Fundamentals of Cloud Governance

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Understanding the fundamentals of cloud governance can help in developing an efficient strategy for an organization working in a cloud environment. Cloud governance involves developing rules and procedures for its members in an effort to minimize costs, promote productivity, enhance security, and support smooth operations within the cloud. 

Cloud governance focuses on establishing the processes and procedures an organization uses to oversee its cloud services. 

Cloud management can be confused with cloud governance, but it focuses on the day-to-day tasks used in managing a cloud environment. While the two approaches to working with the cloud are closely related, there are important differences. Cloud governance is concerned primarily with establishing and enforcing standards for the cloud’s use, cloud management deals with applying those standards on a daily basis.

The goal of a cloud governance strategy is to ensure an organization can access the benefits of the cloud while minimizing both the costs and the risks. This strategy includes developing a structure, or “framework” for protecting data privacy, supporting compliance with regulatory requirements, and reducing costs.

Cloud governance provides a framework for developing and enforcing standards when using cloud resources. 

Benefits of Using the Cloud

The cloud has become an extremely popular resource in the last decade. It is flexible enough to adapt to the constantly changing needs of a business and its employees. The cloud can support business transactions from around the world and process large amounts of data. Scalability, access from any location, and reasonable pricing also make the cloud a popular resource.

The recent pandemic promoted remote work solutions that allow staff to work from home. The cloud makes working remotely much easier by providing easy access to information, forms, projects, and communications. The pandemic of 2020 made a percentage of the workforce more reliant on the cloud. 

While the cloud does come with multiple benefits, inexperience in its use can result in surprise expenses, security weaknesses, and a lack of functional policies.

The Need for Cloud Governance

In the The Flexera 2023 State of the Cloud Report, the two most significant problems listed by decision-makers using the cloud were expenses and security concerns, in that order. (Security has normally come in as the top concern for the last decade.) In an economy with significant inflation, a business may overspend on multiple cloud services to remain competitive. Additionally, the use of multiple clouds can result in financial confusion.

Many businesses cite managing cloud expenses as their biggest challenge. 

Without an effective cloud governance program, managing the costs of working with data can be a complicated affair. Many businesses, in part as a result of the pandemic, have and are shifting their workloads to the cloud in an effort to provide seamless access to their data. When an organization naively allows staff unlimited access to the cloud, business leaders should anticipate a potential increase in expenses.

Uncontrolled use of the cloud can result in several surprise costs, such as data transfers, networking, object storage costs, and computing costs, all of which can be extremely complicated to predict. (There are different payment models for the cloud, and that model can be avoided, but the cloud customer must be aware of the various models.) Regardless of the payment model, however, most businesses spend more on the cloud than they anticipate.

The increasing popularity of cloud technology has prompted e-criminals to exploit the cloud’s weaknesses. 

The cloud comes with security challenges that on-premises, traditional security controls cannot resolve. Criminals have begun exploiting these weaknesses, targeting essentially everything in the cloud, ranging from app development to healthcare facilities to retail businesses. The more common security risks are listed below. 

  • APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) allow a customer to personalize their cloud experience. Unfortunately, the design weakens them, in terms of security, and provides hackers with an alternative entry point.
  • The unauthorized sharing of passwords (or theft) allows uninvited guests to enter and do whatever they want — steal personal information, access company credit cards, take over the website, etc.
  • Misconfigured cloud security solutions settings can result in cloud data breaches, allowing hackers to access a cloud account.
  • Malware injections can cripple a website. These are scripts or pieces of code that are forcibly inserted into a website, web browser, or app. These attacks are made possible by poor separations between program instructions and external inputs.
  • Insider threats come from current employees (or former employees who still have passwords). Employees with authorization to an organization’s cloud-based account may use them for their own purposes, or access sensitive data with malicious intent.
  • Installing and using open source programs can be a risk, as they are generally not designed with a focus on security.  

Reviewing and Selecting Clouds

Cloud governance works best with cloud providers that are transparent regarding policies, payment plans, and security issues. (Choosing cloud providers also requires understanding your organization’s specific business needs.) Listing the organization’s specific requirements and the minimum expectations, prior to researching and assessing cloud providers, will help to quickly eliminate providers that are a poor fit. 

