, e-mail, documents and streaming videos on separate servers in its Montreal offices.

Director Pierre Lussier says he was initially nervous about putting all of his figurative eggs into one cloud basket, but that was before he realized the precariousness of his existing situation.

Much of his organization’s information was managed by a single person who ended up leaving the organization. Without his collected knowledge of where all the data was and how it could be accessed, there was disarray.

“We found out how vulnerable we were,” Mr. Lussier says. “It was a total mess.”

Jour de la Terre is now on track to finish migrating all of its information by June. Staff have to learn how to interact with the new system, but it’s proving to be more convenient and secure for everyone involved.

“You have one gate and the knowledge that [employees] go through that gate,” he adds. “I’ve gained so much.”

Axia NetMedia, a fibre-optic Internet service provider based in Calgary, began its conversion to the cloud three years ago out of necessity when it acquired a new corporate customer.

The client required more data services than Axia could itself quickly deliver, so the ISP signed on to AWS to scale up. The company, which employs 150 people and counts the Alberta government, Sunterra Farms and the Post Hotel in Lake Louise, Alta., as customers, has been moving more and more of its business to the cloud since then.

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