I’ve spoken a couple of times this week about cloud computing, so it’s a good time to blog about how the cloud is growing in importance in ICT strategy and spending.
In fact, I think the Cloud is critical to Europe’s growth, and essential for making the best internet available to all. I explained this to a big audience (other speakers included Carl Bildt, Alec Ross, and Julius Genachowski of the US FCC) held by the Aspen Institute’s International Digital Economy Accords project, and I also spoke to launch a new Interoperability and Cloud Computing Centre set up by Microsoft.
Getting the cloud right will mean the Internet can continue to be a generator of innovation, growth and freedom. If we get it wrong our infrastructure will fail to meet our appetite for access to data and our fragile digital economy could be knocked about badly. To help get it right I’ve started work on a European Cloud Computing Strategy. I want to make Europe not just “cloud-friendly” but “cloud-active”.
We’ve got the right platform: strong fixed and mobile communication networks. Now we need to work on three things:
First, the legal framework. This clearly has an international dimension and it concerns for example data protection and privacy, clear rules for the allocation of jurisdiction, responsibility and liability, and consumer protection. Everyone needs clear rights here.
Second, technical and commercial fundamentals. More research and the EU playing a stronger role in the technical standardisation of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and data formats to enhance interoperability and competition between cloud providers and so on. International standardisation efforts will also have a huge impact on cloud computing; The EU can play a big role here – building on, for example, the SIENA initiative.
Third, the market. Scaling up pilot projects and pushing the public sector to really make use of the potential of cloud computing as Vivek Kundra is doing in the US. (I am in close contact with him specifically on standardisation aspects and experts from both sides of the Atlantic are actively cooperating already.)
The next step will be online consultations launched in late April and a live consultative process culminating on 23 May in Brussels.
In undertaking all this work, I and my team are saying that governments do have a role in the cloud. We can be part of the solution. The Internet has grown to be wonderful and useful because it has not suffered from undue regulation. But an internet without rules can also hold back users and investors if they lack confidence. That’s the sort of value I want to add.
This is my fifth decade in politics now. So I know very well how easy it is for leaders to gravitate towards systems and solutions they can control and govern. That is not the plan here – my goal is to protect the Internet playing field rather than take it over
Why am I making such a big deal of this? Because we can’t simply assume that voluntary approaches like codes of conduct will do the job. Sometimes you need the sort of real teeth only public authorities have.
Freedom of expression; the protection of privacy and personal data; net neutrality and the preservation of an open Internet; these and other issues are fundamentally public policy issues. Who will be liable if something goes wrong in the cloud and data is lost or compromised? Which rules and which jurisdiction will apply? These are not questions that “codes of conduct” on their own can answer in a satisfactory way.
So, in essence, I think we are now in the middle of a very important debate. It is going to take partnership between industry and government, and society, as well as European leadership, to ensure that we actively create the best environment for all parties, and put computing within reach of all.
I look forward to the day when the cloud puts many more thousands of our SMEs on the European and world stage. When it helps make the single market real for them and helps governments stay “in the black.” And I cannot wait to show off the green implications of this work, as we struggle to take better care of our fragile planet.