The Stack Archive

Europe presents its blueprint for the future of cloud, data and technology in the EU

Tue 19 Apr 2016

The European Commission has launched a network of elaborate plans to transform the face of cloud and data in the EU over the next decade, in a series of initiatives which will spread out from the academic sector into government, business and retail – at a cost of €50 billion, for an eventual anticipated return of €110 billion over five years.

The Commission’s plan to digitise industry takes in a number of separate initiatives, several of which in themselves are seeking to consolidate smaller projects at the member state level. The initiative is backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), which currently represents €21 billion of capital, and is placed to provide resources which would usually be unavailable to individual EU states – and is intended to help those EU countries with no current initiatives to ‘leapfrog’ the steps already taken by their neighbours.

The plan is divided into four parts: €37 billion to boost digital innovation via digital public-private partnerships between now and 2021; €5.5 billion towards national and regional investment in digital innovation hubs; €6.3 billion to create the first ‘production lines of next-generation electronic components; and €6.7 billion towards the European Cloud Initiative (ECI).

Standardising cloud and data services

The ECI has a significant remit which will take shape among the academic communities of Europe to evolve the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) and the European Data Infrastructure (EDI).

EOSC will provide facilities for 1.7 million researchers and 70 million science and technology professionals to make use of virtual environments to store and analyse data across borders and across scientific disciplines. Part of its mission is to help establish common data specifications and protocols in order to establish interoperable infrastructure and data solutions, particularly among the current disparate standards operating across European universities.

According to today’s release, an additional intention is to help provide high-speed network infrastructure for high performance computing within the EU.

The Commission states that data sharing ‘is the corner stone of modern science and innovation.’ And continues ‘Making research data openly available can not only help scientists to produce better research, but also help boost Europe’s competitiveness by benefitting start-ups, SMEs and companies which can use data as a basis for research and development and innovation.’

Paying for data in Europe

When the fruits of the project broaden out from academia into the public and private sectors, there is some intention to monetise the data, if not the resultant infrastructure, and the Commission states that not all data ‘will necessarily be free’, due to the legitimate rights of IP holders.

EOSC will roll in a new system for the clearing of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regarding data-set access, with a ‘pay per use’ tolling system mooted in order to sustain the scientific research underpinning the scheme.

The European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, known as Horizon 2020, is yet another component of this labyrinthine European initiative, which also takes in the Innovation Union. All scientific data from research projects under Horizon 2020 will be open by default from 2017, with caveats for existing copyright agreements.

The European Data Infrastructure is likely to have the most immediately obvious effect across Europe, with €3.5 billion committed to levelling the (currently very uneven) network capabilities across the union.

Five keys areas the Commission has identified for attention in the next five years are: 5G connectivity; the Internet of Things (IoT); cloud; data; and cybersecurity technologies.

A standard for IoT across the EU

One key impetus of the initiative is to establish physical as well as digital European standards for IoT connectivity, with the ambitious goal that IoT devices have significant standardisation between them before the rapidly-developing IoT market coalesces into a series of vendor lock-ins.

Currently standards are created via industry consortiums on a voluntary basis, but the EU has it in its power to mandate the three European Standard Setting organisations (CEN/CENELEC/ETSI) to set standards for the single market.

‘IoT devices and services should be able to connect seamlessly and on a plug-and-play basis anywhere in the EU, and scale up across borders. The right standards for interoperability must be available. To ensure convergence of standards and interoperability in this field, the Commission has proposed several actions under this package’

The intention is also that IoT ecosystems develop consistently through open environments, and even talk of a ‘Trusted IoT Label’ – as well as ensuring that IoT development proceeds with consideration of European standards for data privacy from the outset – what the Commission calls a ‘human-centred IoT’.

(On a side note, it will be interesting to observe the prevalence – or not – of new European standards as the scientific communities of Europe, the U.S. and Asia cross-fertilise their findings, and resist or adopt standards from other continents.)

In familiar European style, this €50 billion initiative is constituted of a vast string of committees, organisations and interests, resulting in so many crossovers between government, academic and the private sector that even monitoring its progress seems likely to need new scientific techniques.

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