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Mobile cloud services bring user convenience, but at what cost?

Mobile devices and the cloud pack a powerful one-two punch. The combo provides 24/7 data access but also raises security concerns in IT.

The combination of mobile devices and the cloud provides a vision of what computing may look like in the future. One of the most compelling reasons for individuals and enterprises to store data with mobile cloud services is continuous, ubiquitous access. Users who store files with cloud storage services can have immediate access to them anytime, anywhere and from any device -- assuming they have network connectivity.

Millions have already taken their data to popular consumer-oriented mobile cloud services such as Dropbox, and some have taken the further step of synching many of their work files to those services. This leaves enterprise IT professionals wondering: How secure are these consumer services? And how can employees be restricted from using them?

Fortunately, emerging mobile device management (MDM) and enterprise mobility management (EMM) tools give organizations ways to control where their data goes. That capability comes at a price, both in terms of money and user convenience and satisfaction. Clearly, there is a need for enterprise-grade cloud storage, and IT managers need to regain control before any more sensitive information finds its way to parts of the public cloud that may or may not be well-secured.

The convergence of mobile devices and the cloud is somewhat like "incidental contact." While that vision of cloud-based data being accessed from any fixed or mobile device is valid, that is only one part of the cloud storage picture.

Furthermore, the cloud in question could be a public service, a private cloud where the organization hosts its own cloud infrastructure or a hybrid combination of the two. In that hybrid model, the public cloud is often used as an overflow or backup for a private cloud.

Similarly, a range of applications for mobile cloud services exists. Certainly, the storage of personal data is the application du jour, but organizations have been using cloud storage for a range of short- and long-term storage requirements.

Of course, the issue isn't just data storage, but also retrieval, particularly the speed of retrieval. For many organizations, retrieval time is money when it comes to data storage.

The roots of cloud storage are in applications such as backup, disaster recovery and data archiving. With the advent of mobile computing, however, that picture has changed abruptly. While backup is still part of it, the drive for cloud storage is more geared toward having data synched and accessible from any mobile or desktop device. Rather than looking at the cloud as a backup -- which it can be if your mobile device is lost or stolen -- cloud storage is seen more as "the big hard drive in the sky."

Continue to part two: Protect mobile data with EMM security

Next Steps

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This was first published in July 2014

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