A hybrid cloud is a combination of different methods of resource pooling (for example, combining public and community clouds).

Why cloud services are popular

Cloud services are popular because they can reduce the cost and complexity of owning and operating computers and networks. Since cloud users do not have to invest in information technology infrastructure, purchase hardware, or buy software licences, the benefits are low up-front costs, rapid return on investment, rapid deployment, customization, flexible use, and solutions that can make use of new innovations. In addition, cloud providers that have specialized in a particular area (such as e-mail) can bring advanced services that a single company might not be able to afford or develop.

Some other benefits to users include scalability, reliability, and efficiency. Scalability means that cloud computing offers unlimited processing and storage capacity. The cloud is reliable in that it enables access to applications and documents anywhere in the world via the Internet. Cloud computing is often considered efficient because it allows organizations to free up resources to focus on innovation and product development.

Another potential benefit is that personal information may be better protected in the cloud. Specifically, cloud computing may improve efforts to build privacy protection into technology from the start and the use of better security mechanisms. Cloud computing will enable more flexible IT acquisition and improvements, which may permit adjustments to procedures based on the sensitivity of the data. Widespread use of the cloud may also encourage open standards for cloud computing that will establish baseline data security features common across different services and providers. Cloud computing may also allow for better audit trails. In addition, information in the cloud is not as easily lost (when compared to the paper documents or hard drives, for example).

hybrid cloudPotential privacy risks While there are benefits, there are privacy and security concerns too. Data is travelling over the Internet and is stored in remote locations. In addition, cloud providers often serve multiple customers simultaneously. All of this may raise the scale of exposure to possible breaches, both accidental and deliberate. Concerns have been raised by many that cloud computing may lead to “function creep” — uses of data by cloud providers that were not anticipated when the information was originally collected and for which consent has typically not been obtained. Given how inexpensive it is to keep data, there is little incentive to remove the information from the cloud and more reasons to find other things to do with it.

Security issues, the need to segregate data when dealing with providers that serve multiple customers, potential secondary uses of the data—these are areas that organizations should keep in mind when considering a cloud provider and when negotiating contracts or reviewing terms of service with a cloud provider. Given that the organization transferring this information to the provider is ultimately accountable for its protection, it needs to ensure that the personal information is appropriate handled.

Privacy is not a barrier but it must be taken into consideration

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) does not prevent an organization from transferring personal information to an organization in another jurisdiction for processing. However, PIPEDA establishes rules governing those transfers — particularly with respect to obtaining consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information, securing the data, and ensuring accountability for the information and transparency in terms of practices. For more information on the views of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada with respect to outsourcing of personal data processing across borders, please see our Guidelines for Processing Personal Data Across Borders. These considerations apply whether moving data in the cloud or otherwise. It is important to note that many non-Canadian based cloud providers may also be subject to PIPEDA. To the extent that a cloud provider has a real and substantial connection to Canada, and collects, uses or discloses personal information in the course of a commercial activity, the provider is expected to protect personal information, in keeping with PIPEDA.

Conclusion

Cloud computing offers benefits for organizations and individuals. There are also privacy and security concerns. If you are considering a cloud service, you should think about how your personal information, and that of your customers, can best be protected. Carefully review the terms of service or contracts, and challenge the provider to meet your needs.