Cloud Computing To Save Europe, Or Just Iceland?

from the island-watch dept

Cloud computing has been presented as the new economic weapon for bringing economic prosperity to Europe, if you believe the new cloud computing strategy from the European Commission. An additional € 957 billion ($1,236 billion) is expected to be earned in the EU by 2020, along with an additional 3.8 million jobs created. These impressive economic forecasts are unfortunately just seen as a positive side effect of something much more important to the bureaucrats: a chance to update the regulation of the internet. Of course, all this might actually do is open up opportunities for other countries and regions to do a better job at it. And it appears that Iceland wants to be poised to step in where Europe is all too likely to fail.

Fixing the regulation of information and online services has been overdue for many, many years in Europe. Developers of both complex and simple cloud services are often being frustrated by current laws, which were enacted many years ago without much (or any) foresight into how information would be used today. For example, the consent of the user to allow a cloud service to handle his or her personal data often does not reflect the technical reality of how the data is handled by a service operating in a cloud. Even if the cloud system is technically secure and privacy measures are taken seriously, obligations or prohibitions in data protection laws inhibit efficient handling of personal data by modern services if the service provider wishes to fully adhere to the law.

Other policy areas that will likely be updated include consumer rights, security, competition and intellectual property. Officials also see this as a chance to address issues such as jurisdiction (applicable law, but also tax issues), liability of intermediaries, standards and interoperability. Techdirt has been reporting on the flaws of current legal systems and the frequently absurd consequences for many years now. Postponing the much needed regulatory update on these issues is like shooting yourself in the foot, over and over again.

The figures presented in the report above may be overstated, but significant investments can be expected as a result of increased legal security in cloud computing. The question is, then: Who will reap the benefit from this? There are many other countries and regions, which have been preparing themselves for the highly interconnected world and now see a chance to profit from new investments in cloud computing and related infrastructure.

For example, Iceland recently stepped forward and presented itself as a strong contender and ideal host for new server farms, which are needed for cloud computing. The Iceland Modern Media Institute (IMMI) presented a rather useful model to analyze a region's potential for becoming a modern information hub based on a few primary indicators. The report was requested by the European Greens party and models a region's suitability for information services based on energy (e.g. sources and natural cooling), connectivity (e.g. international network and security) and jurisdiction (e.g. local legal provisions and legal security).

Iceland was used as a case study to showcase the model, presenting the natural and societal advantages of the island over other countries in an impressive and convincing way. Iceland is ideally located between the US and the EU, has abundant natural cooling sources and, above all, has developed an impressive and progressive portfolio of policies related to the free and open internet.

Not all is lost for Europe, though. The Financial Times has spotted the necessary political frame for the cloud computing strategy to become a serious topic among European officials:
For Ms. Kroes and her colleagues, the cloud is the embodiment of the European Economic Community, eliminating obstacles, stimulating competition and opening up the market to new possibilities.
This 'European Dream' argument for cloud computing could entice some non-tech savvy politicians to take the issue seriously by enabling them to score media attention with their involvement in the new futuristic project which helps rebuild the economy. At least this enables a public, broad and open discussion on all types of internet regulation, where there is plenty of room for expertise and evidence-gathering about the internet to enter the debate.

Recent announcements pave the way for an increased "connectivity" score for the EU in the IMMI model. However, unless the European legislators seize this opportunity in policy making to update its "jurisdiction" score in the model and learn from Iceland's recent policy innovations for the free and open internet, investors may be enticed to build their infrastructure on the island nation, or elsewhere, instead of mainland Europe. The message is simple: Fail to make use of this chance to update the regulation of the internet intelligently, and countries like Iceland will profit most from Europe's cloud computing strategy.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2012 @ 4:44am

    I don't understand...

    I don't understand where all the jobs are going to come from. Datacentres employ all of, what, 6 people to keep them going?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Oct 2012 @ 5:34am

      Re: I don't understand...

      You sir have no idea of the scale of data centres. I work in a baby data centre, and I mean that, BABY. 50 or so racks. And we employ more than 6 people to run it.

      Full on cloud data centres are huge. We're talking aircraft hanger huge, with hundreds of thousands of machines in them. And you think 6 people?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    party pooper, 12 Oct 2012 @ 12:08pm

    Not all roses

    Although Icelands IMMI initiative looks good on paper, the pipes to the island are still very expensive.

    It can be a privacy data h(e)aven but you pay (un)godly prices to get it there and back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Fons Tuinstra, 15 Oct 2012 @ 5:33am


    There is another argument going around in Europe. Most data centers are now in the US, and US authorities can check data and traffic from non-US users. While US citizens have a basic privacy protection (whatever that is worth) regarding their government, non-US citizens do not have that protection. That at least is one argument.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
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    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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