Guest View: Could your data be breaking the law?

James Walker

A global solution has to allow for any number of possibilities. One customer working with a single provider might be able to thrash out a set of standard agreements covering an agreed set of classes, such as "Company Confidential", "Embargoed until X", "Customer Confidential" etc, and whether these types of data can be accessible to specified national and foreign government agencies - but defining universal standards to allow for such detailed policy-based networking becomes a massive undertaking.

If the entire world becomes connected by a single WAN subject to a single global controller, then a super-powerful SDN could provide the solution. But that would probably require a single world government to make it possible - and that would mean that all these problems of diverse legislation and juridical anomalies would have already been resolved!

The role of CEF

The CloudEthernet Forum (CEF) does not have a solution, but it is rapidly gaining a clearer understanding of the problems' magnitude, their evolution, and the need for a solution.

Datacenters used to use a range of technologies for different application-specific networks: eg Fibre Channel for storage services, InfiniBand for high-performance computing, and Ethernet for basic LAN applications. Today, however, higher speed Ethernet is taking over as the unifying technology in the datacentre and Carrier Ethernet is extending it across the WAN.

So it is appropriate to ask what new Ethernet developments and standards could best support the rapidly evolving needs of cloud computing - just as Carrier Ethernet was evolved to meet the needs of the WAN. The CEF has already identified five fundamental areas of concern - Virtualization, Automation, Security, Programmability, and Analytics - and published a White Paper outlining these areas while working groups are being formed to address specific issues.

As suggested above, individual providers can get together with their customers to thrash out working solutions to the problems we have discussed, but this will do little to solve the global problem of ensuring suitable protection for different classes of data across diverse networks and jurisdictions. As in the case of Carrier Ethernet, it requires a concerted effort from many different cloud stakeholders and not just the providers.

How does this impact your business?

In the past this problem was confined to specific areas such as healthcare, with private individuals' medical data, or banking, with sensitive financial data. But it is becoming increasingly relevant to any large business.

For example, until recently Amazon cloud customers were required to sign up for a particular geographic area, and if you wanted support for a second region you had to sign up separately and be responsible for the connectivity between the two. They are now offering a service whereby you sign up for a single cluster and, should it fail, they will pass you over to another cluster via Amazon's own network. But does the customer know where Amazon will be routing the traffic, and how might it impact legal agreements covering the data? The customer will now want to communicate not just with Amazon's servers but also with Amazon's network to make sure that all those different classes of data sensitivity are recognised during the transition.

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