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In the last hour, Brad Smith, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Microsoft gave a speech titled “Technology leadership in the 21st century: How cloud computing will change our world”. It follows a similar speech he gave last week in the US about building confidence in the cloud. In that speech, he made some direct requests of US Congress and US industry to act together. He called for both bodies to act to provide a “safe and open cloud” and for the US Congress to deliver a Cloud Computing Advancement Act. Big, bold words and frankly it’s what customers should be demanding of all cloud vendors, not just Microsoft. There is gold silver in the cloud for sure, but wherever there are riches, there are inevitably those looking to profit illegally. While many consumers put blind faith in the cloud, Government and industry can’t afford to do so. There are other challenges regarding policy that I’ll touch on below.

 

In today’s speech in Brussels, Brad focused on a number of areas – some very similar, but some new themes too. He talked about the huge potential the cloud holds for small and medium businesses in terms of economic growth and job creation. Put simply, the cloud enables small guys to have IT operations just like big guys and pay only for what they use.

The Etro Study, “The Economic Impact of Cloud Computing on Business Creation, Employment and Output in Europe” concluded that the adoption of cloud computing solutions could create a few hundred thousand new small-and medium-sized businesses in Europe, which in turn could have a substantial impact on unemployment rates (reduced by 0.3/0.6 %) and GDP growth (increased by 0.1/0.3%). The study also concluded that these positive benefits will be “positively related to the speed of adoption” of cloud computing.

Alongside those small and medium businesses, the opportunity that the cloud presents for the start-up community in Europe is huge. Sites like TechCrunch would say we’re preaching to the choir here as there is a vibrant start-up community here in Europe with high profile companies like Spotify and Huddle and Lokad – the latter two both being members of our BizSpark programme that has over 8,000 SMEs in Europe, many of them offering cloud-based services. Whether we like it or not, Silicon Valley is still the nexus of start-ups though so anything that further promotes Europe is a good thing.

In healthcare, education, green initiatives and government there are obvious gains to be had from cloud computing. The cloud can enable health services in remote areas, or with few resources, access to cutting-edge IT. They can share data without having to purchase new equipment or recruit new IT staff. In education, libraries and community centres in underserved communities will be able to access computer power that today is financially or geographically out of reach. The cloud also brings consolidation of data centres that will increasingly use renewable and other environmentally friendly energy sources, thus helping to reduce total energy consumption. Finally, the cloud can also aid the business of government. Deploying eGovernment services has been a strong focus of the EU and the Member States and the cloud can aid this deployment while at the same time reducing costs for eGovernment providers.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the cloud is less about a silver lining and more a silver bullet – it really does present massive opportunity. However, it’s not without it’s challenges.

  1. Broadband: the adoption of the cloud is pretty dependent on broadband. Government has a big part to play here in areas such as provision of further wireless spectrum.

  2. Interoperability: For cloud computing to deliver on its promises we must address concerns about losing control over data in the cloud.  Users, be they business or consumers should be able to transfer their data easily from on-site to cloud servers and back,. Perhaps more importantly, they should be able to do so between cloud computing providers. That’s going to take strong industry commitment to interoperability and data portability. As a side note, Microsoft supports the standards necessary for data portability. it may surprise you to know that we are working with open source developers, IBM and others on projects such as Simple Cloud, to facilitate OSS developers working on multiple cloud platforms. Azure, our own cloud computing platform was designed with openness in mind.;  Wan to use Java, Ruby, Apache? Knock yourself out, they’re all supported.

  3. Security: recent events mean this topic probably needs no further explanation. We have work to do here, but once again it’s an industry thing to keep the hackers and phishers at bay. Brad also talked about privacy and the recent view from the west coast of the US (aka Facebook) that privacy is passé.

  4. Regulations: As Brad said during his speech in the US, we need policy, law and regulations to catch up with the advances in technology. I don’t profess to be an expert on any of this but it’s clear we need to find ways to bring together sometimes confusing and contradictory laws that govern cloud computing. Jurisdiction over the storage of cloud data is a great example that Brad talked about in detail. How do current laws apply to the consumer who uses a web mail service from Italy where the data is stored in Ireland and run by a company headquartered in the US.

If you have time, I’d recommend listening to Brad’s speech – he’s a good speaker (as you would expect from fine lawyer) and talks pretty eloquently about the opportunities and challenges of the cloud. He talks about the role of Microsoft of course it was really a rallying call for government and industry to come together to remove barriers and speed the adoption and benefits of the cloud. The Q&A is also pretty interesting with questions on IBM’s “Open Cloud Manifesto”. 

If you’re a cloud aficionado, then much of it will be obvious for you but despite that, I think it’s a good thing for someone to be driving the discussion on the tough topics in Europe to move the cloud forward. I’m glad it’s Brad. Now lets see where this goes.