Googling the words “cloud provider reviews” brings up several articles comparing the more well-known providers, such as Amazon WebGoogle Cloud, and IBM Cloud, but a few smaller, less expensive ones appear as well — such as Hetzner and DigitalOcean. Adding a few key words to the search may produce cloud providers that are less well known, but better suited to the business’s needs.                    

Next comes researching the individual providers. Consider the research process as a way of arming oneself with an understanding of the cloud provider’s services, security arrangements, and support. (Support is important. Not being able to communicate with a support person about a glitch blocking the completion of a project will result in frustration, and may even damage the business.) 

After arming yourself with knowledge, it becomes time to deal with the cloud’s salesperson. Some items to discuss or consider are listed below.

  • The cloud provider’s charging and payment system (A number of clouds don’t share their prices until you speak with a salesperson.)
  • The cloud’s different plans and options
  • Are there any surprise costs?
  • Is the contract written in plain English?
  • Reliability and performance
  • Review the technologies and tech support they offer
  • Data Governance and business policies
  • Service and configuration requirements on your end
  • Support for migration of the organization’s data
  • Vendor lock-in
  • The cloud provider’s business health and their company profile
  • The types of data the organization has stored in the cloud
  • The regulations that apply to the data (privacy laws, financial laws) and the business’s compliance obligations
  • The cloud provider’s overall security strategy
  • The security risks of storing data in their cloud

Developing a Cloud Governance Framework

After deciding to sign the contract, it becomes time to develop a cloud governance framework. (A cloud governance framework can be developed at any time as a way to control costs.) When developing a cloud governance framework, four basic concerns should be considered: the use of automation; financial considerations; who will have access to the cloud; and enforcing compliance of the framework.

The cloud governance framework should describe how to manage the data’s entire lifecycle while in the cloud: collecting data, storing data, working with the data, etc.

Automation has the benefits of eliminating human error and working much faster than humans. Time is a factor in paying for the cloud, and the less time spent there, the lower the cloud bill. Clouds typically offer a variety of automated services, but some are specialized, focusing on certain industries, such as app development.  

Financial considerations are a significant concern and can be controlled with a well-designed cloud governance framework. To estimate and optimize the cloud’s costs, an organization needs to know the price of different services and minimize their use. To help businesses maintain control of cloud costs, many cloud providers offer a variety of pricing models and optimization tools. Additionally, third-party tools are available that can help to monitor cloud costs. The three primary components determining cloud costs are:

  • Computing services: CPU resources and memory based on the time used 
  • Networking: The volume of data that is transferred in and out of the cloud
  • Storage: Scalable storage is paid monthly, based on the amount of data stored

Determine who should be able to work with the cloud. Only a limited number of the staff should have access to it. Not only does this help to control costs, but it also promotes good security by minimizing the number of staff who can access and use the cloud’s services. 

Staff selected to work with the cloud should be trustworthy. (Two-factor authentication, also known as 2FA, might be a consideration, and an additional cost.) Also, it is easier to educate and monitor a small group on the necessities of supporting the cloud governance program.

Enforcing compliance of the cloud governance program begins with educating the staff about their freedoms and restrictions as they work in the cloud. It should be explained that times of access and use of passwords are recorded. Anyone abusing their access to the cloud will be identified. They should also be educated on security concerns and the need for keeping their passwords secure.

Scheduled Periodic Reviews

An important practice to establish is periodic reviews of the cloud governance policies that have been established. Prior to cloud storage, organizations protected the data in their self-contained databases, with improvements controlled and determined by the organization. 

Cloud providers, on the other hand, control and determine when and what improvements will be made. For example, a cloud provider’s improvement in permission management may also create an opening for hackers, which you might be completely unaware of without a review. Accidental security breaches could threaten your business’s infrastructure.

Additionally, a periodic review of your organization’s rules and policies will help to assure the business’s cost savings are maximized. As your organization grows and evolves you will want to adjust your cloud governance framework.

Image used under license from Shutterstock