'Cloud computing' refers to the storage of data (such as text files, pictures and video) and software on remote computers, which users access over the internet on the device of their choice. This is faster, cheaper, more flexible and potentially more secure than on-site IT solutions. Many popular services such as Facebook, Spotify and web-based email use cloud computing technologies but the real economic benefits come through widespread use of cloud solutions by businesses and the public sector.
Key actions of the strategy include:
- Cutting through the jungle of technical standards so that cloud users get interoperability, data portability and reversibility; necessary standards should be identified by 2013;
- Support for EU-wide certification schemes for trustworthy cloud providers;
- Development of model 'safe and fair' contract terms for cloud computing contracts including Service Level Agreements;
- A European Cloud Partnership with Member States and industry to harness the public sector's buying power (20% of all IT spending) to shape the European cloud market, boost the chances for European cloud providers to grow to achieve a competitive scale, and deliver cheaper and better eGovernment.
Vice-President Neelie Kroes said: "Cloud computing is a game-changer for our economy. Without EU action, we will stay stuck in national fortresses and miss out on billions in economic gains. We must achieve critical mass and a single set of rules across Europe. We must tackle the perceived risks of cloud computing head-on."
Vice-President Viviane Reding said: "Europe needs to think big. The cloud strategy will enhance trust in innovative computing solutions and boost a competitive digital single market where Europeans feel safe. That means a swift adoption of the new data protection framework which the Commission proposed earlier this year and the development of safe and fair contract terms and conditions."
Today's strategy announcement follows the Commission's 2012 proposal to update the Data Protection rules and comes ahead of a European Strategy for Cyber Security to be proposed in the coming months. The development of such European cloud rules is a precondition for the seamless digital space that will bring us a true Digital Single Market. Together these actions form a comprehensive effort to deliver a dynamic and trusted internet environment in Europe.
The benefits of the Cloud come from its economies of scale. 80% of organisations adopting cloud computing achieve cost savings of at least 10-20%. Also significant productivity gains are to be expected if wide adoption across all sectors of the economy can be achieved.
Today, in the absence of common standards and clear contracts, many potential users are deterred from adopting cloud solutions. They are not sure what standards and certificates they should look for to meet their requirements and legal obligations, for example to ensure that their own or their customers' data is safe or that applications are interoperable. Cloud providers and users are also looking for clearer rules when it comes to the delivery of cloud services, for example regarding the question where legal disputes will be resolved or how to make sure that it will be easy to move data and software between different cloud providers.