It has long been the case that governments and regulators struggle to keep up with the pace of change in technology. With the growth of cloud computing – the first genuinely globalised, commoditised, off-the-shelf IT service – that challenge threatens to become a serious problem for the European and UK IT sectors.
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A new survey of cloud computing users in 50 countries has highlighted the failure of government regulations to keep up with developments as the number one factor eroding confidence in the cloud.
At software-as-a-service provider Salesforce.com’s recent Dreamforce user conference, UK customers were critical of the supplier’s failure to build a promised datacentre in Europe. For many organisations affected by the European Union’s strict data protection laws, that’s a showstopper. But should it be?
The European Commission (EC) has at least recognised the problem. This week it announced a new strategy to work with counterparts in the US and Japan to prevent data protection and differing international legal frameworks from hindering a market that the EC estimates could generate €900bn and an additional 3.8 million jobs across the EU by 2020.
But the wheels of such pan-governmental processes turn slowly.
While there are diligent firms that will shun the cloud without guarantees on the physical location of their data, you can bet there are plenty who barely give it a thought, and have sensitive information parked on an Amazon storage system somewhere in the US, because it’s the cheapest and easiest place to put it.
The real problem here is that the likes of Salesforce.com and others have so far only considered building a cloud datacentre in the UK or Europe because they have been forced to. We all know that architecturally, with cloud computing it doesn’t matter where the physical servers or storage are located.
But the issue for the UK/EU is that we’re not seen as a natural location for the big cloud suppliers. The question we should be asking is why? If there are 3.8 million jobs that could be created in an economically depressed Europe, we need rapid incentives for cloud providers to set up here, not new regulations to help when they are forced to.
The financial services sector came to the UK because our location straddling US and Asian time zones in a loosely regulated market made London a highly attractive location. Cloud is a massive economic opportunity for the UK, for the very same reasons. The US and Asia will be happy to spend a few years talking to the EU, while they press ahead and make the most of that opportunity.
We need the government to provide reasons to bring the cloud to the UK now. Tax incentives and planning regulations, for example, that make it easy to build cloud datacentres – no taxpayers’ money needed, lots of inward investment created, plus jobs, private sector investment in telecoms infrastructure, a boost for the green energy industry, and the whole cloud ecosystem looking at the UK as a place to be. A few million here and there for a bit of innovation is hardly enough.
Sadly, there is little or no evidence that the government is having such a conversation -or is even aware of the opportunity.