Europe's New Cloud Computing Strategy

Europe's Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, has released a long-awaited Communication entitled, "Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe." The paper outlines a series of actions designed to drive European businesses and the public sector into the cloud. The goal is to create 2.5 million new European jobs and boost GDP in the Single Market to EUR 160 billion by 2020.

The Communication is the result of more than a year's work by the Commission, including a broad stakeholder consultation to which BSA was a key contributor.

The potential benefits of cloud computing are growing ever more clear. It promises to accelerate digital commerce and make robust technology solutions available to more users with greater cost efficiencies than ever before. It will increase flexibility and productivity, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, and help with the delivery of public services in Europe and around the world.

The Commission's strategy is a positive first step toward boosting cloud services in the EU. To date, Europe's burgeoning cloud computing market has been largely national in practice, with a patchwork of potentially incompatible cloud networks that have stymied widespread adoption of cloud computing services. The new strategy moves Europe toward a more harmonized, regional approach to the cloud -- and that's an important achievement.

However, the document also poses some areas of concern:
  • Interoperability & Standards: The Commission proposes to assign ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) the task of identifying European standards for security, interoperability, data portability, and reversibility in the cloud. This will be an important process to watch, because standards developed for the European market must be fully aligned with international standards. The goal should be to ensure the free flow of data beyond European borders so that European companies can participate in the fastest-growing cloud markets in Asia and elsewhere around the world, and European businesses and consumers are free to choose the best solutions the world has to offer for their needs.
  • Public Procurement of Cloud Services: The Commission proposes EU-wide "procurement requirements" to give the public sector greater influence in price negotiations and in driving key cloud policy objectives, such as around interoperability. Procurement requirements that exclude certain providers or technologies would create anti-competitive barriers to the European cloud market. Moreover, requirements that focus on building a European cloud to the exclusion of non-European providers would effectively undermine the greatest benefit of cloud computing: global scale.
  • Intellectual Property (IP) Rights in the Cloud: IP theft does not disappear in the cloud; it just takes on different forms. However, the Communication does not set out any affirmative agenda on IP, making the protection of IP rights an issue that will still need to be addressed down the line.
The Commission's strategy has been a long time coming, in part because it is a horizontal document that relies on coordination and cooperation across multiple Directorates. Many of these are already deep into critical dossiers related to the cloud -- like the EU Data Protection Regulation. Accomplishing its goals will require a significant dose of political diplomacy given the many issues and people involved. But this strategy is an ambitious and critically important initiative for which Commissioner Kroes' and her team should be commended.

If there is a single message that European policymakers should heed as they begin implementation of the new strategy, it is that the greatest potential for the cloud is its global scale. It creates efficiencies and new market opportunities for European users and cloud providers within -- and beyond -- the Single Market. At every stage, policymakers must avoid creating barriers -- directly or indirectly -- for non-European providers, lest other countries follow suit and wall off their cloud to European companies.

This post was also featured on the Business Software Alliance's blog, BSA TechPost. The Business Software Alliance is a trade group that represents software makers against copyright infringement.

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