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What Cloud Startups Need to Know About Hunting Elephants

Large companies have several sets of requirements for solution providers that differ from smaller companies

"Cloud computing" is more than just a buzzword - it has transformed the tech industry. Having been in the business of building enterprise infrastructure for over 15 years, I've had the opportunity to witness how cloud has altered the landscape, including most recently at my company, Nexgate. It has not only ushered in a radical wave of innovation, but has also created new business models. The easily accessible and inexpensive nature of its on-demand structure has both paved the way for the rapid launch of new technologies and enabled the growth of businesses.

Yet, as with any technology, it also has its limits and risks, especially for cloud startups. If not configured well, cloud doesn't necessarily fit hand-in-hand with the needs of large enterprises. While the benefits of gaining a big customer are certainly obvious, the demands of doing so are not talked about nearly as frequently, despite that both are important. Hunting elephants is a dangerous game if you're a mouse.

Large companies have several sets of requirements for solution providers that differ from smaller companies, which aren't as concerned about security and scalability. Whereas the size of smaller companies doesn't require a focus on mitigating the risk of a high profile security breach or managing complex systems on a mass scale, for larger companies, these concerns are very real. Hence, it's not enough to just have a great product to engage on an enterprise level - large companies have dedicated security teams and requirements that you as a vendor need to work with to close the deal.

Having a disaster recovery plan in place is one of the first steps to becoming enterprise ready. Any sizeable organization is going to want assurance that in the event of a crisis, any lapse in the service you provide is going to be as brief and as painless as possible. And, furthermore, that enterprise is going to want proof to back up that assurance. That proof is called a disaster recovery plan. A disaster recovery plan specifies how your company intends to mitigate the risk of an incident resulting in downtime, as well as the processes in place for remediating and recovering from one. Given organizations' increasing dependency on information technology to run their operations, the more critical your product is to the day-to-day functioning of an enterprise, the more you must demonstrate this competency.

Creating and maintaining a disaster recovery plan is no simple task. Each employee should be trained in his or her role and responsibility in the event of a crisis or outage, and the plan should be documented and tested to ensure continuity of procedures and availability of essential resources in the event of a disaster. Your plan should specify easily executable and repeatable procedures for recovering and repairing any damaged IT resources and restoring them to operation as rapidly as possible. Be sure to include a summary of the critical assets and services, their recovery objectives, and recovery priorities, in addition to the contact information for disaster support agencies and a secondary data center service provider or other temporary means of providing service.

Security policy and practices are another prerequisite for navigating a large corporate environment. Without demonstrating the security of your product, you've effectively lost your seat at the table with enterprise companies. In today's tech-saturated world, an information security breach, hack, or hijack can cost thousands of dollars - not to mention inestimable damage to brands and consumer trust. This means an even greater burden of proof lies on vendors (and their cloud providers) as far as security is concerned to prevent such an event from happening. For example, if you're storing data on behalf of customers, are they encrypted in your database? Do you have strong access policies? Are your employees trained and certified when it comes to securing both corporate and personal accounts? If you're a web-based app, do you use a web app firewall (WAP)? Do you have IP and firewall restrictions in place from a cloud security service like Dome9? And what level of security does your cloud provider (e.g., Amazon Web Services) provide? The answers to these questions can help you structure your security policy and practices in alignment with enterprise needs.

To augment these policies and practices, you should also implement security review and testing. Policy and procedures are critical, but without confirmation and review of their execution, they only live in theory. For this reason, implementing internal and external reviews to ensure that your company, your employees, and your partners are all following your policy is critical. Ultimately, you should be able to show that you've created a process that's being applied day-to-day, which is sufficient enough to hold off socially engineered attacks and risks from phishing and malware, among other threats to your security. Allowing for third-party penetration testing is a great strategy to demonstrate your security capacity in this way. The more you can verify the process and results of that testing, the more you can prove to an enterprise that your product is effective and safe for use on a large scale.

Working with enterprise certainly has massive upsides, but with those benefits inherently comes a higher level of skepticism, scrutiny, and caution. Expect to have to prove that you can support sophisticated systems on a large scale, not only in terms of operation but also when it comes to appropriate processes, documentation, and security. The more you can anticipate enterprise needs and have the necessary procedures in place right out of the gate, the greater the level of confidence larger organizations will have in your company, and the better you can serve your customers.

For additional information about making your organization enterprise ready, check out these resources:

  1. Disaster Recovery Journal Sample Plans
  2. Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) Security Guidance
  3. AWS Security Center

More Stories By Rich Sutton

Rich Sutton is co-founder and CTO at Nexgate, a cloud-based social media compliance and security solution. Along with holding multiple patents, he has more than 15 years of experience in enterprise software and application development experience. Prior to working at Nexgate, Rich led a 50+ person engineering team building Websense’s web security product portfolio and also held senior management and technical positions at Symantec, 8e6 Technologies (now Trustwave), and eFunds (now Fidelity) building everything from SaaS applications to high-throughput network appliances, client security software, and mobile applications.

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