The cloud – infrastructure, software, data or applications held off companies’ premises and accessed via the Internet – can hone economies of scale by cutting out hardware costs and reducing SMEs costs per unit as demand increases.
“Talking to SMEs in many member states we know they are afraid about what will happen to their data, there needs to be a form of education about the extent to which third parties may be privy to their data,” said Maurice van der Woude, the general director of Eurocloud Europe, a trade group supported by Microsoft and other companies.
SMEs can gain savings from conversion to cloud
The problem lies in the lack of business awareness of the opportunities, van der Woude said, adding: “It would be beneficial for SMEs to educate them about this because it’s happening way too slowly.”
Nigel Gibbons, the managing director of technology SME Unitech, claimed that €1.2 billion was being wiped off the profits of SMEs each year – money that they would otherwise be able to invest – if they transferred their computing to the cloud system.
He said the figure had been achieved on the basis of savings calculated to UK SMEs if they migrated to cloud and then extrapolated across the EU.
Efforts are under ways to allay SME fears through education and creating a controversial new pan-EU regulation of the cloud however, policymakers and industrialists at the Microsoft hosted symposium in Brussels heard.
André Richier, an official at the European Commission's Enterprise directorate, acknowledged that SMEs were cautious in their approach to the cloud. He said that the solution was to embark on effective education schemes which DG Enterprise had already undertaken, targeting business school students in Europe.
On regulation, Richier said: “Where are the cyber cops? We have problems with fraudsters and we need to think about the regulatory regime and enforcement, because for companies this is very important.”
Parliament keen to legislate
Referring to the possibilities for formulating specific regulation relating to the cloud, Rainer Zimmermann, the head of software at the Commission's Infosociety department, warned that if no proposals were forthcoming, the European Parliament would attempt to impose impractical legislation as soon as the opportunity comes.
He said: “If no solutions are offered then we will get a bureaucratic solution of the worst kind. There will be a monster of bureaucracy if from the start these issues of general public interest are not addressed.”
Hungarian socialist MEP Edit Herczog, a member of the Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee, said that the Parliament should not be seen as the problem.
She said: “If we do not act together at EU level there is a danger that each country will start to address the issue alone.”
EU has cautious approach
Despite the EU's best efforts, laws to protect and store data are outdated and cannot cope with the legal problems presented by cloud computing, such as determining who owns data which is no longer handled in situ.
When a company processes data in the UK, stores it on a server in Ireland but sends it via France – as it may have a subsidiary there – it is not yet clear which country's law would prevail in a legal dispute.
Regulators who have recognised this maze of unanswered questions are busy consulting industry and data protection authorities, while industry is busy trying to make its mark on an as yet unformed legal framework.
In November 2010, EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes called for cloud-computing providers to build data security into their services and products. And at the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos, she said the EU was working post-haste to update its data protection rules.
Cloud computing is highlighted in the Digital Agenda for Europe, and EU Commissioner and Vice President Neelie Kroes announced early this year the launch of a cloud computing strategy for Europe.
She wants to make Europe not only ‘cloud-friendly’ by providing the right regulatory framework but also ‘cloud-active’ which means that she wants European IT industry – and especially SMEs – to take the opportunity to become leaders in the area.
To this end Kroes has initiated a number of private and public consultationswith industrial stakeholders looking both at the supply and demand side.
DG Information Society has been researching cloud computing and how it differentiates from other IT systems and its opportunities for European industry over the past two years.
This research culminated in two reports, one by the expert group on the future of cloud computing and another by the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) on cloud security.