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Europe, the cloud, digital markets, a single market … Jesus, what a mess!

November 1st, 2012 |  Published in Big Data, Digital and Mobile Technology, The Cloud


1 November 2012 – I normally cover the cloud and all-things-related on our cloud computing site (click here).  But having just done a whirlwind trip through 4 conferences that covered Big Data (have you heard of that yet?), the cloud and e-discovery, digital media, and the Higgs bosun … plus armed with 12 flash drives of conference materials … and given the cloud has become a mashup-of-all-things I thought I’d scribble some thoughts here for our IP and digital media followers.

When compared to the adoption of the cloud in the U.S., European adoption has been sloooooooooow.  That was pretty much the opinion of the majority of CEOs and CIOs attending these conferences, plus conference sponsors such as Gartner, the IDC, IBM, and the OECD.   There are a lot of key areas where actions are needed in order to help drive the adoption of cloud computing in Europe.  Some random musings:

The market of Europe, to date, cannot be looked at as a single market because the European Union only unifies certain aspects of politics.  By and large, each country will continue to maintain its own laws on technologies, press freedom, and consumer rights. Aside from the fragmentation of the laws and culture, there is also the issue of unclear and highly debatable laws. These laws don’t clearly draw up the rights and protection of cloud consumers and that prevents businesses to fully trust the cloud.  The issues include but are not limited to fears over data access and portability, change of control and ownership of the data, various conflicting standards due to a proliferation of different standards, and a lack of certainty as to which ones provide adequate levels of interoperability and portability.

So these factors prevent, or at least make it difficult to start, what many pundits are asking for:  a “European Super-Cloud”.  Well, ok.  A dedicated hardware infrastructure that will provide generic cloud computing services to the public sector users across Europe.

Digital Single Market

Due to its emancipation from geographical limitations, cloud computing is capable of elevating the digital single market to a new level. But this will only happen if Europe manages to implement single market rules. The gains to be had are potentially huge, with the estimated GDP to be generated by the public cloud amounting to 250 Billion Euros in 2020 (an IDC estimate) with cloud-friendly policies implemented, compared to only 88 billion Euros if there is no intervention. It is also expected to generate around 2.5 million new hubs.

A large number of the steps are needed to make Europe a continent that is able to maximize the potentials of the cloud, already extensively discussed in the Single Market Pillar of the Digital Agenda for Europe and the Single Market Act.  A majority of these steps are now being discussed by legislators.  In actuality, these items are not difficult to decide on. However, as in any other item in European legislation, things are being dragged down a very long road.

In Europe’s Digital Agenda, there is a campaign to simplify copyright clearance, management, and cross-order licensing. The key actions proposed by the Digital Agenda are designed to enhance Europe’s capacity to exploit the exciting new opportunities of cloud computing for both producers and consumers of digital content.

For the cloud to work well as a platform for digital content services, there is a need to enhance access to and use of all sorts of content and data across different devices and territories.

Besides completing the Digital Single Market, a climate of certainty and trust must be developed by allaying fears and stimulating the active adoption of cloud computing technology throughout Europe. In order to create trust in cloud technology, there is a chain of confidence building steps that need to be taken, such as:

Legislation, Legislation, Legislation

There is a need to come up with a wider standard, with endorsements of certificates by regulatory authorities in order to indicate compliance with industry standards and legal obligations. This will go a long way towards allaying fears over the cloud.

At the moment, individual vendors are all fighting for dominance by locking in their customers with proprietary offshoots or variations of cloud computing technology, resulting in different technologies that lack interoperability, data portability, and reversability, and further stoking the fires of uncertainties towards the technology.   I spent some time with engineers from IBM and Oracle who gave me a “roadmap” so to speak of how this is all playing out.

Fortunately, the path towards standardisation and certification are already underway, with the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) already managing to publish a series of documents that contain a widely accepted set of definitions. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is also getting involved by organizing different groups operating under one umbrella to ensure that each country under the union is using a standardized program.

Much of this is a huge undertaking, it is far from being adequate. There are more issues that need to be dealt with and even more conflicts that need to be settled.

