Cloud Computing

CloudOpting: Changing the face of Europe's ICT procurement

There have been plenty of claims made about the European Union – many of the more outlandish ones have been aired during the UK referendum campaign – but there can’t have been many people comparing the EU’s cloud procurement policy with adolescent sex.

Yet that’s the parallel that Bob Jones, coordinator of Procurement Innovation for Cloud Services in Europe (PICSE) and the former head of CERN’s Openlab, used at the recent Cloudscape conference in Brussels. “Procurement of cloud in the public sector is like teenage sex – everyone is talking about it, there is a lot of gossip, but no-one knows how to do it,” he told a somewhat stunned audience.

But after the laughter had died down, there was the recognition that Jones was speaking with an element of truth. There are plenty of initiatives for the procurement of public cloud services but the marketplace is at best muddied and at worst downright confusing.

For a start, there’s been the G-Cloud model in the UK. In many respects, this should be the leading light here. The initiative has shown the way and provided a path for other European countries to follow, but none have. Australia is showing an interest in the G-Cloud implementation but the UK’s European partners are not turning their eyes in our direction. Perhaps a country that is, at best, a reluctant European partner - and after June’s vote to leave the EU, not even that - is not an ideal role model for the continent to follow.

While G-Cloud has a particular British flavour there are other pan-European options. The PICSE model, the one that reminds Jones of those teenage fumblings, has been in existence for some years and has been relatively successful. But this is a procurement initiative that has been serving the research community and shouldn’t be considered as a catch-all for public sector cloud procurement.

There is one overriding problem that is acknowledged by Dirk van Rooy of the European Cloud Partnership at the European Commission. Speaking at the same Cloudscape conference he pointed out that the very notion of matching cloud to the demands was particularly difficult, thanks to the widely differing needs.

“The scientific area has different requirements to public administration,” van Rooy said. “Smart cities have different requirements again.”

It’s apposite that he should mention smart cities because it relates to one of the newest European public cloud procurement initiatives. CloudOpting has been funded by a consortium of 10 partners and the EU ICT Policy Support Programme (ICT PSP). The thinking behind the project is to develop an app store for European public organisations. The idea is that this will be a platform for local and central government bodies to deliver a range of different services to their citizens.

Consequently, public bodies will be able to “cloudify” their services and will be able to adapt services that have been deployed by other public administrations in other European countries. It’s an example of how cloud is seen as a technology that breaks European boundaries – one of the reasons that the European Commission is so keen on these various initiatives.

In one way, the CloudOpting initiative resembles not an EU project but a commercial one – the Hewlett-Packard enterprise-sponsored Cloud 28+. This is a software consortium that aims to share common practice across Europe and looks to help public bodies to develop new capabilities without re-inventing the wheel.

According to Ignacio Soler, head of the CloudOpting team, there are considerable difference between CloudOpting and ventures such as PICSE. “We have a catalogue of public services that are ready to use by public administrations, offering end-to-end software as a service using a cloud provider that the local authority can choose itself,” he says.

CloudOpting differs from efforts like G-cloud and the FIWARE community for developing royalty-free applications in that it provides full, ready-to-use deployment of public services, he adds.

So-called smart city developments are at the forefront of the CloudOpting projects: four towns and cities are participating in pre-commercial pilots: Barcelona, Piedmont in Italy, Karlshamn (Sweden) and Corby in the UK.

According to Nick Bolton, founder of Electric Corby, an effort at promoting and supporting sustainable energy and low-carbon living, CloudOpting fitted in perfectly with what his team were trying to do in the town. “We had different apps all at different stages,” he says. “CloudOpting was an obvious opportunity to migrate.”

However, according to Soler, it shouldn’t be thought that CloudOpting was only designed for smart city projects. “The public services catalogue involves any kind of public service that are related to Smart Cities, but others are perhaps more conventional services like electronic signature services or open data services,” he says.

CloudOpting is in its earliest stages and still has some way to go but the signs are promising.

As part of its development, CloudOpting has signed memoranda of understanding with external companies AMEC and Connecthings in order to collaborate on a series of hackathons says Soler. Such initiatives are going to be important to the success of CloudOpting as more local authorities are looking for ways to involve third-party developers to use data in more innovative ways.


Also read:

EU takes aim at datacenter power hogs

France’s bid for cloud power smacks of déjà vu

UK versus Europe in the battle for data protection


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Max Cooter

Brighton, England-based Max Cooter has spent about 25 years writing about technology, when not obsessing about his beloved Brighton and Hove Albion football and Sussex cricket teams

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