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Cloud looms large over government and business alike, says Microsoft

  • Publish Date: Posted 02 March 2010
  • Author: AP Group

Everyone seems to be talking about cloud computing at the moment. Why the sudden spike in interest?

It gives institutions more flexibility. They can easily call on IT capacity, add IT capacity, pay for it while they need it and then stop using and paying for it when they don't need it any longer. It also enables institutions to rely on the scale of companies in the industry. This is compelling when you consider SMEs.

The UK government is setting up a government cloud. What advantages will that offer?

It would make it easier to transfer and cross reference data with different parts of government. And it means smaller firms can get involved in public sector contracts because the infrastructure is already there. I can imagine specific situations where it's easier for SMEs to provide the one thing they do best, and that also helps keep an innovative edge.

What's happening over in the US at the moment?

The Obama administration in the US has had a particular interest in cloud computing since they took office a year ago. We now have a chief information officer for the Federal Government of the US. That position did not previously exist. The people in the White House focused on the Federal Government’s use of technology are very actively promoting cloud computing and encouraging federal departments and agencies to adopt it.

There is a belief and hope that cloud computing will be of great use in the healthcare field, for example. It certainly gives doctors and hospitas the ability to run applications and call on data in the cloud, and there is a hope that it will help drive down the cost of technology. There are similar aspirations in the education field as well. Frolm a variety of different perspectives, we are entering a new era for our industry, in which one of the dominant technology themes of the decade is all about the cloud.

What are the legal and regulatory issues behind any move to cloud computing? 

The truth is that often when you save data or run an application in the cloud, you do not necessarily know where that cloud happens to be. It is a fair bet that it is another country, which may be next door of half a world away, literally. We have to think about the issues that result from that. For example, a data retention directive in Europe says that each country in the EU will establish requirements for electronic communications services and require providers to retain data for a period of between six and 24 months... then you have to look at a specific country and ask how long it says you have to keep data. Not surprisingly, different countries have different rules and pick different periods of time.

What are the implications of this?

Suddenly we can find a situation in which multiple countries are trying to apply their laws to the same set of data, at the same time. There is a lack of clarity. There is, I would say, looming confusion, if not legal chaos, as to how to treat this. If it is not resolved, the outcome is likely to be a legal or regulatory world in which each government is likely to say they want their own cloud.

And what are the implications for individual privacy, both in relation to the private sector and the state?

There are two sets of issues, each of which are quite important. The first is what the cloud service provider will do with this information. Will they use it simply to operate the service or to send advertisements? They can use computers to read the documents and try to ascertain what people would be most interested in from the next advertisement. This notion is behavioural targeting and the use of that information by cloud service providers is certainly a looming policy issue.

Equally important is the balance of rights between the individual and the state. Many different governments obviously take many different views on this. If you have information in your desk drawer or on a hard disk in your bedroom, and the government comes to get it from you, the one thing you know is they have to come through your front door….In the US, one of the issues on which businesses as well as individuals have been quite focused is the degree to which their privacy rights will continue to apply in the cloud.

Written by Tom Young - Article originally published on