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Cisco Cloud Consumption Service Tackles Shadow IT

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Lorna GareyCisco released on Wednesday Cloud Consumption as a Service software that enables companies to discover and monitor the cloud services running across their networks.

The offering, a SaaS version of Cisco’s Cloud Consumption Assessment tool, is hosted in Cisco’s cloud and aimed at midsize and large customers, from 400 employees and up, that are looking to understand current cloud use and monitor services on an ongoing basis without a hefty capital expense. The product provides a centralized dashboard that comprises:

  • Discovery of all cloud services (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS) in use, details on whether they’re authorized, purchased by lines of business or brought on the network by individual employees, as well as usage trending and, optionally, user identification reports;
  • Security assessments, cloud service anomaly and trigger-based alerts, risk and certification profiles and identification of redundant services; and
  • Benchmarking of cloud providers on various criteria and of the organization’s cloud usage compared with similar-size peers in various verticals.

Cisco's Bob DimiccoRobert Dimicco, global leader of Cisco’s cloud consumption and broker services practice, told Channel Partners that the service is about helping customers rein in shadow IT. Besides bypassing the solution provider/IT relationship, unauthorized use of cloud brings risks around business continuity, data security and compliance. Customers may also pay too much for sometimes redundant services and have no way to monitor SLAs.

For partners, Dimicco says the Cloud Consumption tool can open consultative conversations around cloud use overall — customers may not know about less expensive or more secure options to consumer-class services. He cites an IDC study that says 90 percent of enterprise and midmarket organizations lack a cloud strategy, leading to ad hoc adoption.

“They think they’re saving money,” he says. “In some cases they are, in some cases they’re not.”

The dashboard displays real-time network traffic, enabling partners and IT to audit the exact cloud services in use.{ad}

“The number blows them away,” says Dimicco. “A year ago there were maybe 670, 660. Now it’s up over 1,200. That means the lines of business have spoken: They want choice, they want agility, they want speed, and they’re clearly going around IT.”

When Cisco says typical enterprises now use 1,220 individual cloud services, it’s not talking about multiple accounts in, say, Dropbox. Dimicco says the average number of unique services in use has grown 112 percent over the past year, 67 percent over the past six months. While few small and midsize companies will not have anything near that many discrete services in use, they’re just as exposed to security and financial risks. Cisco says cloud services purchased outside IT’s or a partner’s purview may cost four to eight times as much as comparable billed offerings, are often redundant and are more likely to be classified as “high risk.”

One interesting tab in the dashboard is …

{vpipagebreak}

… the risk score. Dimicco says that’s calculated using a variety of criteria — is the service authorized by the business, and is a contract in place, for example. It takes into account the cloud provider’s Web reputation score from Cisco’s Security Technology Group.

How the cloud provider stores data is important as well.

“Putting data into something that is structured, such as Salesforce.com, is less risky than when you’ve got unstructured data, such as spreadsheets, PowerPoints or Word documents,” says Dimicco.

The system also calculates the number of accounts and frequency of access – more employees using a given service increases risk – and ratings from the independent Cloud Security Alliance.  

“Every provider of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS report into the Cloud Security Alliance on characteristics and attributes, such as what sort of ISO compliance they have, are they compliant with HIPAA, or SOX?” he says. Cisco taps into the CSA database and pulls that info into the overall risk score. Dimicco says Cisco is seeing increasing levels of reporting to the CSA, which is a win for partners looking to help customers evaluate providers.

The weight given to any particular risk metric is adjustable based on business priorities.

Besides security, companies can be burned when a cloud provider closes its virtual doors. Cisco provides an API that taps into Dun & Bradstreet data to compile a business viability score for cloud providers; that tally considers such metrics as debt-to-capital ratios and how long a provider has been in business.

From a partner perspective, Dimicco says the Cloud Consumption as Service offering can improve account intelligence and be the basis for a variety of managed and cloud brokerage services.

“One thing partners told us loud and clear is, ‘We want to be able to see and manage the same things customers see,'” says Dimicco. “Partners can sit down and say, ‘let’s look at the traffic. Let’s look at where your data is going. Let’s see where you can save money.'”

Partners reselling, say, Office 365, can see if alternative productivity suites are in use. Customers may also give partners access to the tool to monitor for alerts or anomalous spikes.

Cisco is offering a free trial of the Cloud Consumption dashboard. Going forward it will be available globally from qualified Cisco channel partners for $1-$2 per employee per month, depending on the size of the company. Dimicco says the product is priced to be profitable for resellers. While it’s not meant to be a one-time diagnostic tool, he says Cisco will work with its partners to create customized pricing scenarios.

“We’ve found that if they just use it once as a diagnostic, they’re kind of shooting themselves in the foot,” he says. “You want the tool to be looking at the network on a daily and weekly basis so you can do trending.”

Follow executive editor @LornaGarey on Twitter.


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