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Storing Information in the Cloud

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7th April 2010

In a guest blog post Nicole Schulz, Teaching Fellow in the Department of Information Studies at Aberystwyth University reports on a recent survey on Storing Information in the Cloud.


Storing Information in the Cloud

The Department of Information Studies at Aberystwyth University is currently running a small research project funded by the Society of Archivists examining operational, legal and security issues relating to the storage of information in the cloud for access. This is a topic which is likely to be of interest to those involved in website preservation work, as there has been increased interest in cloud services to support institutional activities. Although the project does not address preservation issues directly, the outputs of the project should be of interest to information professionals involved in digital preservation. We already had interest from various institutions in a follow-up project on preservation issues and are hoping to continue research in that in the near future – so watch this space!

What is the Aim of the Project?

Our aim is to generate debate and to highlight some of the issues surrounding the storage of information in a virtual environment. We have already seen many organisations outsourcing email and data storage to cloud providers such as Google and Amazon for cost and efficiency reasons. Cloud computing can have financial and operational advantages such as reduced deployment cost, increased storage capabilities and scalability. However, cloud computing raises quite a few security and compliance issues that need to be addressed when outsourcing information storage to third parties.

We, therefore, aim to develop a toolkit designed to enable information professionals whose organisations are about to deploy information into the cloud to ask the right questions and identify the right strategies for ensuring that information is kept securely, accessible and in line with relevant legislation. Even though preservation will not feature prominently in the toolkit, it is understood that preservation questions are an integral part of assessing how to manage the information life-cycle in the cloud and need to be addressed right at the start of setting up information management services and procedures.

What did the Survey tell us?

As a first step, we conducted an online survey aimed rather narrowly at information management professionals as the main stakeholders in information security and governance via Listservs and professional bodies’ members lists. Given the limited chosen audience we had a good response rate and gathered interesting insights into what professionals think and do about storing information in the cloud:

  • The overwhelming majority of people who completed the survey worked in the public sector.
  • Roughly 30% of participants said that their organisations are already using cloud computing and another 40% claim that their organisations are interested in cloud computing but have no active plans as yet.
  • Most organisations use or intend to use software-as-a-service and deployment into a private cloud as cloud computing models.
  • Data storage, email and standard office applications were named as the main IT services deployed into the cloud.
  • There appeared to be no single outstanding driver for cloud computing – reducing cost, scalability and flexibility were the most popular by a small margin.
  • Similarly, concerns about storing information in the cloud appeared to be evenly spread with concerns about the retrieval/destruction of data when terminating the cloud service, loss of control over data and data protection at the top of the issues list.
  • Preservation and retention management were singled out for areas of further research. And demand in further guidance on operational, security and legal aspects in the form of best practice guidance was identified by the majority of participants

What is Next?

We will run a workshop in Manchester on 21 May 2010 in order to work through some cloud storage scenarios and investigate further issues and approaches to ensuring the secure storage of information in the cloud. Bookings will open soon and you can find more information about the workshops at http://www.dis.aber.ac.uk/en/news/cloudworkshop.asp.

Following the analysis of the results of both the survey and the workshop, a toolkit and report will be made available by the Society of Archivists in the autumn of this year.

If you have an interesting case study or would like to find out more, please contact me (email: nis@aber.ac.uk).


Nicole Schulz
Teaching Fellow
Department of Information Studies
Aberystwyth University
Llanbadarn Fawr
Aberystwyth SY23 3AS

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