In 2009 the EC DG Information Society and Media, Software and Services convened an expert group on CLOUD Computing, moderated by Burkhard Neidecker-Lutz of SAP Research and Keith Jeffery of ERCIM, with Lutz Schubert of HLRS as rapporteur and Maria Tsakali as the responsible EC official. The report surveys the current situation of CLOUDs being used both privately within an organisation and as a service external to an organisation. It characterises different kinds of CLOUDs (both existing and future) leading to a list of open research issues that need to be addressed.

From left: Burkhard Neidecker-Lutz, Keith Jeffery, Maria Tsakali and Lutz Schubert.
From left: Burkhard Neidecker-Lutz, Keith Jeffery, Maria Tsakali and Lutz Schubert.

A cloud representation has commonly been used in ICT to indicate abstraction or virtualization (eg of a network) and it is this very characteristic that Cloud computing possesses. The system details and management are hidden from the end-user enabling easy outsourcing and utilization of resources. CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) is turned into OPEX (Operational Expenditure) reducing capital expenditure or loan interest. ICT is procured on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. This not only reduces costs for resource maintenance, but also reduces the risk involved in new product inception, which is one of the major attractions of Clouds. The special capability of Clouds thereby rests on the dynamic and potentially unlimited scalability (both up and down, horizontally and vertically).

The Cloud environment can take one or more of several forms: IaaS (infrastructure as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), AaaS (application(s) as a service) or a totally outsourced ICT capability. Cloud capabilities can implicitly be used to improve the energy efficiency of datacenters, thus supporting the “green ICT” agenda.

Along with the advantages come concerns which need to be addressed for Cloud computing to enjoy significant take-up. The technological problems include: security, trust and privacy; lack of standardisation and therefore supplier lock-in; insufficient virtualization to provide real hiding of systems management (especially in resource sharing/failover) although some PaaS offerings such as Google AppEngine are addressing this issue; data movement and management; programming and system models to provide the required elasticity; systems / services development methods.

There are also non-technological concerns, mainly business / economic / cost models for Cloud computing (including ‘green ICT’ aspects) that are robust and realistic; legalistic issues concerning data processing, transmission and storage in another country or multiple countries and/or using an outsourced service.

However there are major opportunities for Europe in Cloud computing: large companies – especially but not exclusively the telecommunications industry – could provide Cloud services; development by companies (especially SMEs) of products in an open market in Cloud services matching that in goods, services, human capital and knowledge; provision of business model and legalistic expertise (including ‘green ICT’) to accompany the use of Cloud computing.

Are Clouds the next ‘big thing’ in ICT? Clouds are often compared with GRIDs, SOA, Cluster computing and similar technological approaches of the Future Internet. And indeed, CLOUDs typically comprise aspects from all these areas, thus offering improved capabilities for service offering and management. Through its potential globalisation and on demand utilisation, it also offers new business and legalistic models to cost / benefit of ICT.

Clouds within an organisation permit optimisation of ICT in one datacenter (almost certainly replicated – probably externally - for business continuity) increasing resource utilisation and offering server hibernation or switch off varying with demand. This reduces maintenance / systems administration, capital expenditure and energy consumption. The usual business model is that departments in the organisation buy (through internal accounting) services provided in the Cloud so having better cost-management of their ICT; similarly the ICT department is more efficient.

Clouds external to an organisation permit outsourcing of some or all of its IT to another organisation providing the service (and probably providing such a service to several other organisations – multi-tenancy). The customer organisation concentrates on its primary business and treats ICT as a utility service.

Many of the individual research challenges (both technological and non-technological) found in Cloud computing have been addressed through national R&D programmes and the EC framework programme. However, what is needed is to bring these results together in an integrated – and ideally standardised - framework.

The expert group report requests the EC to support R&D in the technological aspects and to set up the required governance framework for Clouds to be effective in Europe. Subsidiary recommendations include the provision of testbeds, joint collaboration groups across academia and industry, standardisation and open source reference implementation (rather like W3C) and the promotion of open source solutions.

If Europe can address and solve the research issues Cloud computing offers a significant opportunity – both for the ICT industry and for commercial activity utilising Clouds.

The final report of the Cloud Computing expert group convened by the European Commission DG Information Society and Media, Software and Services is available for download at

Keith Jeffery, Burkhard Neidecker-Lutz, Lutz Schubert and Maria Tsakali

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