Don't Fear Cloud Computing

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Whenever we speak with a technology executive who's reaping benefits from cloud computing, like Jose Olalla at BBVA or Steve Van Wyk at ING, we wonder again, why aren't more people doing this?

We hear several rationales. The first, which bankers are always quick to point out, is that they have a fiduciary responsibility to keep their customers' account data secure and they therefore cannot do anything that would jeopardize client information. This is a strange argument.

For one thing, many of the same bankers who swear they'll never put customer data in the cloud use Salesforce.com for customer relationship management - cloud-based software used to handle personally identifiable information. Banks often let third-party providers host their core applications, which also deal with large quantities of customer information. There's not a huge difference between trusting a core banking provider and trusting a cloud computing provider - it comes down to faith in the provider's ability to provide security and control. And large cloud providers like Amazon, Rackspace, IBM or Microsoft arguably have the means and infrastructure to provide better security than a bank can. Granted, these companies are also larger targets for cybercriminals, but they're generally well informed of the latest threats and well equipped to deal with them, providing physical security of facilities and data encryption.

The second oft-sited concern is fear of regulators. What will they think of this new cloud arrangement? Have they approved anyone else's? Will they find the audit trail and documentation sufficient? Will they ask too many questions? Will they not understand it and force the bank to shut it down? Certainly, banks have to do all the vetting and due diligence they would for any technology vendor. But as more banks adopt cloud computing, regulators will get used to the idea.

A third issue is, what if something goes wrong - who will take responsibility for the problem and fix it quickly? These questions can be answered in the service level agreement, where liabilities can be spelled out.

All of these objections will dissipate over time. The benefits of cloud computing will be better articulated and publicized as pioneering banks put more applications and services in the cloud.

A case in point is ING. It's building a hybrid cloud with HP and Colt to which it plans to migrate utility applications such as desktop services and 2,500 business applications and ultimately business processes. In so doing, ING expects to improve its delivery time in technology development, pay only for the IT resources it uses and improve scalability.

And, it is hoped, the approach will give ING faster time to market for new applications for bank customers and remote access for employees, with the ability to let them bring their own devices to work.

As ING reports its results from going to the hybrid cloud approach, other large global banks are sure to take note and eventually follow.

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