Microsoft’s Economics of the Cloud – What about societal governance?

“Cloud computing brings the benefit of unprecedented economies of scale to IT operations. The combined impact of these economies of scale [supply side, demand side and multi-tenancy] can result in long-term savings of up to 80% when comparing large and small clouds”  concludes a report published by Microsoft in November.

The report gives a good analysis of how cloud computing can greatly benefit sustainable growth in the EU.  In a time when budgets are tight for governments and industry it is very welcome to see that cloud computing can do much more for the same amount of money and I agree that the EU should develop a strategy for Cloud implementation in the coming decade.

The report makes a distinction between public and private clouds based on whether the IT resources are shared between many distinct organizations (public cloud) or dedicated to a single organization (private cloud). But how clear is this distinction? Are the clouds of Google and Facebook, where internal company processes are as important as the services provided to the customer, public or private?

I consider the “Cloud” the essential pervasive IT infrastructure for the future digital society, hence we must think deeply about the governance of such an infrastructure. The report does not mention at all where the investments for the cloud infrastructure must come from and little about its governance. Reading about Microsoft’s cloud, it seems to be a public cloud, privately owned by Microsoft, different from potential government clouds that could be public and publicly owned. Of course the latter might not be very realistic in a time where the public ownership of clouds of financial banks gives governments already enough headache.

There are important questions left though: do we want the largest ever societal infrastructure being (almost) fully privately owned? Will this lead to private walled gardens which will lock us in the owners power space?  Will such infrastructure be transparent and their owners accountable and auditable? Will security and integrity of information and our privacy be assured? Or said differently: will the citizen be a respected customer in a trustworthy cloud, or will her data only be a product sold from one enterprise  to another for their profit?

The report mentions problems and concludes: “Many technology case studies show that, over time, concerns over issues like compatibility, security, reliability and privacy will be addressed.”  But such optimism may defeat the truth of it. There are many deep and justified concerns on the governance of our future digital world.

This excellent report on the economics of the cloud begs for a parallel societal debate on the place of individual freedom in and the governance ofthe future digital infrastructure.

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About digitrusteu
Independent consultant in the area of Trust and ICT. Secretary General of Digital Enlightenment Forum VZW, Belgium Formerly Head of Unit at the European Commission, ICT Progamme, Trust and Security

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