Cloud computing is not only on the rise, but a lot of businesses are adopting it for their own operations because of the obvious benefits: lower costs, easy deployment, and greater scalability and flexibility. The problem is that although standards and best practices do exist, cloud service providers are not really tied to a certain set of security standards for the services they offer. One of these best practices is to implement identity and access management (IAM) measures on cloud services. But even outside of the cloud, IAM is still one of the most challenging things that an IT professional faces today in enterprise settings. Here we'll take a look at the benefits of IAM in cloud computing, and why it may just be worth the extra work.

The State of Cloud Computing

Over the recent years, cloud computing has become a hot topic both among business owners and IT professionals. This is because a lot of enterprises have been contemplating moving IT services to the cloud to save on costs, and gain access to scalable solutions that are much faster to deploy. It also allows businesses to get the best IT services even without an IT professional around.

Gartner reported that 27 percent of businesses are using or planning to use cloud offerings in 2012 to extend their business intelligence; many more plan to move to the cloud in the near future.

Just about every business-critical task has a cloud service available for it. For now, however, cloud services are mostly used for:
  • Collaboration
  • Web serving or Web applications
  • Data backup or archiving
  • Business productivity such as human resources and customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Personal productivity tools
It seems there is no stopping businesses from joining the cloud bandwagon, but there is a dark cloud looming over their heads: security.

Going back to Cloud Spectator's round up of cloud-related statistics, it was revealed that more than half of the respondents cited security as their top concern about getting on the cloud. Cloud computing is still not as secure as many businesses would like. This is where IAM comes in. (Read more about cloud security problems in The Dark Side of the Cloud.)

IAM and Cloud Services

Identity and access management has proved to be effective in maintaining high levels of security for on-site systems.

IAM includes three disparate processes:
With cloud services coming into the mix, IAM processes, systems and authentication will be very important as well.

In a cloud setup, IAM requires a complex set of technologies to manage access controls, authorization and authentication on several environments found on both the private systems and the public cloud. It can even involve two different organizations, which may occur when two enterprises collaborate.

What IAM and the cloud do is provide employees with secure access to business information and applications, no matter where they are. IAM also help businesses collaborate with their customers or partners without having to divulge private information.

So the question is, if you are willing to move business intelligence tasks and other business critical assignments to the cloud, are you also willing to move your IAM to the cloud?

For this to happen, there should be consistency in the access management policies for both enterprise IAM and cloud systems. Enterprise IAM should be incorporated in cloud systems and be centrally controlled and monitored.

A lot of decision makers are resisting the idea of putting IAM on the cloud because of governance issues. IAM may be likened to the keys to an enterprise's kingdom, and most businesses are not ready to relinquish control over those yet.

The Benefits of IAM in the Cloud

The simple truth is that implementing an IAM in the cloud is very similar to implementing IAM on-site; the security requirements, applications and infrastructures are the same. What's more, it's a good practice to ensure that IAM for cloud services complies with a company's internal policies, standards and mandates. Again, this will only be a matter of stretching what's already in place to cover IAM in the cloud.

IAM in the cloud also helps companies manage who gets to access information stored on the cloud. For example, identities and roles can easily be assigned to employees and business partners to provide them with access to CRM data.

IAM can provide a way to manage that access, even when access permissions are constantly changing. If an employee is fired, for example, his or her accounts can all be terminated through the IAM system; there is no need to manually log onto Salesforce.com, Google Docs and other cloud services that the employee was using to terminate those accounts separately.

Another key benefit of having your IAM in the cloud is that it allows IT departments to comply with government regulation and get through audits for network and cloud applications more easily.

IAM: A More Secure Cloud

If you want to know more about identity and access management as a hosted service, you can check out hosted IAM services to see what they have to offer.

Businesses are adopting cloud computing for its countless benefits, but the sad truth is that it’s not as secure as many would like, and definitely not any more secure than on-site data. IAM can allow enterprises maintain and even increase cloud security. Implementing IAM - both on the cloud and on-site - can be challenging, but the rewards can make the effort well worthwhile.