EU institutions start large-scale move towards cloud services

A handful of companies were certified to sell cloud services to over 50 EU institutions and agencies. [Vernon Chan/Flickr]

EU institutions are getting ready to move data to cloud services as part of the first broad,  European Commission-backed push for government cloud computing.

In early 2014 an advisor told former EU Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes during an event on cloud computing, “We’re not practicing what we preach.”

Later that year, the European Commission opened its first call for public tender to draw cloud services for the EU institutions.

Last December, the Commission finally awarded two-year contracts worth over €34 million. A handful of companies are now authorised to sell to the executive, and a list of 52 other EU institutions and agencies, including the European Parliament, the Council and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Newly certified companies BT, IBM, Accenture, France-based Atos, Telecom Italia (which uses Amazon’s cloud service) and the Cloud Team Alliance, a federation of providers including French firm Numergy, Italian provider Enter and Proximus just started shopping around their offers to the institutions and agencies.

The contracts are renewable for another two years. Sources said the Parliament recently purchased cloud services.

European Commission officials who oversaw the vetting process say EU offices are still experimenting with the internet services that store data remotely.

Most institutions are starting small and at first moving only some non-sensitive data to a cloud provider. But one official said the goal is to eventually have “widespread use of cloud in EU institutions”. Government cloud use in some member states like the UK and Portugal has expanded within a few years, the official pointed out.

A Commission source said long-term plans include hosting the executive’s entire web presence in a public cloud.

The providers approved to sell cloud services to EU institutions are all required to store data in the EU. “For essential security and data protection reasons, EU law must be applicable to all the information hosted by the future contractors,” the tender reads.

A European Commission official said staff working on the cloud tender was sensitive to the ECJ’s explosive Safe Harbour decision last October, which cut off commercial data flows to the US. Commission and US negotiators announced the ‘EU-US Privacy Shield’ to replace Safe Harbour earlier this month.

Germany to set up 'Bundescloud'

New German rules for government cloud computing means official data can only be processed in Germany. The restrictions are a strike against US-based cloud providers such as Amazon and Google.

Some governments and private companies see using clouds as a way to cut costs.

Officials behind the plan to introduce clouds to the EU institutions say the technology could cut back funds that would otherwise be spent on on-site data storage, though several sources acknowledged it was too early to estimate how much any of the offices might stand to save.

Sources told EURACTIV the executive has five “significant” data storage centres and dozens of smaller rooms, while EU agencies mostly store data on-site. One Commission official called that infrastructure “very expensive”.

Under Neelie Kroes’ tenure, the European Commission pushed member states to embrace government cloud use. Ten EU countries are part of the executive-backed Cloud for Europe initiative, which started in 2013.

Already a few years into its bid to boost government cloud use in EU member states, the European Commission’s move to bring clouds to EU institutions looks like an afterthought following its earlier plans to herald the technology around Europe.

“They’re certainly not the very front wave and not the first adopters for public services digitally,” one official said of the Commission’s plans.

“You could claim ‘everybody else has done it so this isn’t anything special’,” the official added, calling it a “huge achievement” for the executive to approve cloud services for over 50 EU offices in under two years. Many EU institutions and agencies have different security requirements, which officials cited as a hurdle for approving cloud providers for all the offices.

The executive will propose new legislation affecting cloud contracts and certification in April. With other proposals expected this year, the European Commission wants to bolster data flows between EU member states and e-government technology services, both of which can influence how governments use clouds.

Italian ISP Enter is part of the federation certified to sell its cloud services to the EU institutions, making it the only approved provider that uses the OpenStack open source platform. CEO Ivan Botta said European companies that use open source cloud platforms can break away from some of the tech giants that created cloud technology, like Amazon and Google.

“More or less all cloud technology comes from non-European countries,” Botta said. “We’re EU-based and we produce our software in a collaborative way. Nobody patented it, it’s nobody’s property.”

“My hope is they use open source because it can be produced in Europe,” he said of the EU institutions.

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Cloud computing describes a whole range of infrastructure, software, data or applications residing in the cloud – that is to say, off your own premises and accessed via the Internet.

A number of EU member states have expressed interest in starting public national clouds. The European Commission floated the idea of a 'European cloud' in the wake of Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations about US intelligence agencies' surveillance in Europe.

August 2015 rules prevent sensitive data from Germany's government agencies from being processed outside of Germany.

The European Commission held a public consultation on cloud computing in fall 2015 and will propose legal measures in 2016 focusing on cloud contracts, certification, switching providers and on setting up a European research cloud.

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