Bring Your (Sovereign) Cloud Closer to the Ground

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Sovereignty, the bedrock of international relations, represents the rights of a nation, a group of people, or even an individual to be self-governing and to operate independently from other countries or groups of people. It makes sense then that digital sovereignty describes an individual’s, organization’s, or government’s right and ability to control—with varying degrees—its digital data.

To keep up with technological change, organizations are in a continual process of digital transformation and growth. That means their end user, business intelligence, and government policy data can end up residing in one or more public cloud instances anywhere in the world.

How do entities handle data privacy and management in such a distributed environment? This is a fundamental question to answer as organizations work to meet local, regional, and national regulatory data privacy requirements, as well as operating resiliency obligations of business and government supply chain dependencies. It’s no wonder that digital sovereignty is such a hot topic.

The Need for Sovereign Cloud

It’s not just the rights of nations to consider; we are being pushed to rethink the rights that individuals, organizations, and governments have over their data. This is why sovereign cloud is essential.

A recent survey of global leaders found that “security and compliance risks” were tied as a top barrier to achieving expected cloud value,1 with 76% of public sector organizations globally planning to adopt cloud sovereignty to ensure compliance with regulations and standards.2

A sovereign cloud is a computing paradigm that ensures data residency, governance, and access are all controlled under local, regional, or national regulations. Due to the aggressive data protection and privacy laws connected to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the push for data sovereignty in Europe is more significant than ever as companies scramble to meet strict requirements.

However, while European governments and organizations are driving data sovereignty, it is not limited to businesses on the continent. Most countries doing business in Europe—or with European citizens and residents—must abide by the regulation’s data protection and privacy requirements.

Sovereign Cloud Considerations

While the sovereign cloud offers public cloud infrastructure and services dedicated to a particular country or jurisdiction, there are important factors that businesses must consider regarding their workflows, app delivery processes, and data access policies and controls, including the following:

  • Data residency and regulatory compliance
  • Data sovereignty and assurance reporting
  • Third- and nth-party vendor relationships
  • Infrastructure integration and operating cost
  • Cross-cloud performance and service latency
  • Innovation restrictions and workflow flexibility

Impact on Data Management

Sovereign cloud has far-reaching effects on how businesses manage access to regulated data. Business leaders must make difficult decisions regarding balancing enhanced security with potential trade-offs in accessibility and convenience. The following are two examples:

  • Increased security: To comply with various local, regional, and national regulations, organizations may need to apply encryption and security measures where they have in the past. This includes more robust data anonymization processes, data backup, retrieval, and removal policies, and the implementation of two-factor and stepped authentication across clouds, systems, and applications. The outcome might require localized regional access points connecting to local sovereign cloud data centers.
  • Tightened access: More restrictive, role-based access control systems may be needed as international businesses consider geography and jurisdictions. Teams will likely need to revamp their business systems to address internal and external access policies by implementing always-on controls and real-time monitoring to meet access control requisites.

Implications for App Development

Application development and delivery can also change dramatically when integrating sovereign cloud into operating infrastructures. The move to a sovereign cloud requires an in-depth evaluation of app processes to ensure enhanced security and operational compliance. Here are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Design tuning: Applications must be updated to meet specific data residency requirements. This may require architectural changes to the application and its architecture. Some of these changes could force trade-offs as sovereign cloud implementation affects connection, function, and performance if latency increases as services become distributed across different regions.
  • Service integration: Third-party vendor relationships can become highly complex—some services may need to be updated to meet sovereignty requirements, and others may need to be replaced if they can’t quickly or effectively meet the requirements. This includes services available at the application and cloud layers.
  • Delivery priorities: Delivery and deployment speeds for new application capabilities could be delayed as new features or security, privacy, and compliance updates take precedence in a sovereign cloud environment.

Bearing on Business Operations

It’s important to recognize that adopting a sovereign cloud is not just a technology upgrade or a shift of systems and data to a different place; it’s a strategic business transformation. The benefits of adopting sovereign cloud infrastructure will affect business workflows that organizations can’t ignore. If they do, the benefits of the sovereign cloud may be lost. Consider the following:

  • Data processing: Compliance requirements pertain to every data creation, processing, and storage workflow. These must be examined to ensure regulations are met.
  • System performance: Increased latency issues could surface, dramatically impacting business-critical processes. Some business workflows rely on real-time data and may not function as expected, potentially impacting downstream and cross-stream activities. Additionally, any latency involved in data-enabled business services—plus any other restrictions or complexities in data access—could limit the adoption of new data-driven technologies like advanced analytics or artificial intelligence (AI).
  • Operational cost: The move to a sovereign cloud can result in additional expenses connected to specialized infrastructure, additional security controls, and monitoring capabilities.

Whether you’re a policymaker, a business leader, a software developer, or an IT operations manager, it’s time to consider how to bring your cloud closer to the ground, anchored by the values and principles behind digital sovereignty.

  1. Accenture, Sovereign Cloud Comes of Age in Europe, May 2023
  2. Capgemini, Making it real: 4 steps to cloud sovereignty in the public sector, March 2023