As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan sang in his distinctive drawl, “the times they are a-changing’”. Way back when Bob picked up his pencil to write his 1960s classic in long-hand, the cloud was either a visible mass of condensed watery vapour floating in the atmosphere or defined a state or cause of trouble, suspicion or gloom.

Fast forward to today’s always-connected world and times are still changing – and constantly. Now, there is a deluge of data flowing into organisations – from smartphones to smart water meters – and cloud computing is a phenomenon transforming businesses.

Whether you are a global enterprise or an enterprising entrepreneur, cloud computing brings world-class data centre capabilities to your fingertips. Gartner predicts that the worldwide public cloud services market will grow 18% in 2017 to $246.8B up from $209.2B in 2016 and 451 Research expects growth in hosting and cloud services spending to outpace growth in overall IT spending by 25.8% to 12% this year.

But concerns about data security and governance are more than a dark cloud on the horizon. Although the cloud promises organisations the flexibility and elasticity to leverage data to enable smarter business decisions, businesses need to trust that the data can be shared securely.  Organisations will lose out on a key benefit of cloud technology if their data is not properly governed and they can’t share data risk-free.

Daring to share a precious asset

Data is the crown jewels of an organisation. The way data is stored, manipulated, analysed and managed is crucial to being competitive and compliant.  With EU GDPR less than 12 months away and other future regulations demanding greater data transparency on the horizon, enterprises need to be able to aggregate data from disparate sources to get a single, 360-degree view of customers or transactions to ensure compliance and maximise the business value of their data.

Adopting a cloud model allows employees, customers, partners and suppliers – as well as the cloud provider’s operations team – access to an organisation’s network and services.  Naturally, security is always of paramount concern, not to mention the need to keep close track of who has access to what information. Given these requirements, cloud security has to be flexible enough to allow some users to access the data, but not necessarily others.

[easy-tweet tweet=”The data inside the public cloud environment needs to be secure. ” hashtags=”Data, Cloud”]

Public cloud providers are doing a great job of traditional network and operational security, but security requires a multi-layered approach.  Just as protecting the crown jewels requires more extensive security than the hi-tech cameras and security guards keeping a watchful eye on the Tower of London walls, cloud security also needs to go beyond a ‘perimeter strategy’.

The data inside the public cloud environment needs to be secure. While the cloud environment may be secure, the data inside that environment may not be, and this is the responsibility of the data owner or custodian – not the cloud provider. For this reason, data-level security inside a public cloud environment becomes as critical, if not more so, than the network security. If an organisation’s database lacks comprehensive, hardened security, it is far more likely to suffer a successful data breach and make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Before moving any sensitive data to the cloud, enterprises need a database that provides a rigorous level of data security while allowing all of the elasticity and flexibility required to take full advantage of the cloud. For example, an enterprise-hardened NoSQL database wraps layers of security right around the data itself, using advanced encryption, role-based access controls and other security features to mitigate the risk from both insider threats and external hackers.

Data governance clouds the issue

Data governance casts a huge shadow on businesses, whether in the public cloud or on-premises.  Even when organisations have devoted vast amounts of time gathering data and building data lakes, they can’t leverage their data assets if the data isn’t governed properly.

Without governance, organisations might unwittingly expose their data crown jewels or violate data regulations. If sensitive information has not been fully redacted – or hidden and transformed – it could lead to a brush with the regulators for inadvertently exposing personally identifiable information (PII) about employees or customers. And, if data lineage and provenance can’t be validated, organisations can’t give data scientists, or testing teams access to the data for analysis as it represents too great a risk.

But there is a silver lining to the data governance cloud. Rather than seeing data governance as a weight on a company’s shoulders, it is a way to unlock the value of data and drive business value. By untangling the knots of data currently isolated in numerous silos throughout their organisations, and applying effective metadata management capabilities to their data lakes through a NoSQL database platform, companies can profit from getting their data in better shape. And using flexible database technologies with advanced security built-in, such as tools to easily and quickly redact information, gives organisations the confidence to share their data appropriately without worry/hesitation.

Cloud switching: keeping options open

The adage about ‘not keeping all of your eggs in one basket’ is one enterprise would do well to remember when it comes to cloud procurement. The march towards hybrid cloud environments has momentum as CIOs accelerate the use of two public cloud services – typically Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure – to ensure they are not locked into a single vendor or location.

By undertaking all cloud application development using a cloud-neutral database that works across every provider, as well as on-premise, businesses can make the switch if their provider experiences a breach or when an alternative vendor launches a new service or speciality that is more suited to their business needs.

The outlook

By chasing away doubts about data security and governance, businesses can focus on the bottom line, and profit from all the cloud has to offer regarding flexibility and agility. The cloud revolution will continue to transform business models and working practices. And with streams of his songs jumping 512 percent globally after his 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was announced, Bob Dylan would echo that still “the times are a changing”.