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Cloud computing: Opportunities and Challenges Ahead

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2013 – 16:24

By Maria Badia i Cutchet MEP, Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

The internet has rapidly become a critical infrastructure on which our lives and prosperity depend. It is indeed essential to all aspects of our modern life and has fostered countless applications to help improving lives and the daily activities of consumers, businesses and public administration.

Among the multiple applications, the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) needs to be underlined both for the increasingly intensive use of such devices which make daily gestures and activities much easier and which improve life quality, and also for the possibilities its use offers in the near future. According to recent data gathered by the European Commission, the average European citizen has, at least, two daily-used objects (mobile phones, automobiles, electrical appliance, etc) that are connected to the Internet through smart microprocessors.

Together with IoT, another of these innovative user-empowering internet applications must be pointed out, namely, cloud computing. By making computing power available everywhere and to anyone, it generates new opportunities and challenges for consumers, businesses and public authorities.

Focussing on businesses, the use of cloud technologies for IT provision reduces infrastructure costs and management efforts and benefits from scale resources. For consumers, cloud technologies are making information and online content more accessible and more interactive. And, as for public administration, it allows cost-savings but also innovating in the quality of services and delivering new and better e-government solutions.

To that extent, the European Commission has already started working to unleash the huge potential of cloud computing applications, particularly by its adoption throughout all sectors of the economy in order to boost productivity, growth and jobs and, thus, moving towards the successful achievement of the EU2020 Strategy main goals. However, there are still some obstacles to be overcome so as to get these joint efforts to a satisfactory completion.

On the one hand, the deep complexity of cloud computing and the increasing sophistication of Internet services should remain a major concern as the Internet becomes more vulnerable. Hence, consumers’ and businesses’ trust and the security and resilience of the ICT infrastructures have emerged as cross-cutting top priorities when it comes to applications such as Cloud Computing and IoT.

Transparency and data protection implications have been identified as the most serious barriers to cloud computing take-up. Actually, the EU would never be able to embrace all the opportunities this application may bring unless it guarantees a robust foundation of trust. To do so, the Council and the European Parliament should swiftly work towards the adoption of the proposed regulation package on Data protection. This new piece of legislation should contribute to create a long-time framework where stakeholders know their rights and obligations and feel comfortable and safe enough to keep on stimulating cloud computing developments. This is a balance which is not easy to get.

On the other hand, the fragmentation of the Digital single market due to differing national legal bases, uncertainties over applicable law, and lack of standardisation are also ranking among the top concerns linked to cloud computing full deployment.

Fragmentation of the Digital single market along geographical borders may restrict or slow down the development of EU-wide cloud computing based services which have further implications such as those concerning intellectual property rights. Hence, the current comprehensive European Strategy on a Single Market – still to be completed – should also take on board and deal with the challenges posed by cloud technologies.

At this stage, it is worth bearing in mind the huge gains of an effective implementation of single market rules. According to European Commission estimates, the public cloud in a consolidated single market framework would generate €250 billion in GDP and translate into the creation of 2.5 million extra jobs by 2020 whereas in a “no intervention” scenario, gains would only go up to €88 billion.

Moreover, there are also gaps and differing enforcement measures in the relevant legislation applied to cloud computing between Member States. This also includes contract terms offered to SMEs on how data should be used in the cloud.

Standardisation efforts for cloud computing services should also be encompassed in order to achieve interoperability of data formats, ensuring effective competition between providers, co-ordinating both European and national cloud computing initiatives and making online and cross-border transaction easier and safer.

In short, to fully tap the potential and opportunities of cloud computing and trigger its virtuous effects on the European economy, the EU should unavoidably face the weaknesses and challenges regarding data protection and Digital single market achievement.

To this latter extent, it is crucial to broaden and strengthen the areas where cloud computing development could be co-ordinated and deepened on the European level and look forward to building further strategic international partnerships so as to generate a multilayered co-ordination. Nonetheless, such sensitive beyond-borders issues require a comprehensive global approach and, thus, mutual understanding and close co-operation between international actors.