Thursday, 03 July 2014 15:32

Physical location of data ‘will become increasingly irrelevant'

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The physical location of data still matters, but will become increasingly irrelevant and will be replaced by a combination of legal, political and logical locations by 2020.

The forecast comes in a report from analyst group Gartner. Gartner research vice president Carsten Casper said that the number of data residency and data sovereignty discussions had soared in the past 12 months, stalling technology innovation in many organisations.

Originally triggered by the dominance of US providers on the Internet and the Patriot Act, the perceived conflict was then fuelled by revelations of unexpected surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) made public by Edward Snowden.

“IT leaders find themselves entangled in data residency discussions on different levels and with various stakeholders such as legal advisors, customers, regulatory authorities, employee representatives, business management, and the public,” Casper said.

“Business leaders must make the decision and accept the residual risk, balancing different types of risk: legal uncertainty, fines or public outrage, employee dissatisfaction or losing market share due to a lack of innovation, or overspending on redundant or outdated IT.”

In the report, Gartner identifies four types of data location:

Physical location

Historically, people equated physical proximity with physical control. Although locally stored data can be accessed remotely, the desire for physical control still exists, especially among regulatory bodies. Gartner advises organisations not to dismiss concerns about physical location, and instead balance the discussion with other types of risk.

Legal location

According to Gartner, many IT professionals are not aware of the concept of legal location. The legal location is determined by the legal entity that controls the data (the organisation). There could be another legal entity that processes the data on behalf of the first entity (such as an IT service provider) and a third legal entity that supports the second one in that endeavour (possibly a captive data centre in India).

“Statements like ‘it's illegal to store such data outside the country’ are often interpretations of legal language that is far less clear,” said Casper. “Each organisation must decide whether they accept those interpretations.”

Political location

Considerations such as law enforcement access requests, use of inexpensive labour in other countries that puts local jobs at risk or questions of international political balance are more important for public sector entities, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), companies that serve millions of consumers or those whose reputation is already tainted. “Unless you fall into one of these categories, you can discount media reports on data residency concerns,” Casper said. “While public outrage is still high about data storage abroad, there is little evidence that consumers really change their buying behaviour.”

Logical location

This is emerging as the most likely solution for international data processing arrangements and is determined by who has access to the data. For example, a German company signs a contract with the Irish subsidiary of a US cloud provider, fully aware that a backup of all data is physically stored in a data centre in India.

While the legal location of the provider would be Ireland, the political location would be the US and the physical location would be India, logically, all data could still be in Germany.

For that to happen, all data in transit and all data at rest (in India) would have to be defensibly encrypted, with keys residing in Germany. With such an architecture there is an increase in cost and complexity and a reduction of usability through functions like preview and search, mobility and latency.

“None of the types of data location solves the data residency problem alone,” Casper said. “The future will be hybrid — organisation will be using multiple locations with multiple service delivery models. IT leaders can structure the discussion with various stakeholders, but eventually, it's the business leader who has to make a decision, based on the input from general counsel, compliance officers, the information security team, privacy professionals and the CIO.”

More information is available in the report ‘The Snowden Effect: Data Location Matters’, available on Gartner’s web site at: https://www.gartner.com/doc/2724017


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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson sadly passed away in Jan 2021 and a much valued senior associate editor at iTWire. He was one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is the author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’He was in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism. Graeme will be sadly missed by the iTWire Family, Readers, Customers and PR firms.

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