Up to now, the European Commission has kept a relatively light position on where it stands with cloud services — putting more effort into the wider issues like broadband and mobile regulation and ensuring that users all get a fair deal as these services continue to grow. Today that changed, as the EC unveiled a high-level cloud services strategy, with the aim of adding €160 billion ($206 billion) to the region’s economy by 2020, equivalent to 1% of total GDP. Plans include improving interoperability standards; setting up lists of “trustworthy” cloud providers; taking a part in regulating how service level agreements (SLAs) should work; and creating a formalized structure for how governments and other public bodies in the region should procure in cloud services: the public sector accounts for 20% of all IT spend in the European Union.
Some will undoubtedly argue that government intervention in cloud services, especially at this relatively early stage in their development, may actually slow down rather than speed up innovation in the area.
But on the other hand, it’s an area that is growing fast — set to bring in $100 billion globally by 2016 according to IDC — and already has a lot of proprietary players — from Box and Dropbox to Microsoft and Google — who will become ever more competitive as more cloud companies emerge. That, plus the simple passage of time, will have a massive impact on how cloud-based data gets handled, protected, and used.
But for now it seems the main point of the EC getting involved is to make sure that Europe does not fall behind the rest of the world when it comes to cloud services and their economic benefits. (And if you follow much EU regulation, the fear of falling behind seems to be a prevalent theme across various areas.) Given the otherwise sad state of economic affairs in Europe, the region needs all the encouragement it can get.
“Cloud computing is a game-changer for our economy. Without EU action, we will stay stuck in national fortresses and miss out on billions in economic gains,” Neelie Kroes, EC vice president in charge of Digital Agenda, said in a statement. “We must achieve critical mass and a single set of rules across Europe. We must tackle the perceived risks of cloud computing head-on.”
In a speech today in Brussels announcing the new agenda she also put the emphasis on “thinking European” when it comes to promoting these services. “If we stick to a national approach with national rules, we will constrain the cloud to national borders. We shouldn’t limit our ambition like that,” she said. “Only with a European approach can we find economies of scale, with benefits for cloud providers and consumers alike.”
Her colleague Viviane Reding, VP for justice and citizenship (who has played a big role in developing EU policy around data services) also got behind the European idea: “Europe needs to think big. The cloud strategy will enhance trust in innovative computing solutions and boost a competitive digital single market where Europeans feel safe. That means a swift adoption of the new data protection framework which the Commission proposed earlier this year and the development of safe and fair contract terms and conditions.”
The measures the EC hopes to put in place will also create some 2.5 million new jobs by 2020.
Again, today’s announcement was relatively high level and we’ll only start to see how this plays out in actual actions in the months ahead.
Areas that are worth looking out for are whether we see rules proposed for how we, as users, can move cloud-based data from one provider to another (not so easy right now); and whether there are special concessions given to smaller players and whether companies that have shown to be dominant in other areas of digital (eg Google in Search and Microsoft in browsers) or other new cloud players ever manage to achieve the kind of ubiquity in cloud services that they have in other parts of the Internet.
Perhaps equally important is whether we will see the EU and corresponding, local bodies put their money where their mouth is and step up investment in cloud services procurement.
Today the EC also published a more lengthy document about the general state of cloud services, to explain why Europe needs to step it up. You can read that here.