Cloud computing holds great promise for customers and entrepreneurs in the United States and around the world. It offers users – including governments and enterprises – the opportunity to pay only for the computing they use rather than maintaining all their computing needs and resources themselves. For innovators, the cloud offers a greatly reduced cost of entry into a market heretofore dominated by big players. However, there are policy challenges to be addressed. Fully realizing this potential requires unprecedented cooperation between industry, consumers and governments to ensure individual privacy and data security and ensure confidence in the remote storage of critical information. Not all are optimistic about the future of cloud computing because of the centralization of personal information, concentrated threats to security and the questions it raises about national sovereignty. This panel, moderated by Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, explored opportunities and challenges of “the cloud.”
Details of the session:
There is a need for discussion about the opportunities and challenges of cloud computing in the public policy arena because of the popularity of platforms like Flickr, Facebook, fantasy sports leagues, Google and Amazon, according to panelists in a cloud computing workshop at the IGF-USA conference July 21 in Washington, D.C.
- John Morris, general counsel, Center for Democracy and Technology
- Dan Castro, senior analyst, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
- Jack Suess, vice president of information technology, University of Maryland
- Evan Burfield, chief executive officer, Synteractive
- Marc Berejka, policy advisor, office of the secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce
Cloud computing offers users — including governments and enterprises — the opportunity to pay only for the computing they use rather than maintaining all their computing needs and resources themselves. This allows innovators to have increased access to the market at a reduced price, increasing competition in the market.
“There is a definite trend to using cloud computing,” Castro said. “There are much lower start-up costs because they don’t have to pay for the infrastructure. It gives you the ability to scale up or scale down. “
A common question is if data posted on cloud computing platforms is secure. The risks to data security and integrity rise with transnational cloud computing. Cloud users often do not know which law enforcement rules apply to their data.
“They don’t even know for sure where the data is; they don’t know exactly what country the data is in,” Morris said. “The challenges of being a cloud computing service provider and how to respond to law enforcement requests are very significant.”
If a cloud customer lives in the United States, but her data is stored on a server in another country, does that make her data more or less secure? Will the laws of the other country alter her rights regarding the actions she takes online?
“I think we will move to seeing risks to free speech on the Internet due to cloud computing,” Morris said. “I think that cloud computing could lead to repression.”
The panel also discussed issued tied to cloud computing and intellectual property.
“As we do move into the cloud there is a question about if we want to protect copyright protection,” Castro said. “Can service providers do a better job? We have a lot of intellectual property in the United States that we care about.”
Panelists noted that cloud computing presents completely new challenges in regard to cybersecurity, copyright protection and free flow of information on the Internet. “In the 1990s, during the version 1.0 era, the government philosophy on the Internet was ‘hands off,’” Berejka said. “We are now truly globally interconnected; it’s not a theory any more. Our philosophy is still to do no harm, but that might not necessarily translate into doing nothing.”
Higher education is one industry that has found a way to take advantage of cloud computing platforms. The outsourcing of student e-mail is becoming common, broadband and advanced networking are available to many more participants and vendor and government support for federations like InCommon is increasing.
“A lot of universities are coming together and thinking about community cloud services,” Suess said. “Higher education likes to collaborate with one another but one of the things that is holding the cloud back is stability. And trust is another question.”
Small businesses are also able to take advantage of cloud computing platforms. Burfield’s company, Synteractive, has 45 employees. He said they have no servers, conduct all their e-mail business in the cloud, use Skype for meetings and use Facebook for marketing. His company created recovery.gov for President Obama’s administration. They built the platform on an Amazon-provided server in about a week, creating the entire platform in the cloud.
“For a small business like ours it’s a great competitive advantage that never existed before,” Burfield said.
Cloud computing is allowing small businesses to be competitive, but there are still limits to what cloud computing services can do.
“For the cloud computing revolution to really work for consumers we need for the industry to move to a world of robust data portability,” Morris said. “The real promise of cloud computing for consumers is innovation and competition. I hope that there is data portability so when a new service comes online I can take my data and try the new service.”