European Comission announces new cloud computing strategy

Oct 1, 2012
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As discussed previously, the European Commission has been actively working the last several months on formulating a strategy for “Unleashing the potential of cloud computing in Europe”.  They’ve now announced their strategy, which centers on ambitious objectives and several actions that they’re hoping will be game changers for Europe.

Firstly, they’ve set a pretty ambitious goal of boosting annual EU gdp by 160 billion euros (approx 1% increase) and generating a net gain of 2.5million new jobs by 2020 through speeding up and increasing the use of cloud computing across the EU economy.  Eight years is not along time, particularly given that the EU is arguably pretty far behind on this.  They have, however, laid out a few specific actions that they hope will help drive adoption, ultimately reducing IT costs and helping to boost productivity, growth and jobs.  The four key actions they’re focusing on are to (further details here):

  1. Cut through the jungle of technical standards so that cloud users get interoperability, data portability and reversibility; necessary standards should be identified by 2013
  2. Provide support for EU-wide certification schemes for trustworthy cloud providers
  3. Support development of model ‘safe and fair’ contract terms for cloud computing contracts including Service Level Agreements
  4. Establish European Cloud Partnership with Member States and industry to harness the public sector’s buying power (20% of all IT spending) to shape the European cloud market, boost the chances for European cloud providers to grow to achieve a competitive scale, and deliver cheaper and better eGovernment.

It is important to note that this is an effort to encourage a broad migration to the cloud, not to create a European Super-Cloud as perhaps some may have assumed.  There is no infrastructure build, for example, in what they’re proposing.  They hope that the actions they are focusing on will encourage the development of publicly available European cloud offerings that meet the EC’s defined standards and are “competitive, open and secure.”

It is great that the EC is (finally) mobilizing in a concrete way to improve Europe’s position in this rapidly growing sector, particularly in setting ambitious goals for itself and tackling thorny issues, such as security, that are barriers for many businesses and governments to migrate to the cloud .  However, what their proposing raises many questions.  Firstly, I assume that having some level of common standards are necessary, but does this need to come from the EU?  Will this simplify things for cloud providers and customers or will this make things more costly for smaller cloud providers, in particular, as they work to ensure their offer complies with the EU standard?

As for the “European Cloud Partnership” action, they describe it as follows: “European Cloud Partnership (ECP) will consist of high level procurement officers from European public bodies and key players from IT and telecom industry. The ECP will, under the guidance of a Steering Board, bring together public procurement authorities and industry consortia to implement pre-commercial procurement actions.”  As this committee will likely be comprised of large actors in IT and telecoms, what’s to stop these players from using this to ease their access to projects and funding arising from the migration of public sector data to the cloud?  Couldn’t this simply encourage the growth of Andromède-like initiatives across Europe?

At first glance, it doesn’t seem as if there’s much here for Europe’s cloud entrepreneurs to get excited about.  It’s not clear, for example, how they’re supporting organic development and scaling up of Europe’s cloud sector. I suppose that taking specific actions to help alleviate Europe’s business community’s and consumers’ concerns around migrating to the cloud, namely data protection, security, privacy and user rights, will undoubtedly be a positive thing for all cloud providers.  However, it remains to be seen how this will tangibly benefit Europe’s SME and startup cloud computing players.