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Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe, time to move up a Gear with Determination

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2013 – 14:24

By Pilar del Castillo MEP, EPP-ITRE Co-ordinator

The importance of Cloud computing in the development of the digital society is unquestionable. On a day to day basis the number of companies, institutions and individuals that have realised the new opportunities that the Cloud represents, continues to grow.

Indeed its potential is so appealing that already in March 2010 the Commission, through the “EU 2020″ Strategy flagship on a new Digital Agenda for Europe, announced the need for developing a European Cloud Computing Strategy. On the 27th of September this process came to a high point when the European Commission presented the communication “Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe”.

The Commission’s communication through three key cloud-specific actions (“Cutting through the Jungle of Standards”, “Creating Safe and Fair Contract Terms and Conditions” and “A European Cloud Partnership to Drive Innovation and Growth from the Public Sector”) has presented a well balanced report that highlights the main challenges ahead for establishing a cloud active environment in Europe.

Regarding the first of the Commission’s key actions, “Cutting through the Jungle of Standards”, it does deal with one of the main challenges we need to face for cloud development. It is clear that there is a need to establish a friendly and competitive environment for clouds to develop and therefore standardisation efforts must be increased.

Portability, that is the possibility for users to easily and quickly change cloud providers, must be guaranteed and consequently interoperability will be essential in order to have an open and competitive cloud environment.

At the moment the standardisation effort launched by the communication is limited to entrusting the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to co-ordinate the elaboration of a “mapping” of the existing standards. It is also a very welcom step, however the devil lies in the detail, and it is crucial that the road mapping exercise involves the participation of all interested stakeholders.

The second point of this action deals with certification schemes. Accordingly, when elaborating certification schemes for cloud services we must not lose sight of the innovative and dynamic nature of the Internet in general, and the Cloud in particular, and consequently cautiousness must prevail when creating certification schemes. We must take into account that the speed of public authorities in keeping up with the speed of such an innovative market is to say the least, not ideal. Consequently the risk of lock-in that might exclude innovative SMEs exists; industry lead certification schemes must be considered an option.

The second key action, “Safe and Fair Contract Terms and Conditions” touches upon one of the main challenges that the Cloud must face in order to reach its full development, the extra feature of insecurity that the outsourcing nature of the Cloud adds to our perception of security and data protection. We must not forget that the World Economic Forum has noted that 90 percent of suppliers and users of cloud services think that risks to privacy are a “very serious” impediment to wide adoption of cloud computing.

However, once again we must be prudent when establishing safe and fair contract terms. Although it is clear that contracts between business and consumers are of a substantially different nature than those between business and business, it is of paramount importance to overcome other potential lock-in threats that might arise due to the imposition of unduly restrictive service level agreements. At the end of the day switching supplier should be made as accessible and secure as possible.

The third key action, “Establishing a European Cloud Partnership” is intended to help the public sector take the lead. Not just because of the gain of productivity that can achieved by easily accessing the best performing applications and/or drastically boosting their infrastructure resources at very affordable costs, but because in addition citizens would be able to benefit from more efficient and innovative public services. By way of an example, the prospects with regards e-health services are enormous. Public administrations must undergo their “digital switchover”.

National and regional initiatives to set governmental cloud computing programmes are already taking place and in this regard the partnership proposal of the Commission has the potential to identify common needs and pooling public requirements. Indeed, public procurement can play a leading role in the broader adoption of cloud services. However, due to the fast and innovative nature of the Cloud, the process must be accelerated and the cloud partnership must present some results as soon as possible, to wait until 2015 to yield some results seems, to say the least excessive.

By the time this article will be published the European Parliament will have started an in-depth debate on Europe’s Cloud Strategy. In my view two general principals should be present throughout the entire discussion

Firstly, regarding the Cloud: “One size does not fit all”. Cloud services offer different models (public, private, hybrid) and services (software or applications as a service, platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, data as a service), and consequently different clouds respond to different needs and challenges.

Secondly we must not forget that clouds, just like the internet, are by definition of a global nature, and Europe cannot go about it in isolation. What Europe must focus on is in maximizing the opportunities for its SMEs and consumers. We need to boost co-operation with our global partners regarding the development of cloud interoperability standards, the transfer of technical knowledge and achieving a mutual understanding of the data protection regimes.

Finally, Europe’s Cloud Strategy will touch upon crucial aspects that are still subject to different regulations in the Member States in areas such as consumer protection, data protection, specific product regulations, and payment transactions.

Without any doubt, the Cloud Computing Strategy for Europe is a key pillar of the completion of the Digital Single Market. This opportunity must not be lost. It is time to move up a gear with determination.