Friday, March 1, 2013

Clouds for society: growing momentum

Five years ago at around the same time that Google Apps was launched, Cloudscapes held it's first meeting to debate the benefits and challenges for cloud computing. Since then, there has been a  growing momentum in the global cloud landscape. However, the debate continues as issues need to be resolved (i.e. open standards, security etc.). The theme for CloudscapeV was ‘Cloud for Savings, Cloud for Quality' - an important focus with the slowdown in EU economic activity. The benefits of open data was also high on the agenda. Delegates from industry, e-science, standards bodies, EC and national governments met in Brussels to network and discuss how to drive forward an efficient and interoperable EU wide cloud strategy.

On Wednesday morning,  Ken Ducatel, Head of Software and Services at the European Commission, summarised some of the developments since the publication of the European Cloud Computing Strategy in September 2012. Over the last five months, some steps have already been taken in identifying the appropriate standards and certifications schemes. The first draft of the CERN Service Level Agreement is available and ETSI is busy identifying necessary standards through its dedicated Cloud Group.  Ken Ducatel also stressed the importance of the public sector in shaping the cloud computing market. 

Over the course of the two day event, there was some heated debates about who should (or will likely) lead the way - the marketplace, government or industry.  Representatives from national government cloud initiatives were at the event (UK G-Cloud and goBerlin and Trusted Cloud in Germany) describing how investments from e-science have been adopted and integrated into public service spheres. Since last year, the UK government has provided a wide range of services for public procurement managers through its online CloudStore cataolgue. There are currently 3,200 services online.  Contracts are open and transparent with details on prices, terms and conditions.
Clouds are also important during national emergencies. On Thursday afternoon, Ben Katsumi, from the International-technology Promotion Agency (IPA), spoke about the importance of clouds for the Japanese in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. The IPA findings illustrate how a vulnerable society in a disaster was reliant on the services offered by cloud technology, and the importance of incorporating cloud services into critical infrastructure disaster protection planning. Free cloud services were vital for providing a collaboratory platform for volunteers, as well as for those searching for friends and relatives, and/or locating the nearest pop-up hospitals (check out People were extremely interested in knowing where radiation levels were high, and the infrastructure had to be resilient enough to cope with the sharp peaks in usage.

Slide from Ben Katsumi's talk
As more governments and public sector bodies begin to adopt and plan cloud platforms for public services, it would be useful to share best practices. Pooling the requirements from national EU public sectors is helpful as societal needs are generally similar. As a more open EU culture develops, a legal framework for sharing information appropriately across borders will need to be developed. There could be many unrealized economic and societal benefits for sharing information accross an EU cloud. For example, in the UK, there is a shortage of radiographers, but under current UK legislation X-ray images can not be shared outside the country.

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