Just when you thought it was safe to BYOC, now there's 'cloud sprawl'

The consumerization of IT and the trend toward a more user-controlled technology environment have created a new phenomenon dubbed cloud sprawl. It's time to recognize it, analyze it, and mitigate it.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

It seems that every new technology brings its own brand of security holes, malware, and endless possibilities for sprawl of some kind or another. Now, it's cloud sprawl. Yes, cloud sprawl. On the heels of my recent, "How 'bring your own cloud' could kill BYOD," it occurred to me that this BYOD, and its partner in crime bring your own cloud (BYOC), could lead to a kind of uncontrolled "sprawl." I was right. In fact, I wasn't the first to unmask this heinous new evil known as cloud sprawl.

I typically despise IT buzz terms and marketing overhype*, but this time, I imagine that I have to concede to one that is difficult to describe in any other way. Cloud sprawl is not explicitly the evil that some IT shops are out to make it but there's clearly a problem with it.

Cloud sprawl: The uncontrolled use of public cloud services in a company with little or no input from management or IT.

Much has been written about cloud sprawl. You only need to Google the term to see what I mean. However, in my humble** opinion, few, if any, of those analysts really understand the problem much less the solution.

The real problem with personal cloud services is security. And I'm not necessarily referring to hackers breaking into accounts or attacking personal cloud providers' sites. I'm strictly speaking of security concerning corporate data. If there are, let's say, 20 different personal cloud services available to consumers in addition to the corporate cloud storage options, you're looking at the beginnings of cloud sprawl.

Everyone has his own preference of service. Dropbox might work very well for John in marketing but for Betty in accounting, Box is her choice. And Bill in IT prefers SkyDrive, while Martina, the CFO, only uses Google Drive. I think you're getting the picture of the problem of cloud sprawl. You have too many disparate sources and too many places where your company's data is stored. And, the data owners--the company owners--may have no idea that this kind of thing is happening.

Their data is at risk.

Cloud sprawl is a problem.

One solution to the cloud sprawl problem is to adopt a single public cloud option that works for everyone's mobile lifestyle. There are solutions, such as Dropbox, that work on any device and are always available.

A second solution is to provide corporate users with an everywhere-accessible company cloud storage option. People are going to use what's convenient. Most people are willing to comply with corporate standards, when given the option. In other words, if you provide your employees with an accessible corporate-sanctioned cloud option, they'll use it instead of the public cloud options. Every employee understands the need for data security. Every employee is willing to use a corporate solution if one exists.

I don't believe for a moment that there are people working in a company that would absolutely refuse to use the company's resources rather than a consumer-based, free alternative. The only reason that someone would refuse to use such a service is if it weren't available outside the confines of the cubicle. The service would have to be user friendly and available for corporate workers to use it as readily as they do the public ones.

A possible third solution is for companies to provide a combined solution. The combined solution would be a corporate Dropbox that syncs data with the company-owned cloud option. This way there's only one public cloud storage point and the data syncs with the secure, in-house cloud. This hybrid solution is a good compromise for both the user and the company. It also removes the problem of cloud sprawl.

The real solution to any such problem is to have a corporate policy that is well communicated and well enforced. Without a policy, a company leaves itself open to fraud, theft, and sprawl. If you need assistance creating a policy, deciding on a cloud solution or assessing the problem, there are dozens of firms available to help you.

What do you think the solution to cloud sprawl is? Talk back and let me know.

*I have thoughts of groups of expensive-suited, cookie-cuttered marketing types sitting around a table in a "think tank" trying to invent the next buzz terms. This type of uber-crazy marketing really irritates me. So much so that I once posted my own buzz term dictionary of terms, their alleged meanings and their actual*** meanings.

**OK, maybe not so humble but you get the idea.

***OK, OK, by actual, I mean their "According to Ken Hess" meanings.

Editorial standards