EESC questions EU cloud computing initiative figures

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has published an opinion piece detailing opposition to the well documented European Union (EU) computing initiative.

The EU’s cloud strategy, ‘Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe’, announced in September featured two main takeaways; a yearly 160bn Euro (£127.6bn) boost to the European GDP by 2010, and a net gain of 2.5m jobs.

Sounds good on first glance, but the EESC’s opinion – carried by 158 votes to two in a plenary held on January 16 and 17 – disagrees.

It’s not that the EESC is opposed to cloud computing in general – the committee agrees that it is “an opportunity for European growth and competitiveness” – more it suggests an alternative complementary vision to the European Commission’s original plan.

Nor is it that EESC is at odds with everything EU digital agenda VP Neelie Kroes lined out. The committee agrees with three strategic actions: cutting through the jungle of technical standards; drawing up ‘safe and fair’ model conditions for cloud computing contracts and SLAs; and creating a European partnership to promote cloud computing.

However, when it comes to strengthening cloud infrastructure in the form of IaaS, the committee differs in opinion.

“The Committee recommends that the Commission seek to promote the development of European digital energy production,” wrote Staffan Nilsson in the opinion piece.

Nilsson continued: “The objective is to use the favourable conditions (strong data protection in Europe, users’ concerns regarding distant suppliers, the need for strong security guarantees) to promote the emergence of European cloud computing suppliers, be they local, national or cross-border suppliers.”

The EESC also questioned the veracity of the figures trumpeted out by the EC’s study, with a net gain of 2.5m jobs being the principal one. “The Committee wonders whether these figures are not unattainable and disconnected from the reality of the IT domain,” wrote Nilsson.

Nilsson further notes the lack of social impact mentioned in the Commssion’s original report, in particular IT restructuring, offshoring, virtualisation and “greater distances between users and IT technicians”.

Evidently, nobody at the EU can be under any illusions as to how difficult the task at hand will be; yet these are still valid points to consider.

The European Union’s cloud strategy, “Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe”, was launched in September to mainly positive reaction. IDC came out in support of the policy in October – albeit in a report published on the EU’s behalf – further adding that without the policy being implemented, €88bn would be a more relevant growth figure by 2020.

One of the key watchwords from the announcement in September was ‘trust’, as when Kroes noted in her speech: “Cloud computing could offer a huge lift to the European economy, but only if users can understand and trust it.”

The EESC agrees but goes further, citing that, similar to grassroots broadband initiatives implemented by the Commission, institutional and secured databases should be integrated into a cloudy environment.

“This would enable citizens to manage critical data more easily (according to European and national law) and, at the same time, to grow trust in cloud computing,” the report notes.

Similarly, the EESC states that Europe is relying too heavily on non-European providers. The biggest European cloud operator, OVH (On Vous Heberge) “does not have the same level of global visibility and influence” as the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, the EESC argues.

Cloud computing uptake in Europe has been subject to various reports, with the majority concluding that Europe comes out second best to the rest of the world.

Earlier this week a survey from Redwood Software revealed that the US still leads the UK in cloud adoption, with 58% of US businesses using the cloud for private data storage as opposed to 35% in the UK, and back in September a BSA study concluded that only three EU countries – Greece (39%), Romania (39%) and Poland (25%) – had cloud usage numbers above the 24% global average.

Yet it seems that the EU is bent on getting up to speed in the cloud.

The full EESC opinion can be read here. Do you agree with its recommendations?

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