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Home » Home Affairs, Policy

Can We Still Keep ‘The Cloud’ Open in Europe?

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2013 – 15:25

By Graham Taylor, CEO, OpenForum Europe

The EC’s Communication on Cloud was ambitious, and is one that OpenForum Europe (OFE) continues to support, never more than in its objective to make Europe “cloud-active”, and to have “publicly available cloud offerings that meet European standards not only in regulatory terms but in terms of being competitive, open and secure”. But fortunately Vice President Kroes has emphasised there is no intention to build a “European Super-Cloud”! We can not afford to forget that the GLOBAL market is moving at a pace that will wait for no man, and certainly while Europe puts up unnecessary or unrealistic barriers to entry.

Remind ourselves of the core essentials behind ‘Cloud’:

Not a Single Entity – Cloud encompasses different services and deployment models built on differing business models. Whilst there are common factors, one size is unlikely to fit all.

Evolution not Revolution – Cloud represents the natural evolution rather than a revolution in IT architecture and management. The needs for a transition strategy are very different from establishing a new market.

Market Discontinuity – Will occur as new practices pose challenges to current business practice, giving opportunities to reinsert bad commercial and technical practice, e.g. lock-in.

A Global Market – It would be unrealistic to believe that Europe alone can or will drive this market opportunity.

Cloud as a further step on the transition to Services Driven from the User Perspective – User confidence and trust, security and privacy are fundamental.

Interoperability and portability – In the same way as the Internet itself has been built from day 1 on the basis of ‘openness’ so must Cloud Computing. Full adoption of ‘open standards’ AND implementation of reasonable commercial practices including the ability of users to move freely between suppliers without undue restriction.

Openness as a basis

OFE believes that openness should be the cornerstone of the actions implemented to answer these challenges, so as to create the level playing fields that will enable strong user participation without limiting innovation and product differentiation.

Cutting through the jungle of standards

Standardisation has long been a crucial tool in IT to ensure quality, security, vendor neutrality and interoperability. This is no different for cloud computing. Rather than building from scratch, we should therefore apply the lessons already learned over the years particularly over inclusion of fora and consortia. Open standards should be used for interoperability at all levels, and especially for compatibility between different cloud offerings and for data portability and reversibility. The ETSI led, and now widely supported, road mapping exercise should ensure a transparent, inclusive debate around global cloud standards.

The EU should be especially hesitant about supporting formal certification schemes – it is inherently difficult for public authorities to keep up with the pace of the market and such certification schemes, even if “voluntary,” become de-facto if endorsed or promoted by the government. Balanced solutions such as industry-led self-certification schemes are much more likely to improve user confidence without stifling innovation, neither becoming a barrier for entry for SMEs, nor a method of lock-in to major or dominant suppliers.

Safe and fair contract terms and conditions

There is a threat of lock-in through imposition of terms that limit transfer of supply via unduly restrictive SLA or contract conditions. This may be down to operating terms and the technologies of some operators. Switching supplier and using multi-supplier solutions should be made as accessible and secure for users as possible, within a recognition that we may be talking about complex contracts, as well as solution content. ‘Codes of conduct’ may well prove to yield faster consensus and more productive results.

Another important concern with regards to contract terms is the identification of which law applies to which data. Cloud is by nature border less, and limiting its scope limits the economic benefits, both for providers and users of the service. At the moment the applicable law over data stored in the cloud is not always clear and ‘FUD’ prevails for users. Conjecture abounds in differences of US and national European law. Clarity, impact and impartial advice are essential.

Establishing a European Cloud Partnership

Public procurement has the potential to play an important, if not leading, role in fostering enhanced trust and broader adoption of cloud services. Europe has a key role to play in this area, by identifying common needs, co-operating with and pooling national public requirements. More than any other services, the full benefits of cloud computing can only be reaped in a truly integrated, cross-border digital market. National initiatives are already well under way so the EU needs to move faster than currently planned if it wants to stay relevant and have timely and influencing outcomes.

Conclusion

By any measure, Cloud Computing has clearly gained even greater attention over even the past 12 months. Yet because of the huge market interest, there are still many dangers, both in its understanding, in planning for its implementation, and in potential response by legislators and market influencers. Openness, transparency and recognition that Europe is ‘playing’ in a global market will remain core essentials. It’s certainly not going to be a boring next 12 months!

www.openforumeurope.org