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David Eyers is a research associate at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, and also a support officer at King's College. He expressed a degree of suspicion concerning the security of virtualised servers.
"I don't think it's necessarily a risk, but you are adding a layer of abstraction," Eyers said. "With current technology, it's unavoidable that there's at least a risk in the integrity of any layer. There is very little evidence of any problem with any of these layers, but there's a risk factor for people shifting infrastructure. Homogeneity can be a risk factor. The whole point about virtualisation layers is that, because they minimise complexity, they also minimise the security surface layer."
Eyers said his team had only seen cloud computing "rear its head" in hosted storage, used for off-site backups. "In terms of computational stuff, that's a departmental concern, and a lot of it is in-house, where they've got the money," he said.
University researchers might be unable to fully explore the cloud, Eyers added, because of the heavy corporate ownership of that sector.
"One of the things, research-wise, that's very interesting is that the cloud is very commercially owned," Eyers said. "Google's people talk about embracing the cloud but, as researchers, we don't own the cloud. How do you do research in the cloud, where there is strong corporate ownership? Companies are very supportive of research, but they can't have people messing up machines testing things out."
Eyers acknowledged, however, that "it has to be like that to some degree, because organisations like Amazon and Google are already so large it makes sense to offer their computational services to other businesses".
Others at the conference also told ZDNet UK that researchers might be wary of using cloud-based services for their work because of the intellectual property involved, and the suspicion that the user might be ceding some control of the hosted information to the cloud supplier.