The European Commission is seeking views from citizens, businesses, public administrations and other interested parties on how to fully benefit from cloud computing.
Cloud computing refers to the use of a network of remote services hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data rather than the use of local computing resources. The “public” cloud describes services offered by third party providers to various customers, whilst the “private” cloud refers to organisations enabling their own cloud-computing capabilities on their premises or via dedicated hardware from a third-party host.
The appeal of the cloud is that it can help companies to drastically reduce their information technology costs, through reducing the need for hardware, IT management and through paying for only the resources they need.
Cloud computing is already widely used, for example, for web-based email services, such as Gmail. The trend is continuing to grow and the European Commission estimates that by 2014 cloud services will generate revenues of almost €35 billion in Europe.
Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda has said “I am excited about the potential benefits of cloud computing to cut costs, improve services and open up new business opportunities. We need a well-defined cloud computing strategy to ensure that we make the best use of this potential. The input we are requesting from all interested parties is important to get it right”.
The Commission document states that “The EU needs to become not only cloud-friendly but cloud-active to fully realise the benefits of Cloud Computing. Besides allowing for the provision of Cloud Computing in its various forms, the relevant environment in the EU has to address the needs of end users and protect the rights of citizens.”
The Commission is inviting feedback on the use and provision of cloud computing in relation to data protection and liability questions, other legal and technical barriers, standardisation and interoperability solutions, uptake of cloud services and ways to promote research and innovation in cloud computing.
One of the aims of the consultation is to aid the Commission in deciding measures to help standardise terms and conditions for using cloud services. One of the questions on the consultation is whether it would be useful to establish model Service Level Agreements or End User Agreements within contractual arrangements for cloud services.
The Commission are inviting feedback on “data protection and liability questions, in particular in cross-border situations”. This has been an area that is particularly challenging in cloud contracts as the location of customer data is often a key concern of customers, who are mindful of data protection laws which prohibit the exporting of “personal data” from the EEA. Often cloud contracts do not specify where the data will be held or transferred to, which places the customer at risk of breaching their data protection obligations.
The Commission has acknowledged the difficulties that arise with the conflict between new technology and existing legislation and has already stated its plans to update the Data Protection Directive later in the year in response to the challenges posed by new technology.
We will be watching for the outcome of the consultation to see how the Commission plans to achieve its goal to be “cloud-active”. In the meantime, the Commission’s consultation is open until 31 August 2011. The results will feed into an European cloud computing strategy that the Commission will present in 2012.
The public consultation can be accessed here: