Location, Location, Location! (Even in the Cloud)
The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sybase, an SAP Company.
The cloud puts an opaque level of indirection between you and your data. And, of course, this is the whole point. The cloud creates a virtual world of servers and disks that is seemingly both everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. However, this virtual world is superimposed on the real world. And in the real world, location matters. To illustrate this, we are going to go back a few years before the word “cloud” was such a buzzword.
Lakehead University is a Canadian University located in Thunder Bay, Ontario . In late 2006, Lakehead struck a deal with Google to replace its email system which was, “crashing daily and in desperate need of an overhaul“, with a Google-hosted solution.
This caused a lot of concern for the University’s professors who believed that this move broke their right to private communication as stated in their collective agreement. Why? Because the service would be hosted in the United States, the Canadian-based professors’ data would fall under the domain of the U.S. Patriot Act . Professors were concerned that private communications could be scanned by the U.S. government, and lead to them being denied access to the United States (or worse) without any reason given.
In 2008, the faculty association filed a grievance against the University. The case was eventually brought before an arbitrator. In June 2008, the arbitrator determined that the University did have the right to use the Google service because the wording of the collective agreement was not clear on whether or not the same privacy requirements was extended to email. The arbitrator concluded his decision with (emphasis mine):
While I am sympathetic to their plight and the fact that big brother could be watching over their e-mail communications, it simply brings to the fore the caution advanced by Mr. Pawlowski when he commented upon e-mail systems generally before the Senate. One should consider e-mail communications as confidential as are postcards.
It is clear that location mattered in this case. In the end, the University was allowed to make the move, but only at the acknowledgement that their email was not, in fact, private.
If you are an ISV that is looking at creating a hosted application for your customers, the location of the data will matter. To your customers, your service will exist “in the cloud” and will be accessed over the internet in very much the same way as the professors accessing their email at Lakehead University.
But data is the life-blood of any organization. Just like the professors at Lakehead University, you should not be surprised when your prospective customers start asking tough questions about where their data is hosted. You also need to think about how the location will affect your ability to service customer who fall under specific policies such as HIPPA, Sarbanes-Oxley, or PCI-DSS.
Fortunately, SQL Anywhere OnDemand Edition “Fuji” is here to help you by giving you flexibility in many aspects of your deployment, including the location of the data. It is not a service hosted by Sybase, but rather a piece of software that you can take and run wherever you want. SQL Anywhere OnDemand Edition “Fuji” allows you to hook up multiple machines together to make a cloud that may be spread across multiple physical locations. For example, you may have some of your cloud in a more expensive HIPPA-approved data center for those customers who require it, and in a cheaper data center for those who do not. Similarly, you may have data centers spread out across multiple countries, allowing you to store each customer’s data in disks that are physically located in that country.
What makes SQL Anywhere OnDemand Edition special is that you can connect all the data centers together into a single cloud and mange them all from a central console. By setting declarative rules on what databases can end up where, you can tell your customers exactly where their data is stored, and even let them visit your data center (I was surprised from talking to ISVs just how often that this last one is a requirement).
Location matters, even in the cloud. In the Lakehead example, the location argument was trumped by the fact that the data they were storing was considered as public as postcards. I doubt your customers will be satisfied by that answer if you are unable to provide them the location of their data.