There’s a paradox at the heart of cloud computing. Through the global reach of the Internet, we can connect with people, find information and instantly access services anywhere in the world we like. The cloud collapses distance and sweeps away barriers, bringing the whole world to our doorstep. But our use of the cloud is still subject to local laws. Wherever the cloud touches the physical world, it comes back down to earth and falls under the prevailing local jurisdiction.

This can get very complicated when there are many different laws to navigate, and the cross-border nature of the cloud often throws up such challenges. Would you care to guess what privacy rules govern a UK citizen employed by a French company accessing information about a German customer stored on a server in the Netherlands while on a business trip to Luxembourg? Me neither. That is one reason why the European Commission is currently reforming data privacy regulations to be more consistent throughout the EU. So let’s consider EU cloud computing. The existing directive dates from 1995, when such cross-border transactions were virtually unthinkable, whereas now they’re commonplace.

It seems logical that a patchwork of local jurisdictions and practices is bound to be a huge barrier to successful adoption of EU cloud computing. Research carried out for the European Commission earlier this year by IDC bears this out. It found that policy actions to encourage take-up of cloud computing could add a much-needed one percent extra boost to EU output. This finding has given serious political impetus to the search for effective EU-wide policies to drive cloud adoption. But the initiative threatens to cause yet another row between the UK and the rest of Europe.

The Commission’s point of view is that people need more certainty about best practices before they will embrace cloud computing. Therefore it has launched projects to investigate standards and certifications governing cloud with the aim of recommending the ones it believes will work best. It is also developing a framework for public sector procurement of cloud services called the European Cloud Framework which will look to encourage EU cloud computing.

Its aim is to encourage take-up of cloud services, but dissenting voices in the UK are concerned that standardisation and certification will prove too prescriptive, forcing public sector buyers back in the arms of the established IT providers that have proven too costly and inflexible in the past. The early success of G-Cloud in accelerating adoption of SMB providers and open-source solutions has shown what can be achieved. The worry is that this progress could be lost if new rules were brought in at a European level.

None of this is set in stone as yet, but over the coming year some big decisions will be taken that could set the tone for cloud adoption throughout Europe for the next decade. Here in the UK, we tend to look across the Atlantic to the US market for clues to the future of the cloud. This year we must also keep a close eye on developments in Brussels.

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