Can the Cloud conquer Europe?

The cloud is increasingly seen as a viable means for large organizations to manage their IT. Its flexibility and power is a compelling draw for businesses, and offers a real alternative to in-house servers for those looking to offload costs and maintenance work.

Not everybody’s buying, however. The New York Times reports that European governments are rather less enthusiastic about this new technology. While government agencies at various levels in the United States have been happy to make the switch, the Europeans are rather more cautious. Convergence of various government IT systems in Britain have been put on hold, because exposing the electoral rolls to the cloud is considered too risky by the House of Lords.

Security concerns, inevitably, are highest on the agenda. Many of the decision makers involved here will not be IT experts, but will be concerned with the idea of moving highly sensitive government data to external servers. Ambiguous privacy policies on popular web services (Google and Microsoft’s offerings, for a start) aren’t helping, although this does not apply across the market. Security concerns are also substantial in capital market businesses, which generally are fast on the uptake when it comes to new technology, but have dragged their feet on the cloud.

There are other issues, though. Large-scale IT contracts serving the British public sector have often ended up over-time and over-budget. It is not the only country to have suffered such fates; in the future, big promises from IT firms may be treated with some caution.

Cloud management providers will have to be patient in dispelling these suspicions. In fact, they have every interest in doing so. There is enormous money to be made in this sector, as reliable companies (in charge of substantial budgets) are keen to find excellent cloud management services. And it shouldn’t be impossible at all. Security is not necessarily more of an issue than in older models of IT infrastructure (although that depends on the level of service offered by hosts). Indeed, some studies suggest that cloud storage may be more secure than corporate data centers. Privacy concerns are ultimately a matter of negotiation with the companies concerned, and with big money to spend, governments have a pretty strong negotiating position.

More generally, state agencies will have to accept that data will never be 100 percent secure. The war between malicious hackers and tech security professionals will continue for as long as computers exist. Even if the perfect IT security solution was invented, and the hackers just had to find another hobby, there is no legislating for human error. The cloud offers serious advantages over earlier models of IT, and governments should focus on minimizing risk within that paradigm rather than rejecting it out of hand.

Ultimately, the best advert for a move onto the cloud may be the United States, which is set to spend $10 billion per year on cloud services by 2018, according to the Times story. Where America leads, others – if grudgingly – tend to follow. So setbacks for the cloud in Europe are likely to be temporary.