Cloud Computing and the Sovereign Nation - Does "Global" Really Mean "Local"?

By | Sep 12, 2012

It's hard to miss the hype of cloud computing if you're a midsize IT pro; upper management types often hear the glories of the cloud extolled by both employees and outside agencies that want to provide always-on, super redundant, streamlined systems data storage and retrieval.

One key feature of the cloud that's hard to miss in any provider sales pitch is its global appeal - no matter a company's location or where its employees might need to travel for business, an Internet connection and the proper permissions grant access to sensitive company data, all safely stored elsewhere. But despite big talk about globalization, many national governments are now getting involved in the cloud discussion and many businesses are following suit. Going global is fine, they say, so long as their provider stays close to home.

Clouds and Borders

The desire of sovereign nations to have a hand in cloud computing is nowhere more apparent than the European Union - stricter privacy and information controls across the EU have caused problems for social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and foreign cloud providers often find themselves up against an unexpected wall when trying to sell their network brand. Take a recent example from France, reported on by a PCWorld article; the French government has not only invested in cloud providers using its sovereign wealth fund, the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, but in competing local cloud providers, Numergy and Cloudwatt. Both have the backing of French mobile phone operators and French IT vendors, and they pledge that customer data will be kept secure - within France's borders.

Part of this desire for local storage comes from fear of legislation like the U.S. Patriot Act, which could potentially force providers on American soil to disclose client information, even if their clients don't operate primarily in the United States. Fujitsu, which recently launched a cloud computing service in France, was keen on reminding customers that it was out of reach the Patriot Act and similar legislation, since its servers are in Germany and headquarters are in Japan.

For midsize IT pros, where their data resides may not be a top priority - at least at first. Though admins are often more concerned with the performance of a service rather than its location, heightened awareness of cloud security issues combined with increased posturing by federal governments about protecting their own interests means that where, not how, may become a key factor in cloud decisions.

The Case for "Colocation"

I recently spoke with Jelle Frank van der Zwet, Cloud Marketing Manager for Interxion, a European cloud-neutral provider. As an IBM business partner, the company is no stranger to the increasingly competitive global market for cloud services but when asked about the rise of large tech providers and the potential threats to Interxion's carrier and provider-neutral data centers, Frank made an interesting point: culture plays a role in the cloud. He noted that "there are many countries in which companies simply do not want to do business with providers that are not based in their own country and sometimes don't speak their language." That's not a surprise, when you think about it, but it's something that's often glossed over when we discuss the "universality" of technology.

Frank also spoke about the European landscape being an excellent fit for the company's "colocation" data centers - spread over 11 countries - that emphasize proximity to customers while also offering a range of provider options for businesses to choose. Interxion sees these data centers as one way forward in the cloud, allowing midsize businesses to select from a wealth of providers but still keep their data stored locally, something that satisfies increasing government scrutiny and allows businesses to forge ties with customers based both on service and physical location.

While the United States views data protection through the lens of search-and-seizure legislation like the Patriot Act, European nations prefer laws that prevent businesses operating within their borders from storing data beyond those boundaries. Both approaches have the same aim, however: the globalization of data access but local ownership of data servers. As a result, IT admins now need to consider not simply who will provide their cloud computing services but where the company operates, where the data will be stored and how consumers - and their national government - will react if more than just the network breaks borders.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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