Can Independent Certs Take FUD Out of Cloud Services?

When it comes to picking a cloud services provider, many companies and IT departments are overcome by fear, uncertainty and doubt -- FUD. Could independent cloud certifications quell those concerns?

When it comes to blazing new trails in the realm of IT, the road is often paved with a mixture of danger, luck and, most importantly, uncertainty. Nowhere is this more true than with cloud services, an ever evolving segment of technology that many enterprises are hoping provides them with reduce costs and improve IT functionality.

There is no denying that cloud services are being looked at by almost every enterprise IT department.

Gartner predicts that by 2016, more than 50 percent of Global 1000 companies will have stored customer-sensitive data in the public cloud. However, that growth doesn't come without concerns - Gartner also predicts that, 40 percent of enterprises will require independent security testing as a precondition before using any type of cloud service.

Simply put, independent testing, certification and auditing will become the true litmus test for cloud services providers looking to engage the enterprise. What's more, prospective customers will turn to the results of those audits, certification processes and tests to gauge a cloud service provider before signing on the dotted line.

The importance of the auditing and certification cannot be stressed enough for cloud service providers and some are getting on the certification bandwagon as soon as possible. For example, Cbeyond, a cloud services provider that offers small and medium enterprises a variety of hosted services, has become one of the first cloud services providers to meet the stringent requirements of the new SSAE 16 SOC 2 certification.

"Our customers trust our ability to protect their critical data at all times," said Stacy Griggs, senior director of customer experience for Cbeyond Cloud Services. "Becoming one of the first companies in our industry to receive SSAE 16 certification demonstrates our commitment to better serving our customers by investing in technology, and achieving full compliance through a secure, reliable and controlled data center.

Earlier this year, SSAE 16 SOC 2 reports replaced SAS 70 Type II audits as the benchmark compliance report for organizations impacted by privacy and security regulations such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry (PCI) and Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX). The new standards require that a cloud services vendor complete and submit a written assessment of the operating effectiveness and suitability of its controls.

Touted as a second-generation data center audit standard, SSAE 16 SOC 2 compliance reviews are used to evaluate the design and operational effectiveness of a data center's controls against a strict series of international standards.

Earning a SSAE 16 certification demonstrates that a company is fully compliant with all necessary security and privacy specifications, and demonstrates that customers are served and hosted in a highly secure, controlled facility.

However, the question remains: will the SSAE16 certification moniker quell concerns about the safety of data warehoused in a cloud services platform?

Raj Mehta, CEO of Infosys International, an enterprise services IT consulting firm, feels that certifications are a step in the right direction.

"In an industry bound by so many compliance regulations, it is going to take certifications such as SSAE16 to prove that a cloud services company is accountable for customer data and that the proper security controls are in place," said Mehta. "It is wise for those seeking to use cloud services to verify the security and capabilities of those providers, SSAE16 and other certifications make this a much simpler process and shifts the burden back to the provider and not the customer."