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How to Manage Data and Information for Maximum Advantage

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Your data is in the cloud when…
by Robert Hillard

It’s fashionable to be able to claim that you’ve moved everything from your email to your enterprise applications “into the cloud”.  But what about your data?  Just because information is stored over the Internet, it shouldn’t necessarily qualify as being “in the cloud”.

New cloud solutions are appearing at an incredible rate.  From productivity to consumer applications the innovations are staggering. However, there is a world of difference between the ways that the data is being managed.

The best services are treating the application separately to the data that supports it and making the content easily available from outside the application.  Unfortunately there is still a long way to go before the aspirations of information-driven businesses can be met by the majority of cloud services as they continue to lock away the content and keep the underlying models close to their chest.

An illustrative example of best is a simple drawing solution, Draw.io.  Draw.io is a serious threat to products that support the development of diagrams of many kinds.  Draw.io avoids any ownership of the diagrams by reading and saving XML and leaving it to its user to decide where to put the content while making it particularly easy to integrate with your Google Drive or Dropbox account, keeping the content both in the cloud and under your control.  This separation is becoming much more common with cloud providers likely to bifurcate between the application and data layers.

You can see Draw.io in action as part of a new solution for entity-relationship diagrams in the tools section of www.infodrivenbusiness.com .

Offering increasing sophistication in data storage are the fully integrated solutions such as Workday, Salesforce.com and the cloud offerings of the traditional enterprise software companies such as Oracle and SAP.  These vendors are realising that they need to work seamlessly with other enterprise solutions either directly or through third-party integration tools.

Also important to watch are the offerings from Microsoft, Apple and Google which provide application logic as well as facilitating third-party access to cloud storage, but lead you strongly (and sometimes exclusively) towards their own products.

There are five rules I propose for putting data in the cloud:

1. Everyone should be able to collaborate on the content at same time
To be in the cloud, it isn’t enough to back-up the data on your hard disk drive to an Internet server.  While obvious, this is a challenge to solutions that claim to offer cloud but have simply moved existing file and database storage to a remote location.  Many cloud providers are now offering APIs to make it easy for application developers to offer solutions with collaboration built-in.

2. Data and logic are separated
Just like the rise of client/server architectures in the 1990s, cloud solutions are increasingly separating the tiers of their architecture.  This is where published models and the ability to store content in any location is a real advantage.  Ideally the data can be moved as needed providing an added degree of flexibility and the ability to comply with different jurisdictional requirements.

3. The data is available to other applications regardless of vendor
Applications shouldn’t be a black box.  The trend towards separating the data from the business logic leads inexorably towards open access to the data by different cloud services.  Market forces are also leading towards open APIs and even published models.

4. The data is secure
The content not only needs to be secure, but it also needs to be seen to be secure.  Ideally it is only visible to the owner of the content and not the cloud application or storage vendor.  This is where those vendors offering solutions that separate application logic and storage have an advantage given that much of the security is in the control of the buyer of the service.

5. The data remains yours
I’ve written about data ownership before (see You should own your own data).  This is just as important regardless of whether the cloud solution is supporting a consumer, a business or government.

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