European Cloud gains Importance

In the pre-Snowden era political decision makers in the European Union already recognised that the industrial development of a trans-national cloud platform is one of the key preconditions for a single digital market. The implementation of this future-oriented model for complete document management must take place on the basis of open standards if the full business value of cloud computing is to be exploited. In its cloud strategy the Commission estimates a possible 2.5 million new jobs in the EU and a total gross domestic product (GDP) boost of 160 billion euros by 2020.

In the “Europe of diversity” the biggest problem in almost all relevant developments – also in the cross-industry and general purpose technology ICT sector – is by no means a lack of innovative strength. The difficulties lie more in the slow commercialisation of R&D results and in the nationally originating and often very resistant fragmenting of the markets. In many countries the late implementation of the liberalisation of monopolistic market structures in ICT is still being finalised.

But a genuine European cloud needs a common market and technological standards that ensure the highest possible degree of interoperability between platforms from different providers. In the case of cloud computing the EU confirms that the approach isn’t to look for an infrastructural consolidation to a single central resource but for a harmonisation of the technical specifications in order to enable a combination of different offerings. Such a strategy could trigger Europe-wide synergy effects in terms of the distribution of service offerings, without restricting the competition of providers.

With a European cloud or better still a “United Clouds of Europe”, as we call this vision at Fabasoft, Europe can accelerate the implementation of the digital single market as clearly specified technological standards (databases, interfaces etc.) in the advanced ICT segment can also trigger diverse impulses for a best possible composition of the framework conditions regarding infrastructure and law.

As a leading provider of B2B cloud solutions Fabasoft has always had the European perspective in mind and in autumn 2012 welcomed the fact that the European Commission formulated its own strategy for the liberation of the economic chance of cloud computing. In this “communication” to the parliament, council and committees for economy and social affairs and regions the commission focused on three main areas: Combing through the jungle of standards, secure and fair contractual terms and conditions, and the encouragement of public authority leadership to use ICT from a European cloud.

Within a year and with the involvement of external partners, progress and success has been achieved in all three areas. Last year, with regard to the standardisation and specification of technological parameters, the Commission charged ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), based in Sophia Antipolis near Nice, with an initial project. The institute of standardisation was supposed to list the important cloud computing players and the practiced use cases as well as to identify existing specifications and to present potential deficits.

In November 2012 ETSI launched “Cloud Standards Coordination” and at the beginning of December discussed the big cloud topic blocks of “Security and privacy protection”, “Interoperability”, “Data portability”, “SLA (Service Level Agreements)” and “Data Reversibility” with international ICT experts at a brainstorming session in Cannes.

On the basis of this fact-finding the requested mapping of stakeholders (organisations, individuals), users and regulatory authorities relevant to cloud computing, 100 variations of possible cloud services and approximately 20 standardisation organisations who had already drawn up specifications or whitepapers was conducted. In summer 2013 ETSI delivered preliminary results to the European Commission and will present the final version in the coming days.

Concerning the second focus on “fair contractual conditions” the Commission invited ENISA (European Union Agency for Network and Information Security) to support the “Cloud Select Industry Group” (C-SIG) with the preparation of certification schemes. Here it’s not so much about a standardisation of already existing certification schemes that cloud providers can voluntarily align themselves with, but rather about creating more transparency. The cooperation should produce an objective list of certification providers and the applied processes.

The third key topic for the further development of the concept of a European cloud was addressed with the creation of a “European Cloud Partnership”, where industry experts and the public sector should combine in order to define common needs for cloud computing and to stimulate the use of cloud solutions in the public sector. Part of this partnership is also the “Cloud-for-Europe” (C4E) initiative, which should make it easier for public European institutions to purchase cloud applications, provide services and to strengthen citizens’ trust in cloud computing.

On 12th December 2013 the vice president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, informed the public in her blog about what has been achieved up until now in terms of cloud standardisation. I can only congratulate this great European and pioneer for a digital Union on her tireless pursuit of this agenda!

Now we have to take this momentum to achieve further progress in data protection, in establishing a consistent infrastructure for broadband internet whilst maintaining web neutrality, in the realisation of a roaming-free Europe and in the removal of existing country boundaries in online shopping.

The road towards a “United Clouds of Europe” is an important one and I’m pleased to be able to contribute to this standardisation process with Fabasoft. If we shape Europe’s economy together then our continent, with all the experience and talent of its citizens, will be back on the world stage!