This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the Guardian today
We are rapidly entering into an era where massive computing power, digital storage and global network connections can be deployed by anyone as quickly and easily as turning on the lights. This is the promise – and the reality – of cloud computing which is driving tremendous change in the technology industry and transforming how we do business in Europe and around the world.
Cloud computing unlocks innovation within organisations of all types and sizes. No longer do they need to spend valuable human and capital resources on maintaining and procuring expensive technology infrastructure and datacenters, they can focus their most valuable resources on what they do best, building better products and services for their customers. Europe’s fastest growing start-ups, like Spotify, Soundcloud, Hailo, JustEat, WeTransfer and Shazam, through to some of the region’s largest, and oldest, enterprises, like Royal Dutch Shell, Schneider Electric, SAP, BP and Unilever, through to governments, education and research institutes, all are using cloud computing technologies to innovate faster and better serve their customers and the citizens of Europe.
According to a study from the center for economics and business research, the expected cumulative economic effects of cloud computing between 2010 and 2015 in the five largest European economies alone is around € 763 billion . Analyst firm IDC notes the cloud economy is growing by more than 20% and could generate nearly € 1 trillion in GDP and 4 million jobs by 2020 . The change being driven by cloud computing has become so significant that many of Europe’s policy-makers are debating the best policy approaches to enable broad success with cloud computing across the continent.
The European Commission has taken a lead in this discussion and is recognising the benefit cloud has for the European economy and the role it can play in building a global competitive advantage, ongoing prosperity, and world-leading innovation for Europe’s commercial and public sectors. In 2012, the European Commission set up the European Cloud Partnership (ECP), an initiative that brings together technology leaders, cloud users, both private and public sector, and policy-makers to recommend how to establish a Digital Single Market with no walls for cloud computing in Europe. As a member of the steering board of the ECP, and someone who has been working with the European Commission on their cloud strategy for many years, I am privileged to help contribute to the collaboration on how to promote and shape cloud computing in the region.
With the recent publication of the ECP’s Trusted Cloud Europe vision, which encourages cloud adoption in the region, I wanted to give the AWS view of the ECP’s vision and define a high level approach of the elements needed to continue to drive adoption of cloud computing across Europe. I believe that many of the elements needed for cloud computing to be successful in the region focus on values that are core to all of us as Europeans. As a Dutchman, I hold European values in close regard - values such as the right to a fair and democratic society, and a strong protection of privacy and freedom. Cloud computing – done right –enables broad expression and realization of these European values, especially when combined with a business model that puts customers first. One of the key themes of the ECP’s vision document is the call for a cloud computing framework that focuses on customers and empowers Europeans. As a senior member of the Amazon team, focusing on customers is something I know well.
When Amazon launched, nearly 20 years ago, it was established with the mission to be Earth's most customer-centric company. This means giving customers’ choice - where they can find and discover anything they might want to buy online and offering the lowest possible prices - bringing products to everyone at an affordable price point. This customer focus permeates every part of the Amazon business where we will not do anything unless the customer is going to benefit directly. We also know that if we do not live up to this customer-first promise, and constantly strive to give the best service, they are free to walk away. This puts the power in their hands and constantly keeps us focused on delighting our customers.
For cloud computing to be successful in Europe, providers must hold exceeding customer needs as a core value. The easiest way to accomplish this is to put the power in the hands of the customer with no minimum or long term commitments. This means they have the freedom to walk away at any time if they don’t get the service that they expect. They also have the freedom to use as much or as little of the cloud services they want and only pay for the resources used. For too long customers have been locked in to long term service contracts, costly capital outlays that require equipment upgrades every two-three years, and expensive software licensing fees from ‘old guard’ technology vendors. Being customer focused means ridding European businesses and organizations of these handcuffs and democratizing technology so that anyone has access to the same, world-class technology services on demand. This brings large amounts of the latest technology resources, something that was previously a privilege of the world’s largest companies, into the hands of organizations of all sizes.
I have also seen some antiquated thinking attempting to undermine the important work that the ECP is doing in other ways. We have heard calls in some corners to develop a cloud computing framework in Europe to protect the interests of ‘old guard’ technology vendors and the way that IT “used to be” procured leading to the same expensive contracts, just disguised as cloud. I disagree and think this goes against the ethos of the ECP’s focus which is that cloud computing should serve the customers and citizens of Europe, not shareholders of technology companies. Focusing on lowering prices for Europeans will boost the economy and prosperity of local businesses as more capital can be allocated to innovation -not activities that don’t differentiate businesses, such as the overhead of managing the underlying IT infrastructure. As a result of affordable cloud resources we are already seeing centres of innovation and excellence, emerging in London, Berlin, Barcelona and Stockholm that are beginning to rival Silicon Valley. If we continue to focus cloud computing on lowering the barrier of entry and cost of failure for customers we will see more companies experimenting and exploring things previously not possible. More experimentation drives more invention and ultimately more centres of innovation appear. This is vital to Europe’s ongoing leadership in the world economy.
Finally, one of the core messages we have been taking to the ECP is the call to put data protection, ownership, and control, in the hands of cloud users. For cloud to succeed, and realise its potential, it is essential that customers own and control their data at all times. Recent news stories have brought this topic to the fore. Customers, governments and businesses, large and small alike, have concerns about the security, ownership and privacy of their data. If they are not addressed, these concerns have the potential to undermine the pervasive adoption of cloud computing and the resulting benefits to the European business community. At AWS we decided on day one to put this control in the hands of our customers. They own the data – they choose where to store the data and their data would never be moved to optimise the network. This means that European customers using the AWS Cloud can choose to keep their data in Europe. We also give customer’s tools and techniques to encrypt their data, both at rest and in transit, and manage their secret keys in such a way that it is the customer who completely controls who can access their data, not AWS or any other party. Content that has been encrypted is rendered useless without the applicable decryption keys.
For cloud technology to be successful, and fulfil its potential to fundamentally change the European digital landscape, it must benefit the many, not the few. We have seen this with the rapid rise of the internet and we will also see this with cloud computing if we put the power in the hands of the customer. We echo the ECP’s call to focus a cloud computing framework on customers and removing barriers and restrictions to adoption in order to pave the way for increased prosperity of European businesses and provide access to high quality, secure, and trustworthy cloud services across Europe.
Cloud computing is not a technology of the future, it is a technology of today. I commend the European Commission and the ECP in recognising the potential cloud computing has to be a job creator, a driver for the economy, and a catalyst of innovation across Europe. The launch of the Trusted Cloud Europe vision is an important milestone as it will help accelerate cloud adoption in the region while helping to ensure customer-focused tenants at the core of cloud provider’s strategies. European customers were amongst the first to adopt AWS cloud technologies when we launched in 2006 and we look forward to continuing to work with the customers and policy-makers, as we help more companies in Europe reach their potential through cloud computing.