It was an exceptionally beautiful afternoon in Brussels but that didn't keep folks from piling into a crowded room at the Renaissance Brussels Hotel for EIF's Special Event on Cloud Computing on 27 March.
Previously that afternoon many had availed themselves of the chance to tour Microsoft's Brussels-based Cloud & Interoperability Centre. Afterwards everyone hunkered down for what proved to be an interesting and intense afternoon of dialogue.
The first (of three) panels focused on interoperability and data portability. Mark Skilton (Capgemini)outlined four key issues for business: access control, legal policy, open provisioning, and open standards.Stephen McGibbon (Microsoft) said that the term "cloud computing" is often misused and as a computing concept carries with it a much longer history than many suppose. McGibbon noted that the push towards increasing automation and the desire to eliminate the human admin arose out of the rapid growth of the late '90s tech boom. He touted Microsoft's current policy of "interoperability by design". Peter Dickman (Google)got into the distinction between specifications and standards. He asserted Google's view that their end user is ultimately the data owner, that data portability has long been part of Google's platforms and discussed the challenges of facilitating user data migrations between multi-cloud applications. Guillermo Beltrà (BEUC, the European Consumers Organisation) suggested that while it's fine for vendors to do the right thing voluntarily that there should be legal mandates for data portability and the so-called right to be forgotten. Abdellatif Benjelloun (Huawei) highlighted the role of intermediary service providers as facilitators of data portability.
The second panel focused on data security and privacy. Gerold Hubner (SAP) recounted how his firm managed to build their own cloud capacities while respecting both German and EU consumer protections. Jeff Brueggeman (AT&T) talked about the impact of virtualization, globalization, and the explosion of mobile on the cloud market. Paul Nemitz (European Commission, DG Justice) pointed out that the mission of the European Commission isn't just making proscriptive rules but also to actively promote economic activity. Brueggeman predicted that European data protection reforms would lend EU-based service providers with a major competitive advantage. Peter Hustinx (European Data Protection Supervisor) focused on holding vendors accountable, noting that while the data may be in the cloud the stakeholders are all firmly on the ground. Thomas Endres (Lufthansa) said that shifting to cloud-based computing isn't just about outsourcing. Endres pointed out that modern companies essentially ‘are’ their data. He noted that while policy-makers like to talk about PII (Personally Identifiable Information) as though it were a small, easily delineable subset of data in fact, with such massive improvements in the correlative abilities of big-data analysis tools today most data flirts with the notion of PII.
The last panel focused on public sector challenges and opportunities presented by cloud computing.Linda Strick (the Institute for Open Communication Standards) talked about "cloud as concept, not as technology", proposed that the biggest challenges aren't technical but rather mental, and questioned whether more standards are necessary. Andrus Aaslaid (Estonian Counselor of State IT Infrastructure) gave the perspective of an experienced practitioner. The Estonian government has made initial forays into cloud computing, partly in an attempt to provide computational capacity for Estonian citizens to use in building applications on top of open data sources. Aaslaid suggested that open data is one of the best chances for rescuing democracies from captive interests and that government-sponsored cloud capacity would be a kind of commons in which that data could live. Markus Lennartz (T-System, BT) talked about his company's offerings which are purpose-built to meet the cloud computing needs of public institutions. Rainer Zimmermann - (European Commission, DG INFSO) highlighted the public procurement challenges the Commission faces when trying to purchase cloud computing capabilities and lay out useful procurement guidelines for member states to use.
The event closed with remarks by European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes and by the chairing MEPs Pilar del Castillo, Malcolm Harbour, Ivailo Kalfin and Edit Herczog. Kroes forecast a bright future enabled by technological and economic developments which cloud computing will stimulate. The conversation carried on several hours more into the evening as attendees gathered round cocktails and canapés.See event