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A Cloud Computing Strategy for Europe

Submitted by on 09 Mar 2012 – 15:56

A Cloud Computing StrategyBy Pilar del Castillo MEP, EPP-ITRE coordinator

At present Cloud computing has become one of the most relevant items in the Digital Agendas of the different parts of the World. Indeed, not only is its current economical and social value of great importance, in addition its prospects are enormous; today there is almost no organisation that does not use a database or a network, which in commercial terms means that just about every business (and also every government) is a potential user.

Indeed, in the last few years, cloud computing has grown from being a promising business concept to one of the fastest growing segments of the IT industry. All over the world companies are increasingly realising the gain of productivity they can achieve by easily accessing the best performing business applications and/or drastically boosting their infrastructure resources at very affordable costs. Estimates from the European Commission calculate that by 2014 cloud revenue can reach 148.8 billion and that 60% of all server workloads will be virtualized.

Furthermore, according to a recent study from the Center for Economics and Business Research, in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain alone, the potential economic benefits of truly developing the Cloud would account to 763 billion, with a direct and indirect employment growth of 289,000 jobs. In this respect a Morgan and Stanley study from May 2011 affirms that by the end of 2011 approximately 15% of the global electronic communications industry revenues and one third of it’s growth can be attributed to the development of cloud services.

The economic and commercial prospects of the “cloud” are indeed promising and there is consequently a business case for its development, which in practical terms means that with or without Europe’s intervention cloud computing will continue to develop in one way or another. However for us policy makers to sit down and not reap the benefits for Europe of this next step of the Digital revolution is simply not acceptable.

Over one year ago the “EU 2020″ Strategy flagship on a new Digital Agenda for Europe announced the need for developing a European Cloud Computing Strategy. On May 16th 2011 the European Commission launched a public consultation which is intended to nurture the future European Cloud strategy that regrettably is not foreseen in the Commission’s 2012 Work Programme and consequently the Strategy will most probably not be presented before 2013.

Nevertheless this is not the first step towards the development of Cloud computing that Europe has taken, already in 2010, in the area of public services, the European Commission published the Communication “Towards interoperability for European public services” where cloud computing is seen to play a major role, and the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) published a report on the main security issues related to the Cloud. Most recently, on January 26th, the commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes announced the creation of a European public-private Cloud partnership with a 10 million Euro budget with the objective of delivering proof of concept solutions for the common requirements for Cloud procurement. If, in addition, we take into account the debates that have taken place in other fora such as the Internet Governance Forum and the intensive work on cloud issues the World Economic Forum has done, we can already draw up some of the objectives and policy actions that  Europe’s future Cloud Computing Strategy should attain.

Firstly we must not forget that when developing any strategic framework of action, and in particular the future cloud computing strategy, we have to try and be as horizontal as possible without taking for granted any circumstances that might not seem to directly affect its development. In this sense it must not be forgotten that strong fixed and mobile communication networks are prerequisite in order to grasp the full potential of the cloud and consequently the implementation of the revised framework for electronic communications is crucial. In this regard the recent presentation of the Connecting Europe Facilities communication and more specifically the proposed regulation on Guidelines for Trans European Telecommunications Networks are welcomed steps that have the capacity of boosting much needed investment into broadband networks in Europe. In addition solving other remaining challenges such as data roaming will certainly help the Cloud’s development.

Secondly, due to the strong commercial nature of cloud systems the future strategy must address a wide range of aspects that range from technological issues related to cloud systems development, management and elastic scalability, without forgetting the flexibility that any ICT development needs in order not to hamper innovation when addressing standardisation matters, to non technical issues such as legalistic aspects related to data privacy and security that pose a major obstacle towards wide uptake of cloud infrastructures.

In conclusion Europe should stimulate research and technological development in the area of Cloud computing, where the development and production of cloud interoperability standards will play a major role, while at the same time together with Member States set up the right regulatory framework to facilitate its uptake.

We are in a strong position to address both these areas: technologically due to Europe’s excellent background in key research and development aspects, such as GRIDs and Service Oriented Architectures. Non-technologically, the recently presented major reform of the European Union’s legal Framework on the protection of personal data will have a major impact in the development of our a future Cloud Strategy, and consequently represents a major window of opportunity in order to turn our data protection regime into a competitive advantage in future global markets for cloud services.

Our global competitors such as the United States are already taking the lead, not only has the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed a series of guidelines, in addition already in February 2011 the first Federal Cloud Computing Strategy was published earmarking 25% of the federal budget for ICTs, approximately 20 billion dollars, to the development of cloud computing. To participate in a global market means that we will have to face very well prepared competitors in the international arena, we have a good starting position with regards cloud computing and we must take advantage of it and start acting immediately.