As they look ahead to the next wave of technology, European leaders have staked out a firm commitment to embrace cloud computing, drawing praise from some of the leading U.S. tech trade associations.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has articulated a multi-prong strategy to boost deployment of cloud technologies among member nations, aiming to address key concerns such as trusted certification, interoperability and collaboration among stakeholders in the public and private sectors.
At the highest level, the proposal (available in PDF format) seeks to establish a common set of rules of the road to develop a more cohesive market structure among the various member states for cloud providers.
"[I]t represents a political commitment of the commission and serves as a call on all stakeholders to participate in the implementation of these actions," the authors of the report wrote.
"Addressing the specific challenges of cloud computing would mean a faster and more harmonized adoption of the technology by Europe's businesses, organizations and public authorities, resulting, on the demand side, in accelerated productivity growth and increased competitiveness across the whole economy as well as, on the supply-side, in a larger market in which Europe becomes a key global player," they continued.
By the EU's own estimates, the adoption of cloud computing technologies would help European nations boost their collective GDP by some 600 billion euros, or about $774 billion, from 2015 to 2020.
Among the commission's high-level recommendations is a call for harmonization of the member states' disparate national laws concerning digital content and the location of data, a concern familiar to U.S. cloud providers with overseas data centers. "This is in particular related to the complexities of managing services and usage patterns that span multiple jurisdictions and in relation to trust and security in fields such as data protection, contracts and consumer protection or criminal law," the authors wrote.
On the subject of contracts, the report highlights the challenges of data access and portability, such as the difficulty of setting a fair standard for compensation in the event of downtime, ownership of data and dispute resolution.
Additionally, the roadmap suggests that the "jungle of standards" that cloud providers must navigate has created significant confusion in the industry, with vendors struggling to differentiate standards geared for portability and access from those that pertain to the protection of personal data or defenses against cyber attacks -- and the extent to which one may be compatible with another.
While the authors of the report have outlined a number of steps toward streamlining the member nations' distinctive technology environments to adapt to a mode of computing that is intrinsically resistant to political borders, the commission made clear that it is not calling for a "European Super-Cloud."
"However, one of the aims is to have publicly available cloud offerings ... that meet European standards not only in regulatory terms but in terms of being competitive, open and secure," they wrote. "This does not preclude public authorities from setting up dedicated private clouds for the treatment of sensitive data, but in general even cloud services used by the public sector should -- as far as feasible -- be subject to competition on the market to ensure best value for money, while conforming to regulatory obligations or wider public policy objectives in respect of key operating criteria such as security and protection of sensitive data."
In a blog post, Mark McCarthy, vice president of public policy at the Software and Information Industry Association, hailed the commission's report, calling it a "major step forward by policymakers in coming to grips with the policy thinking needed to foster this new development and to deal with its many challenges in Europe and around the world."
But McCarthy also cautioned against overly specific rules and regulations tailored distinctly for the cloud on issues such as privacy, security and intellectual property, calling instead for "globally interoperable rules" that would function on a more basic level.
Thomas Boué, the Business Software Alliance's director of government relations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, offered similarly cautious praise.
"The global cloud computing market is booming and offers tremendous opportunities in and beyond the single market. But the commission's strategy should only be the first step toward Europe achieving its cloud goals," Boué said in a statement. "In implementing the new strategy, policymakers need to align privacy and security rules so that data can flow across international borders. Creating barriers to the free flow of data beyond Europe would impose inefficiencies and could cut off European companies from the fastest-growing cloud markets in Asia and elsewhere around the world."
The EU said that as member states evaluate the commission's proposals for a harmonized cloud environment, they should be able to determine whether additional legislation or other action will be needed to implement the roadmap.
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.
Read more about cloud computing in CIO's Cloud Computing Drilldown.