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Are public clouds really safer than private data centers?

Web Summit 2014Web Summit 2014
Urs Holzle, SVP of technical infrastructure at Google.Photograph by Clodagh Kilcoyne—Getty Images

You can’t blame companies with huge technology budgets for being conscious of computer security. Today, everything seems to be Internet-connected—and every day there seems to be a headline about a new data breach. Even if industry mentalities have shifted to thinking about a corporate hack as a matter of “when,” not “if,” it’s still paramount to make sure you are doing everything in your power to minimize the risk.

This defensive mindset was a big problem for the budding cloud computing industry in its early days. You want me to store my company’s most sensitive data in the same place as my competitors do? And in the same place as data from scuzzy startups I have nothing to do with? And then let a bookseller host it? No thanks!

In just a few short years, everything has changed. Read news headlines today and you’ll learn about corporate data centers falling prey to criminals as public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft (MSFT), and Google stay high and dry. “We can operate more securely on AWS than we can in our own data centers,” said Rob Alexander, chief information officer of Capital One (COF), at Amazon Web Services’ Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this month.

Of course, you don’t get to speak on stage at a corporate conference unless you’re prepared to say nice things about the host. But when a company as big as Capital One (market cap: north of $39 billion) delivers that strong of a public endorsement for the security of the public cloud, it’s difficult for anyone to object to it over security concerns.

But you’ve got to wonder: Are public cloud providers setting themselves up for trouble? People rob banks because that’s where the money is. When it comes to corporate data in the public cloud, Amazon (AMZN) wants to be the biggest bank on the Internet. (“Our goal is to have every company run all of their businesses and all of their applications on top of our technology infrastructure platform,” AWS chief Andy Jassy told CNBC earlier this month.) Does that paint a target on Amazon’s back?

These issues are among the many topics we plan to explore at Structure, a conference focused on cloud computing that will take place November 18 and 19 at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. If the event sounds familiar, it’s because we’re resurrecting it after the shutdown and sale of Gigaom, the tech news site that created it in 2008 (when cloud computing was a very new idea). The agenda will feature several high-profile speakers including Urs Hölzle, the prominent Google (GOOG) engineer known for his work in data center efficiency, and Jay Parikh, Facebook’s (FB) vice president of engineering. As you can imagine, both spend a lot of time and money on securing their networks.

Security in the public cloud will be top of mind at the conference. Some companies like GE (GE) embraced it for new application deployment involving sensitive data. Others have been more hesitant, dipping their toes in the water with non-critical applications. Expect Arlette Hart, chief information security officer at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to give us a real-world update on cloud security at Structure 2015. Hart, who is all too familiar with hackers intent on creating worldwide havoc, has a perspective like none other.

You’ll also hear practical advice from a panel of cloud veterans on data security best practices for companies that require multiple types of computing—from the classic data center to the public cloud and everything in between. At Structure we’ll also address the issue of communicating the importance of security to cloud customers. After all, customers who don’t enforce security policies among their employees risk causing huge headaches for themselves and their cloud provider, illustrating the shared responsibility of these services. (For more, don’t miss the afternoon panel discussion, “Everything you need to know about data security,” on Day 1.)

Perhaps, then, it’s actually better to keep your money in the bank than under your mattress—at least when it comes to corporate data. We’ll find out beginning November 18.

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