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IT leaders debate data transfer

POSTED AT 12:05 AM ON Sep. 25, 2012  (UPDATED AT 12:10 AM ON Sep. 25, 2012)

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Though the 2012 Statewide IT Conference began in the style of the 1858 Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debates, complete with period dress, the topic surrounded a modern issue affecting information technology.

The debate titled, “Cloud now! vs Cloud how?”, examined the pros and cons of cloud computing, a means of data transfer via a network that allows a user to access files across multiple devices.

The conference, which attracted about 700 students and professionals from across Indiana, officially began at 9 a.m. Monday in the IU Auditorium and migrated to the Indiana Memorial Union in the afternoon.

Attendees filed into the IU Auditorium, cloud supporters wielding blue signs on the right and skeptics wearing red “Cloud How?” T-shirts on the left, and cheered for their “party leaders.”

Fred Cate, IU Center for Applied Cybersecurity research director, entered the stage wearing a red, white and blue sequined top hat and defended the position that users should be wary of the cloud.

Cate’s opponent, Senior Vice President for Internet2 Net+ Shel Waggener, defended the “Cloud Now!” position, asserting that cloud computing opens doors for opportunity and creativity.

IU’s Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Brad Wheeler moderated the event.

Cate’s concerns spawned largely out of security concerns. Cloud computing, he said, has its place, but users need to be aware that personal data transferred into the cloud results in less user control of it.

Waggener, Cate said, thought of the cloud as a “white, puffy, harmless ball of cotton in the sky.”

“When I hear ‘clouds,’ I think of thunder clouds,” Cate said. “I think about menacing, dark gray terror that has knocked out servers twice this year to Amazon.”

Supporters on the left side of the aisle cheered.Waggener opposed Cate’s view, saying internal data is no safer than external.

“The proposal is simply that we are safer and better maintaining all of our resources internally,” Waggener said. “To do so ignores the fact that the vast majority of security breaches occur internally.”

The two hurled pseudo-insults at one another throughout the debate. Cate called Waggener “fluffy.” Waggener called Cate a “server hugger.”

Cate said it’s risky to entrust potential third parties with access to personal information via a cloud network. Insufficient policy regarding cloud usage, he said, allowed a company, in one instance, to post customers’ personal information online without their permission.

“When we store our information on cloud without knowing where the cloud is, no matter what jurisdiction, we might as well be posting it on the Web with a ‘come and get it’ sign,” Cate said.

Waggener said before it began digitizing information and sending it via cloud to a third party for transcription, IU’s hospital and medical school sent the information stored on cassette tapes to third parties.

“You’re suggesting that that is a far more secure way than what they do today, which is to digitize it and send it over the network,” Waggener said.

The issue, Waggener said, is not a matter of security with cloud computing but rather an issue of trusting business partners.

From there, the debate focused on ways individuals should exercise caution when choosing which tidbits of personal information to share on the Internet.

The debate touched on government regulation to protect cloud users.

At the debate’s conclusion, two speakers walked on stage to ask the audience who they thought won the debate.Each side of the aisle believed it to be their party leader.

The debate was only one of the day’s many events, which also included a keynote address presented by Wheeler and breakout sessions spanning a variety of technology-related topics.

The events will continue today until 5 p.m.

“We’ve had record attendance this year, over 700 students, faculty, and staff from all IU campuses,” Brian Hawkins, co-director of the University Information Technology Services IT Communications office, said in an email. “The Great Cloud Debate was a huge success. Fred Cate and Shel Waggener’s discussion broadened the audience’s minds about these important security issues. We’ve heard nothing but great things about the debate from our attendees — some even changed their stances.”

 

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