Drawing Clear Expectations and Commitments

Unlike traditional IT outsourcing arrangements, which are up front and described in detail, cloud computing contracts tend to be more open ended due to its greater flexibility. This results in most service level agreements for cloud services to be complex and multi-layered, with equally extensive and complicated disclaimers. These sort of contracts may be advantageous to providers who want to protect themselves, but it results in a lot of consumers turning away out of fear of being taken advantage of. Even large companies who usually have their own team of legal experts tend to stay away as the contracts rarely provide enough liability for data integrity, confidentiality, or even service continuity.  The chaps from Proskauer Rose went through a brilliant SLA (service level agreement) template that certainly covered every base.

So the usual:  a call for a regulatory body in order to bridge the different, and usually diverging national sales law rules by providing contractual parties with a uniform set of rules.   (Somehow I was seconded to a working party group on the issue.  I knew I should have stayed in the coffee line).

The European Cloud Partnership

Shaping the European cloud computing market would require the help of the public sector, primarily because it is the largest buyer of IT services, and can therefore set stringent requirements for features, performance, security, interoperability, and data portability and compliance with technical requirements. Several member states have already started national initiatives, including Andromede in France, Trusted Cloud in Germany, and G-Cloud in the UK. Unfortunately, due to the fragmentation of the public sector market, the requirements provided by the initiatives have very little impact, with services integration being too low so that citizens do not always get the best value for money.

A more widely followed public requirements can only result in a more organized and adaptable set of rules that will enable businesses to afford the cloud. Enabling more businesses to adapt the cloud will reduce costs and make operations more seamless. The private sector can also stand to benefit from higher quality services, more competition, and faster standardization for high-tech SMEs.

A new initiative called European Cloud Partnership (ECP) is being started in order to a more unified standard that all members of the EU can follow. This means that even when specifics of the law change from country to country, each member of the UE will follow the same principle.

It is designed to bring together industry expertise and public sector users that will work on common procurement requirements for cloud computing in a more transparent and open way. It does not mean that European countries are set to build data centers. It doesn’t even equate to a drive to encourage more cloud start-ups. It is geared towards creating a unified standards that will ensure all players that enter the European market work within the standards of Europe.

The ECP will also set out to help prevent fragmentation by ensuring that public cloud usage is safe, secure, greener, and interoperable in accordance with European rules. Under the guidance of a steering board, the ECP will bring together public authorities working with industry consortia in order to implement a pre-commercial procurement action to:

*Identify requirements for the public sector cloud, as well as develop standardized specifications for IT procurement.
*Aim towards joint procurement of cloud services via public bodies based on the emerging common user requirements.
*Set up a coordinated effort between stakeholders when it comes to executing cloud-related actions as described in this document.

There will be a series of actions designed to support the three key actions above, as well as other initiatives that are conducive to faster cloud implementation and adoption for both consumers and businesses, such as broadband access, roaming, and open data.

Measures and Allies

There is a need to investigate how to make full use of all available instruments through research and development support under Horizon 2020 on long term challenges that pertain to cloud computing as well as in assisting the move towards cloud-based solutions (such as software for switching from legacy systems to cloud, and for managing hybrid services) and avoiding any lock-in to unfair SLAs.

There is also a need to launch physical centers and set up other equipment that would connect different European cloud facilities to protect cloud based public services, and for the implementation of a standalone cloud plan under the eCommission strategy, which will include a programme of actions that will move public services implemented under the community programs into the cloud.

Last but not the least, there also needs to be some sort of drive towards promoting e-skills and digital entrepreneurship related to cloud computing.  This is, actually, making some headway.  I have been involved in some e-skills/digital entrepreneurship work in France.

Due to the lack of technical barriers preventing cloud services at geographical borders, there is a need to not only take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Digital Single Market, but to look beyond the borders of Europe and target wider international situation for both the adoption supporting measures and the legal framework.

It is in Cloud computing’s nature to require a reinforced international dialogue on safe and seamless cross-border use. For instance, the various laws on security and cybercrime will have to be modified and standardized in order for cloud computing to be adopted on such a wide scale.

