Cloud Computing

Gregor Petri (Europe) - A Cloud of Two Speeds: Europe vs. America

Earlier this year, President Obama organized a dinner with the CEOs of 12 high-tech and cloud companies to stimulate job creation in North America, meanwhile - in Europe - the Dutch Minister of the Interior replied to questions from parliament about the use of cloud computing by governments.

A hilarious misunderstanding ensued: the official Dutch government delegation kept referring to cloud computing as a new invention, while the representatives of the industry tried to explain that cloud computing was an established practice with many tangible cases and success stories, both inside and outside government organizations.

Remarkably the US and the Dutch government announced almost at the same time a plan to radically reduce the number of government data centers: by about 60 in the Netherlands, and by about 800 in the U.S. The underlying idea in the U.S. is to make greater use of "data centers as a service" a.k.a. cloud computing. On the other hand, the Dutch plan sounds more like a traditional consolidation approach, with the objective of raising efficiency by increasing the scale of use (an approach that has so far not proven to be very successful; in fact, we see globally that the bigger the scale of the project, the more spectacular the reports in the public press are regarding their outcomes).

In the meantime, the U.S. Federal government published a cloud strategy - at only 43 pages this is a must read for anyone involved in setting IT strategy. This strategy was presented not as a way to save on IT costs, but as a way to get more value from existing IT investments. By not positioning cloud computing as a way to cut cost, but as a way to increase value, they make IT (and the whole civil apparatus) an ally to their plans, instead of a potential opponent.




Due to European free trade rules and regulations, creating stimulus packages for national industries in Europe is complicated, and in many cases, illegal. Within the European Union, Neelie Kroes - the former free trade commissioner - has taken on the role of Commissioner for the Digital Agenda. In a recent lecture, she indicated her ambition is to make Europe not only "Cloud-Friendly" but "Cloud-Active" (a kind of "all-in" strategy). The plan is built around three core areas: 1) a legal framework, 2) technical and commercial fundamentals and 3) the market. There are now more than 100 actions on her European Digital Agenda, of which more than 20 specifically address the European "Digital Single Market", an online equivalent of the European single market for goods and services.

However, a fundamental problem for cloud computing in Europe is that the European Union was based on enabling free traffic of persons, goods and services, not free traffic of data. This puts European providers of cloud services immediately at a disadvantage. In the US, companies benefit from huge domestic market potential, which they can serve from one geographic location. Europe has, in theory, a similar large domestic market for cloud services, but the various European languages, cultures and laws, make this market a lot less uniform than the American market.

In addition to issues with European privacy laws - as described in this NY Times article -there are a variety of local and national laws preventing local suppliers from serving the European (government) market from one location, even if this location lies within the European Union. For example, the German government requires that all data of local government agencies is kept within Germany. From a historical perspective this may be understandable, but it prevents the European government sector from becoming a launching force for a "One European Cloud Market."

Maybe it's time for a European cloud of two speeds? Just like we saw smaller groups of countries signing the Schengen treaty (which enabled traveling between selected European countries without checkpoints) or for the introduction of the Euro single currency, a small leading group of countries could opt for accelerated introduction of uniform cloud legislation.

Gregor Petri is an advisor in IT and Cloud Computing at CA Technologies. Follow Gregor on Twitter @GregorPetri



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