European Commission tackles transformation challenges with cloud

Modernisation plan continues at the EC, with an upcoming migration of more than 4,000 applications and major savings on the horizon

The European Commission (EC) is pressing ahead with its adoption of cloud computing as a means to tackle key challenges of its wider digital transformation plan.

The EC’s digital strategy was launched as a means to modernise processes underpinning political leadership and policy-making efforts around European Union development. The plan will see the introduction of a new generation of platforms supporting digitised policy and administrative tasks.

The EC’s aim to become a user-focused and data-driven digital organisation by 2022 is led by its 40,000-strong Digital Workplace Engineering unit. But the commission faces two major IT challenges: designing, development and deploying the new core digital systems it needs, while addressing the modernisation of its legacy IT platforms.

“To make the EC a truly digital organisation, we need to develop new platforms and have data at the core of our architecture,” Mario Campolargo, the EC’s deputy director-general for informatics, told delegates at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Summit in Brussels on Tuesday 9 April. “But such goals require an infrastructure that leverages on market opportunities, and that includes cloud.

“That is why our decision has been to go for a cloud-first approach and to use secure, hybrid, multi-cloud solutions.”

Campolargo pointed out that the EC has consolidated its various datacentres into a new modern facility in Luxembourg.

In parallel with the datacentre refresh, the EC has been making inroads with its adoption of cloud computing and has started “experimenting” with this approach in various trials with public sector institutions and agencies, said Campolargo.

AWS has been a key supplier to the EC since 2013, when the commission’s cloud migration work began. Under the EC’s digital transformation programme, some 4,000 applications will be moved to the AWS cloud. It is hoped that the new set-up will be four times cheaper to run than an on-premise datacentre.

Other cloud-based initiatives led by the EC include GNU machine translation and the creation of development environments. Also, the EC’s content management unit has been using the AWS set-up to run open source content management platform Drupal. The system covers all of the EC’s websites for each of the EU member countries, as well as an international research network for 55,000 registered members.

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Before the introduction of cloud computing, EC researchers had to access each site individually to search for the information they needed. The centralisation of the data onto a single, centrally maintained, AWS-hosted system has halved costs related to content systems. Campolargo said the idea is to continue evolving cloud use and delivering additional benefits to the user base.

“When we move from this discovery phase into a more transformative phase, we will see a second wave of decisions around cloud,” he said.

Campolargo added that while applications with lower security requirements are moving to a public cloud environment, an on-premise cloud with high levels of security, resilience and data protection is being set up for data that cannot be hosted externally.

By combining the best of the public cloud market with a secure, on-site, private cloud, Campolargo noted that the EC ultimately wants to create a hybrid environment that supports the commission, executive agencies and other European institutions.

“The journey into cloud has transformed our organisation – it’s a paradigm shift,” said Campolargo. Cloud is enabling the EC to align IT capacity with its needs and make significant progress towards its data-centric service delivery vision, he added.

“Cloud is a key enabler for digital transformation in public administrations, since our ultimate goal is to be able to deliver public services that benefit citizens and businesses with high quality, transparency, speed and innovation,” he said.

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