VMware chief claims the roll-out of its hybrid cloud network should help ease enterprise concerns about off-premise data protection
VMware claims the outcome of the EU Safe Harbour ruling will cause minimal disruption to its operations and should serve to reinforce its hybrid cloud strategy.

The virtualisation giant was among the first to predict that the hybrid cloud model would emerge as the enterprise’s preferred model of consuming IT some years ago, while others backed the public or private cloud. In keeping with this, VMware rolled out its vCloud Air platform in 2013, which is designed to make it easier for users to move workloads between their on-premise and off-premise environments, and the firm has opened numerous datacentres worldwide to support it.

Users also have the alternative option to procure cloud services through service providers signed up to the vCloud Air Network programme, rather than from VMware directly.

Speaking at the VMworld Europe User conference in Barcelona, the company said this setup should enable the company to sidestep some of the challenges the disappearance of the Safe Harbour agreement could throw up.

This is because the firm’s vCloud Air Network of partners means European users of its cloud platform may not have to send data back to the US as there are already providers local to them that can meet their needs.

During a press Q&A at the event, Bill Fathers, executive vice-president and general manager of cloud services at VMware, said the firm has taken steps to adjust the wording of its contracts in the wake of the Safe Harbour ruling on 6 October 2015.

“We are modifying the language we’re using with our suppliers so we can give our clients more assurances around where their data will reside,” he said.

In the longer term, having the vCloud Air Network already in place should stand it in good stead, as the rest of the US cloud supplier community works out how best to respond to the news.

“Having a network of service providers in all of the geographies we operate is likely to be the winning strategy,” said Fathers.

“Rather than be a single, homogenous US entity that tries to provide that service across a region such as Europe, we think having hundreds of thousands of services providers who can provide absolute assurances [to customers about where their data resides] makes sense.”

The Safe Harbour fallout

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the European Court of Justice ruled on 6 October 2015 that the Safe Harbour data-sharing agreement should be considered invalid because it fails to “adequately” protect European users’ data during its transit to the US.

With more than 3,000 companies signed up to the agreement, concerns about the disruption this will cause to the way US firms operate have been aired by technology suppliers and the legal community.

VMware is not the only cloud company to react bullishly to the Safe Harbour announcement. Andy Jassy, senior vice-president of Amazon Web Services (AWS), has been equally quick to shoot down suggestions about the ruling’s impact on its European operations.

During a press Q&A at the 2015 AWS Re:Invent user conference in Las Vegas, he said: “We have a number of ways for our customers to move their data outside of the EU to AWS beyond Safe Harbour.

“As the European data protection agency has approved the AWS data protection agreement via the Article 29 Working Party, it really has no impact on our customers.”

However, Richard Munro, chief technology officer of vCloud Air for Europe, the Middle-East and Africa at VMware, told Computer Weekly at VMworld that US cloud firms should be wary of rushing to make declarations about their Safe Harbour stance without doing some deep due diligence first.

“With our service, your data will not move outside a country’s borders unless you want it to, which is part of our differentiation,” he said.

With the final draft of the EU General Data Protection Regulations due to drop before the end of 2015, and the uncertainty over the UK’s future in the European Union (EU), Munro said both these factors could compel more users to consider going down the hybrid cloud route over time.

“We see people use public cloud services and I think they’re acknowledging they’ve lost quite a degree of control to take up those services,” he said.

“When you get something such as Safe Harbour or the EU Data Protection changes coming from nowhere, it’s difficult for a company to assess what they should do as a business entity if they’re not in control of where their data is residing or what controls are around it.

“As more of these things crop up, we’ll see more businesses wish they had control of where there data is – even when it’s in the public cloud,” he said.

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