November 2013 to Berlin, to attend the inaugural meeting of Cloud for Europe at the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS) – the subject of my December Blog. December 2013, before the Xmas holidays closed in, to Brussels to the impressive Thon Hotel EU on Rue de la Loi to attend the launch of the ETSI (European Telecoms Standards Institute) report on Cloud Standards Coordination - work sponsored under the European Commission's Cloud Strategy. And January 2014? Well, if all goes to plan, to the basement of a curry house in London's Brick Lane to attend a debate organised jointly by the UK's Cloud Industry Forum and EuroCloudUK. The topic of the debate? 'This House Believes in the Creation of a European Cloud'.
The basement of a curry house in deepest East London? Well, one cannot be too careful in these Eurosceptic times. What if the Tory Party heavies found out what a subversive agenda will be addressed? What if Liam Maxwell (the Government CTO) were to send in his Cabinet Office techies in an attempt to confuse the debate? Enough said!
The cloud is, and has been from its start, a global construct. Think Google Search, Amazon Web Services. In an earlier blog I described visiting a young company (70 strong at the time, growing fast) in Dakar, Bangladesh where software engineers, working over the internet, were using cloud computing platforms in the USA to create specialist ERP services for delivery to enterprise clients in Singpore and Australia. Pretty cloud, pretty global.
The dilemma for us conviction free traders is that, where governments get involved, they move to restrict the globality of the cloud. And it is not only the Chinese. When moving services into the cloud, European governments - including the UK's - insist that their data must be held within national boundaries. The UK's G-Cloud procurement frameworks are designed to be OJEU-compliant market places and yet are not open for commercial exploitation across the length and breadth of Europe. In my December 2013 blog I observed that the EU is about borders open for trade, the cloud is very much a borderless phenomenon, so that for the Irish, say, to source via the G-Cloud Frameworks is simply sound international trade in services. Perhaps the good Bill McCluggage (with his pedigree of the Ulster & Whitehall mafias) in his current role as the Dublin Government's CIO can explain all?
In fact, to get the Tory free-market heavies on my side, I am tempted to paraphrase the great philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau thus: 'The Cloud is Born Free but Everwhere is in Chains'.
Back to the ETSI Report. The purpose of the Report? The Commission's strategy document 'Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe' launched three initiatives in late 2012, the first of which sought to "cut through the jungle of technical standards" that it feared might restrict the development of the cloud across Europe.
The good news? ETSI concludes that "cloud standardisation is much more focused than anticipated. In short: the Cloud Standards landscape is complex but not chaotic and by no means a jungle. Given its dynamism, Cloud Standardisation will likely mature in the next 18 months. The analysis also shows that Standards are maturing is some areas (for example, IaaS machine control, vocabularies, SLA and security) while maturity is slower in other areas." It is an excellent, relevant and optimistic piece of work which you can read here.
So to the underlying agenda – to what end a European cloud?
The European cloud is a (virtual) services market place, a rapidly developing enabler of contemporary business (and public sector) effectiveness, efficiency and innovation. Open borders for the associated services trade across Europe makes a vital contribution to developing the dynamism of the wider European economy - a competitive market landscape that particularly nurtures endless opportunities for the innovative SME. A Cloud porous to the wider global cloud, surely, but free from uncessary restraints within the boundaries of the contemporary European economy.
The real challenge, says the ETSI Report, is that "the legal envirnment for cloud computing is highly challenging; research into standardised ways of describing, advertising, consuming and verifying legal requirements is necessary. Solutions need to accommodate both national and international (e.g. EU) legal requirements."
Some seek to position the future European eloud as a technological construct securely distinct from (and barricaded against!) US or Chinese clouds – seeking to limit the reality of US (and Chinese) security agencies being able to spy on, say, Berlin Chancellors!
The more realisitic objective, surely, is to ensure that the pan-European politico-legal enviroment within which the European Cloud will evolve contains all the safeguards necessary to 'permisision' the security agencies to do their vital work, while fully and effectively protecting our individual privacy as European citizens. This is the real challenge.