European Commission open initiatives

European Commission digital agenda and cloud strategy

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The European Commission (EC), the central governing body of the EU, has in the past several years pursued ICT policies that increasingly have been good for "openness" in the areas of standards, data, and software. Its recent announcements on cloud computing have continued this theme.

However, as with any broad strategy of this magnitude, there are parts of the strategy (many well-meaning) that could lead to trouble. Attention, engagement, and follow-up with the Commission are needed to assure a positive outcome.

The EC is seeking to bring new definition to their cloud efforts with its formal Cloud Computing Strategy (released last September) that lays out three key actions that it deems necessary for "unleashing the potential of cloud computing in europe."

These three key actions are:

  1. Encouraging the development and adoption of cloud standards to ensure interoperability, data portability, and reversibility
  2. The development of safe and fair model contract terms—and a model certification scheme—to build trust and accelerate the take-up of cloud computing
  3. The establishment of a "European Cloud Partnership," a public-private effort to identify common public procurement requirements for cloud services that, when adopted by governments throughout the EU, will presumably not only provide better tax-payer value, but will help stimulate and shape the cloud market overall

While the subsequent and coming months have been and will be further punctuated by various announcements, speeches, press releases, and reports offering new ideas or levels of commitment, all this can be viewed as a continuum of the ongoing ICT policy work that the EC has already been focusing on in areas that are more directly relevant to enabling cloud growth in Europe. Indeed, the Commission’s Digital Agenda, announced in 2010, targets key cloud-enabling issues such as trust and security (data protection and cyber security legislation), and "Fast and Ultrafast Internet Connection" (via a variety of actions). 

Also, part of the Digital Agenda are Commission initiatives on interoperability and standards (European Standardization Regulation, European Interoperability Framework). Combined, both of these initiatives acknowledge the role of open source and open standards in innovation. Likewise, the Digital Agenda and the Cloud Strategy are in essence demonstrating the growing support for open standards and open source within the Commission. Putting an emphatic point on this was Vice President Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, who gave a full-throated endorsement of open source at a conference last December.

So, where is the controversy? With several months of experience with which to evaluate the direction of the "Cloud Computing Strategy," here are the questions that are emerging:

Will "openness" be maintained in the strategy? 

One can read the strategy as being positive for proponents of all things open since it is effectively solidifying the Commission’s commitment to open source and open standards. However, the Commission has called on the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to lead the cloud standards work described above. Telecommunications standards, which are salted with standards-essential patents and other impediments to openness, are very different than those developed and  used by the software and Internet communities. Early reports indicate that ETSI, as directed by the Commission, is, in fact, coordinating a generally open and industry-led effort to roadmap what standards are needed and is not seeking to drive their development. Open Source and open standards proponents are hopeful that any needed standards will be developed separately on an international and open basis. The Commission maintains that it turned to ETSI to lead this work since neither the Commission or other groups had the bandwidth for the work. Nonetheless, ETSI's role is being carefully watched.

Will the strategy generate self-defeating protectionist impulses?

The full benefits of cloud computing will be best realized if it functions as a global and borderless phenomenon. To its credit, the Commission has maintained from the start that it has no intention of fostering a "European Super Cloud," whereby policies would be pursued to develop a stand-alone, self-contained European industry. Nonetheless, European ICT companies and others have expressed fear regarding the stiff competition coming from outside the EU. Will they seek policy changes to trip up that competition and effectively put up a border around Europe?

Is there the risk of the strategy assuming a 'one size fits all' model?

Cloud computing means many different things depending on whether you’re an individual consumer, an SME, a regional enterprise, a multi-national corporation, a public administration, an academic institute, and so on. In addition, cloud business models (Iaas, Saas, Paas, Daas, private, public, hybrid) are changing and new ones are emerging in real time. One of the key pillars of the Commission cloud strategy is to foster the development of safe and fair model contract terms and a potential cloud certification scheme. Can these efforts produce something that is timely or even relevant given the variety of cloud implementations that are emerging?

Most of these items will play out over the next 12 to 18 months. The Commission has established multiple working groups to grapple with these issues and other fora (conferences, workshops, etc.) which are currently meeting and are open to all stakeholders. Multiple open source advocacy groups—Open Forum Europe, the European Committee on Interoperable Systems, Free Software Foundation Europe—are engaged.

Nonetheless, at the same time that the Commission voices strong support for open standards and other policies that will promote the development and uptake of open source software, there are multiple avenues for the train to go off the track. Persistent attention to detail is always required.

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About the author

Paul Brownell - Paul Brownell is EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Public Policy Director for Red Hat. While currently located in Europe, he previously led Dell’s Federal Government Affairs team in Washington, DC. He also represented the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and the American Electronics Association (AeA) before the US government. Paul splits his time between Geneva, Switzerland (where he lives), Brussels, and other EMEA capitals.