Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe

There is little doubt that the European Union sees cloud computing as not merely a huge opportunity but an actual necessity for economic growth in Europe. Its preparatory study indicates “that the public cloud would generate €250 billion in GDP in 2020 with cloud-friendly policies in place against €88 billion in the ‘no intervention’ scenario, leading to extra cumulative impacts from 2015 to 2020 of €600 billion. This translates into the creation of 2.5 million extra jobs.” This document outlines that proposed ‘intervention’ strategy. “Without EU action, we will stay stuck in national fortresses and miss out on billions in economic gains. We must achieve critical mass and a single set of rules across Europe. We must tackle the perceived risks of cloud computing head-on,” said Vice-President Neelie Kroes.

But there are barriers that need to be removed. The national fortresses must be dismantled and replaced by common standards across the EU in both technology and law. The former, designed to provide interoperability, portability and reversibility will benefit, and benefit from, Europe’s traditional strengths in telecommunications. The latter is served by the Data Protection Regulation, and, says the report, it is “important that Council and Parliament work swiftly towards the adoption of the proposed regulation as soon as possible in 2013.” Vice-President Viviane Reding adds that “the development of safe and fair contract terms and conditions” will also enhance trust in the cloud.

The report sees progress based on a chain of steps. First comes standards and certifications. This should be followed by reliable and fair contract terms and conditions; and then both should be supported by a ‘European cloud partnership,’ where the public sector can use its procurement power to drive standards up and prices down while demonstrating the power of the cloud to the wider market. On standards, the report says it will work with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) “to identify by 2013 a detailed map of the necessary standards (inter alia for security, interoperability, data portability and reversibility).” On contract terms and conditions, the Commission will, by the end of 2013, “Develop with stakeholders model terms for cloud computing service level agreements for contracts between cloud providers and professional cloud users,” while simultaneously ensuring “legal certainty and coherence between the code of conduct and EU law” such as the Data Protection Regulation.

The third step, cloud growth in line with the first two steps, will be promoted by the new European Cloud Partnership (ECP). “The public sector has a strong role to play in shaping the cloud computing market,” notes the Commission. “As the EU's largest buyer of IT services, it can set stringent requirements for features, performance, security, interoperability and data portability and compliance with technical requirements.” The ECP will work to maximise that effect across Europe.

While this document is primarily about the benefits the cloud can bring to business, individuals have not been forgotten. Key to the strategy is full adoption of Europe’s Digital Agenda. This includes the Commission’s existing objective to “simplify copyright clearance, management and cross-border licensing.” The intention is to allow users to store content in the cloud and then access it on any device in any country. Some progress is being made, but, says the Commission, “agreement is proving more difficult in some cases.” It might just be referring to some parts of the music industry. For example, the UK’s Consultation on Copyright (published June 2012), quotes UK Music suggesting that any private copying exception should “expressly exclude copying content to any online services involving third parties such as ‘cloud’ storage services...”

While the music and film industries have achieved many of their online demands over the last few years, it will be interesting to see if they can still hold sway against an EU juggernaut determined to unleash the potential of cloud computing in Europe.

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