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Is There A European Government Cloud?

By Andrea Di Maio | May 19, 2009 | 1 Comment


Over the last few weeks the US administration has attracted a lot of attention through a number of bold IT-related initiatives. One amongst many, its move toward the adoption of cloud computing. As discussed in a previous post, this focuses primarily on the establishment of a “private cloud”, and sets the foundation for a new wave of consolidation and rationalization of the government IT infrastructure.

The situation looks much quieter on the other side of the pond. While some European countries are certainly looking into how to virtualize their IT infrastructure across agencies and departments (e.g. Denmark is embarking in a significant consolidation initiative), there is less excitement about cloud computing in government.

I wonder whether this is just a reflection of the different scale of government IT infrastructure between the US federal government and pretty much any single EU country.

On the other hand, would it make sense to think about a virtualized infrastructure, accessible as a service, that cuts across EU member states? Some would say that it probably would and, reading between the lines, it is very possible that somebody in Brussels is thinking about this.

A few months ago the European Commission published a Draft Document as the basis for the European Interoperability Framework Version 2. This document, which was debated extensively by the IT industry and EU member states, introduced a number of concepts that complement the interoperability framework, such as the interoperability strategy, the interoperability architectural guidelines and the European Infrastructure Interoperability Services (or EIIS),

While all the attention focused on the Interoperability Framework and what the adoption of (certain) open standards and open source might mean for the industry, few have given much attention to the EIIS. The document is conspicuous in its silence about what they really are, but looking at the overall interoperability architecture, they seem to be basic infrastructure services that may well be provided centrally, e.g. by a European Commission department or agency.

Interestingly, the EU program that is responsible for the European Interoperability Framework has recently morphed into a new program, called interoperability solutions for European public administrations (ISA). According to the relevant European Parliament resolution, ISA includes the operation and improvement of existing common services as well as the establishment, industrialization, operation and improvement of new common services, including the interoperability of public key infrastructures.

So, how far is this from being a precursor to a European government cloud? Of course this is a more ambitious and challenging endeavor than having all US federal agencies using a private cloud, However with individual member states being relatively quiet on cloud computing, ISA may prove to be timely.

Those who are waiting with interest and trepidation for what the European Commission will say on its next version of the European Interoperability Framework (which open standards? how much open source?) should also look at how these decisions relate to the less visible (but equally strong) ambition of running common infrastructure for member states.

Watch out for a Euro-cloud soon.

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  • The UK based National Health Service IT project has been widely reported as being the largest and most expensive IT undertaking in history. Seeking to provide nationwide services to the Health Service, it relies heavily on the creation of a large amount of centralised infrastructure, with a user base in the hundreds of thousands (the NHS is the largest single employer in the UK). Currently running into the tens of billions, contract and delivery issues have nearly taken some suppliers to the wall. Others have simply walked away or started litigation against the government agencies involved. This doesn’t bode well for Euro government cloud initiatives, especially when considering the very different stances some states have with regards to privacy and central storage of information on citizens. Commercial SaaS initiatives have had lower take up in Europe partly due to such concerns, particularly with any data centre which the US government may have jurisdiction over. Privacy and information sharing are key issues which Brussels vs UK / US don’t see eye to eye over.