More and more third countries are starting to realize the importance of cloud computing. The U.S., Japan, Australia, and Canada already have or are developing solid cloud computing strategies, and many South East Asian countries such as Malaysia, India, Korea, and Singapore are following suit, with some of them even managing to go toe to toe or even exceed the efforts of their western counterparts.

The main goals tend to be partnerships that will drive adoption by public bodies, via promotion of technological developments and further standardisation, as well as cross border collaboration and dialogue on legal and technical challenges that need to be hurdled. The EU must therefore deepen its collaboration with international partners not just for technological R&D, but also to smooth out legal issues, all of which will help in helping more businesses and individuals adapt the cloud.

The dialogues need to happen in a multilateral discussions like the UN or the OECD . This will help promote the goal of a seamless use of the cloud technology and eliminate any existing or future personal interests by cloud investors or politicians. It will also help pushing everyone to discuss the problems that cloud is experiencing that keeps others from realizing its possible role in fostering free trade with various countries, such as Singapore and India.

There will be an increased encouragement of international dialogues with other countries when it comes to key themes relating to cloud services like data protection, law enforcement agencies’ access to data, and implementation of Mutual Legal Assistance Agreements in order to avoid conflicts between companies with conflicting requests from public authorities. Other key themes include the standardization of data security on a worldwide level, liability of intermediary service providers, interoperability requirements, and standards pertaining to public services; tax law as it applies to cloud services, and large scale collaboration and cooperation on research and development of the technology.


Cloud computing technology concerns a wide range of different policy fields, with ongoing policy initiatives like the data protection reform and the Common EU Sales law needing fast and rapid adoption in order to help break through barriers to the wide scale growth of the cloud industry in the region.

The key actions outlined earlier need to be implemented as early as 2013, particularly with regard to standardization and certification of technologies related to cloud computing, and the development of safe and fair contract terms and conditions on the initial launch of the EU Cloud Partnership.

There is a need to be vigilant when it comes to emerging policy issues that can affect cloud computing’s societal and economic potential in various fields, such as public procurement, taxation, financial regulation, and even law enforcement – particularly in the latter as cloud computing’s inherent borderless nature presents a few issues regarding compliance, jurisdiction, and reporting.

The next two years will be very important.  Europe is quickly running out of time to develop and implement a foundation for Europe’s status as a cloud computing powerhouse.  But the potential is there.  The success of the drive?  HA!  It hinges on how fast the decisions are made and implementation take place, which is expected to run from 2014 to 2010.  I spent some time with the brainiacs at Gartner and E&Y and by their calculations successful means an immediate CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 38% can be achieved by cloud services that offered for free or cloud services that are available to individuals, which is twice the estimated growth rate if the legislation or laws outlined above are not put into place.

It is also largely up to Member States to adopt, embrace, and further enrich the potential of cloud computing, usually through the development of a public sector cloud that is based on common approaches that foster increased trust and performance while reducing costs. There needs to be more active participation in the European Cloud Partnership, and for close cooperation between the member states with regard to the development and adoption of common interoperability measures and standards.

My personal feeling is that European privacy rules, multicountry business processes, a deep euro crisis and a lingering recession will conspire to delay cloud computing adoption in Europe by at least … at least … two years when compared to the U.S.   Yes, interest in cloud is high in Europe, but the the diversity of Europe’s members will result in slow cloud adoption.   The opportunities for cloud computing value are valid all over the world, and the same is true for some of the risks and costs.   However, some of cloud computing’s potential risks and costs — namely security, transparency and integration — which are generally applicable worldwide, take on a different meaning in Europe.

And yes, there is a fear.  No one who has been to Europe in our time can doubt that it is a lovely place to stage human existence.  And I live here.  But the European institutions new method … let’s call it skyhooking as opposed to bootstrapping … by which its massive financial rescue apparatus is secured at some mysterious point unseen in the clouds to lift whole exhausted nations from their knees … will have a tremendous cost down the road. I suspect whatever happens here next will be less like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and more like Riot in Cellblock D meets Quest for Fire.

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"The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture."
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