HANNOVER, Germany-Cloud computing was the theme of this year’s CeBIT show. So it was a little strange when the most lucid description of what cloud computing is all about and how it affects Germany along with the rest of Europe came not from the assembled technologists, nor even from the CEO of IBM, but rather from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
This is not to suggest that it’s strange that Merkel should know what cloud computing is. After all, she is a highly regarded scientist in her own right. What’s strange is that there seems to be so little clarity elsewhere.
Merkel’s remarks came at the opening ceremonies of CeBIT where others tried to get their respective oars in the water first. Dr. August-Wilhelm Scheer, president of BITKOM, which is Germany’s Federal Association for Information Technology, tried to explain why businesses shouldn’t fear the cloud. But he never really explained what it was they weren’t supposed to be worried about.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave cloud computing a passing mention before launching into a tirade on European Visa policy, clearly embarrassing Merkel. IBM President and CEO Sam Palmisano avoided the issue completely and instead talked about Watson and the “Jeopardy!” television game show-a topic that apparently was unfamiliar to everyone in the audience except the relatively few U.S. visitors.
So the result was that the main theme of the trade show got only a short explanation on why Europeans shouldn’t fear the cloud or even care about it along with a bare-bones explanation of what the cloud actually is. It’s probably not surprising that European business and political leaders are dubious about the future of cloud computing.
The press conferences and seminars on cloud computing illustrated the issue more clearly than words ever could. When Microsoft held its massive press conference on its new cloud products, the topics started off with “What is the Cloud?” and “What is Cloud Computing.” The technology was being presented in terms for third-graders instead of being presented on solid business terms that the conference attendees might relate to.
Unfortunately, there’s more to the problem with the adoption of cloud computing in Europe than clueless vendors and vague worries. European business leaders have to contend with the EU’s privacy rules that very specifically forbid moving personally identifiable information about European citizens outside of Europe. That means, for example, that a cloud service provider has to make sure that the servers in use have to be inside the EU if that sort of information is going to be stored there.
It’s Time to Talk About Cloud Data Security
So it’s no wonder that cloud computing is fighting an uphill battle. On one hand, it’s generally agreed (and pointed out by Merkel) that it saves money and energy, improves efficiency and allows business to react to changing conditions more quickly. On the other hand, a lot of people in business don’t know what’s happening to their data because nobody seems to be able to say where it is.
Sound familiar? It should because most of the fears and misunderstandings about cloud computing are basically the same. While we don’t have the EU’s restrictions on where we can store personally identifiable information, we more than make up for it with SOX, HIPAA, GLB and PCI and a variety of other ways that somebody can lock you up or put you out of business in a heartbeat. Here, business people say they’re worried about security in the cloud, but isn’t it really the same thing?
The problem is that companies that sell cloud services and the machinery that cloud services operate on haven’t done a very good job of explaining what they do, and why it’s safe to do it that way. Some organizations have figured out the situation on their own, which explains why the U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest users of cloud services.
But the details that businesses care about, meaning the details that will keep them out of jail, just don’t show up in most explanations. Instead we see drawings, explanations and promises of efficiency. But no one has explained to businesses in the United States or in Europe that transient data, meaning data traveling across the Internet, is nearly impossible to intercept and if you use a good enough quality of encryption, it won’t matter if it is intercepted. Nobody can use the data anyway. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but the point is that data in the cloud is safe. Moving data between companies whether they’re in the same country or across the globe is safe as long as you take the trouble to make it safe in the first place.
In reality the truth isn’t that Europe is more afraid of the cloud than the United States. The truth is that everyone is afraid of the cloud. It doesn’t need to be this way, but to improve the situation we need to stop talking about the technology the cloud uses and instead we need to talk about how the cloud works in real companies in the real world and how it helps those companies operate effectively and safely.