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Geo-fencing

The concept of geo-fencing is not new. It has been applied successfully in industries such as mobile computing, supply chain management, and transportation logistics. Geo-fencing is about defining geographical or virtual boundaries using a variety of GPS, RFID technologies, and geolocation attributes. Geo-fencing is also about ensuring that the boundaries are not violated; but if they are violated, that appropriate remediations are enforced. Applications supporting geo-fencing allow an administrator to set rules and apply triggers so that when a device, or workload, or data attempts to cross a boundary so defined by the administrator, the action is blocked and appropriate alerts are sent out for further investigation. Many geo-fencing applications employ mashup concepts, such as incorporating Google Earth, thus allowing administrators to define their boundaries using a satellite view of a specific geographic area. Other applications define the boundaries by longitude and latitude or through user-created and web-based maps.

In traditional data centers, workloads and data are pretty static and have a hard binding to the physical information systems on which they reside and execute. However, with virtualization and cloud computing, this is clearly no longer the case. Geolocation can be an attribute for a virtual machine. The ease with which a virtual machine can move has created intense interest in instituting mechanisms to track and control these movements, however. The power and appeal of cloud computing for IT is its agility, efficiency, and mobility of workloads in order to meet the service-level agreements for customers, and also to improve total cost of ownership for service operators. The mobility and agility are possible because of the abstraction and decoupling of the physical hardware from the virtual machines running on top. However, the mobility that allows workloads and data to move in an unrestricted fashion also brings concerns about violating security and privacy policies. Geo-fencing thus becomes an extremely useful capability in cloud computing environments. Geo-fencing usages in cloud computing environments take advantage of the geolocation attribute as described above. (We define and describe geolocation in exhaustive detail in the later sections.) This expanded usage involves attaching geolocation attributes to workloads or data. With the attributes in place, it is possible to create desired geo-fencing policies and set up the associated monitoring and control mechanisms at multiple levels in the cloud infrastructure.

Here are some potential use cases for geo-fencing, in virtualization and cloud computing:

Government security requirements. Many countries and their governments require that data and workloads stay within designated country and geographic boundaries. For instance, certain data may not be allowed to leave the sovereign territory, with exceptions being made for embassies and safe-harbor countries.

E-commerce. Retailers may want to optimize their business processes to improve taxation outcomes—for instance, in the United States, for interstate commerce where tax rates vary by state or to gain special tax benefits, such as hosting sites in export only zone. Geo-fencing allows restrictions where workloads and data are stored in the cloud and provides audit trails detailing where those workloads and data have been. Retail applications go beyond the brick-and-mortar stores when the consumables are digital, such as video, audio, images, software, books, and more. Banking is another regulated industry, and customer data sometimes enjoys greater privileges owing to international agreements.

Research. Companies may restrict what categories of research are carried out in particular geographic locations, so as to be compliant with local regulations or for intellectual property management purposes. For example, stem cell research and pharmacological research fall into this category.

There are many other examples of situations in which geo-fencing is applicable, such as in finance, health care, and other regulated industries. An expansion of the geo-tagging concept is that of asset tagging, whereby the attribute associated with the device or a server is a functional asset descriptor.

 
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