A comprehensive security strategy is an essential pillar of a company’s operational strategy—likely, no one would disagree with this. However, a 2021 IDC study commissioned by cloud infrastructure security platform, Ermetic, found that an unbelievable 98% of companies experienced at least one cloud data breach during the 18 months before the survey. Cloud governance is now a significant component of any company’s comprehensive security strategy and will continue to grow in importance. Here’s what companies need to know.
What is cloud governance?
Cloud governance is the set of policies, procedures, and standards an organization implements to ensure the security of all cloud resources. It includes:
- Data privacy
- Compliance with regulations
- Resource allocation
- Cost management
- Security and access control
These policies ensure all parties use cloud resources in ways that align with business goals, optimize performance, and minimize risk. These policies matter beyond avoiding security breaches. They enable teams to collaborate—even across massively distributed workforces that include remote workers. Companies might even reduce the chances of unexpected cloud costs. And clear policies help to drive value, ensuring companies actually see a return on their cloud investments.
Traditional governance versus the cloud
As companies shift operations from on-premises systems to the cloud or create a hybrid environment, it might be tempting to apply traditional governance approaches to the entire system. This won’t work and leaves companies with critical vulnerabilities. Here are some of the most significant differences:
Traditional systems were slow to expand or contract and included on-premises systems the company controlled. Cloud environments are more dynamic and full of ephemeral resources designed for rapid scaling and resource deployment. This can make governance policies more challenging to enforce consistently.
In addition, companies must consider hybrid and multi-cloud environments. An effective strategy must consider the requirements and needs of different cloud environments, both public and private.
In the cloud, providers and customers share the responsibilities of security, compliance, and management of resources. In traditional IT environments, the responsibility lies with the organization. Companies must ensure proper access controls for all cloud resources so that only authorized users can reach cloud resources.
Typically, cloud service providers are responsible for ensuring that their hardware and infrastructure are using security best practices and the latest updates. However, companies themselves must set sufficient access controls that allow optimized workflows without allowing just anyone in. This can be a challenge because of the dynamic environment of the cloud.
Unfortunately, true visibility into the entire cloud environment is a significant challenge. Cloud environments often rely heavily on automation and self-service capabilities, making it more difficult to maintain visibility and control over cloud resources without a clear dashboard or well-established documentation in place. Cloud governance usually focuses on the infrastructure and services because of the need to look closely at the automations and services running tasks. Traditional governance focuses on the organization’s IT strategy and risk management in a more static environment.
Although many companies are migrating to the cloud to control costs, cloud environments can be more expensive to operate than traditional IT environments. Without clear observability, cloud costs can quickly spiral out of control. Cloud governance must be able to manage and optimize costs.
Recent breakthroughs in cloud-native governance
New achievements can help make governance more straightforward despite complexity. Some of these breakthroughs are:
- Automation tools: Many cloud governance tools now leverage automation. For example, machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence can automate policy enforcement and resource management, learn from each incident, and offer actionable next steps that reduce false positives and mitigate risk.
- Governance as Code: This approach allows for the definition, enforcement, and management of cloud governance policies through code. This enables organizations to apply governance consistently and at scale across their cloud environments without relying heavily on manual monitoring and response.
- Cloud-native governance: With the rise of cloud-native applications and services, there is an increasing focus on native cloud governance solutions built specifically for cloud environments. These can be integrated with other cloud-native services and tools and build cloud idiosyncrasies into the tool or service.
Checklist: 7 steps for better cloud utilization
Companies embarking on a cloud governance strategy will need to take full stock of their entire ecosystem. It might be a single cloud housing specific data, a multi-cloud environment spread across an enterprise, or a hybrid cloud setup designed to modernize IT infrastructure without decommissioning legacy systems. Context is important. From there, these steps can help companies begin.
- Develop a new cloud governance strategy that matches the cloud environment without recycling traditional governance: This includes setting goals, identifying key stakeholders, and outlining the policies, procedures, and standards that will be used.
- Define roles and responsibilities: Organizations should clearly define the roles and responsibilities of different teams and individuals. Users need access to do their work, but companies must remember the shared responsibility of the cloud.
- Implement automation and management tools: Organizations should implement automation and management tools to help them monitor and enforce governance policies, as well as provide visibility into cloud usage and costs.
- Conduct regular audits and reviews: Regular audits and reviews ensure that their cloud resources are being used in compliance with governance policies and standards. This can be easier with automated documentation.
- Communicate and educate: Organizations should communicate the importance of cloud governance to all stakeholders and provide training and education to help employees understand the policies and procedures that are in place.
- Remain flexible: Organizations should be flexible and adaptable to change, as the cloud computing landscape is constantly evolving and new challenges and opportunities may arise.
Cloud strategy requires a new way of thinking
Traditional governance strategies can’t encompass everything the cloud requires. Companies must consider the new environment of the cloud to build governance that addresses its unique characteristics. Tackling the problem from the beginning and keeping a flexible mindset can be a strong step toward helping organizations the most from their cloud strategy.
Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for data science and AI and a background in linguistics. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain – clearly – what it is they do.