Government services will, in the coming years, start moving away from physical servers on the island and into big data centers in the United States and elsewhere, according to a deputy in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
In an interview this week, Wesley Howell, who is in charge of public safety and security with the Ministry, said the Cabinet Office plans to hire a director of IT services to help bring together computer services departments from across the government and collaborate with private companies.
Mr. Howell spoke Monday at the Government Professional Development Week conference about risks to the island’s IT infrastructure. The talk covered topics ranging from hacker attacks to risk assessment on how much to spend protecting data.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service lost millions of records when a hard drive crashed last year. A Cayman Compass Freedom of Information request recently showed that there have been at least five major hardware failures since February 2012 in the systems used to store police data.
Of the most recent loss, Mr. Howell said, “The police data was a physical risk. It was an older server, our hard drives failed. Backup technology failed and data was compromised. Eventually they were able to recover some data from the hard drives and some data from backup tapes, so I don’t know the exact figure, but most data was actually returned and recovered.
“Are there old servers elsewhere in government? Yes. And even newer servers that aren’t configured properly are at risk for failure,” Mr. Howell said.
He said financial constraints were the biggest factor in keeping these older servers active, and those same constraints would be a major factor in pushing government functions into cloud computing.
Moving computer services, such as hosting websites and storing data, to big offshore data centers, Mr. Howell said, “is not imminent but inevitable.”
Mr. Howell said some public websites, such as the Office of the Auditor General’s site, are already hosted on offshore data centers, commonly known as “cloud” servers.
“The government at this point is moving very cautiously,” he said. The sites hosted on cloud servers are not receiving data, such as credit card numbers to process payments.
Much of the critical data in Cayman is still kept on paper. For example, if you walk into the immigration office, “you walk in with a stack of paper.”
Government concerns about storing data in the cloud include questions about who will have access, how secure the servers will be from hackers, and what jurisdiction the data stored in. The government may not want to process financial transactions in another country if there are additional taxes added on by that country. Or there may be concerns about surveillance from a foreign government if the data is stored outside Cayman.
It’s all about balancing risk, Mr. Howell said, determining how important the data is versus how much will it cost to store on very secure servers, and what happens if you lose the data compared to the cost of maintaining high-quality servers and backups on island.