The head of the European Commission's digital agenda has put interoperability and standards at the forefront of the cloud computing agenda.
"Users must be able to change their cloud provider as fast and easily as changing one's Internet or mobile-phone provider has become in many places," said Commissioner Neelie Kroes at the launch of Microsoft's cloud computing center in Brussels on Tuesday. "Interoperability is essential for the cloud to be fair, open and competitive.
"International standardization efforts will have a huge impact on cloud computing. Open specifications are a key in creating competitive and flourishing markets that deliver what customers need," she added.
This echoes some of the concerns of industry. "Migration is the biggest obstacle to be overcome in cloud computing," said Jan Wildeboer, Red Hat evangelist, on Wednesday. "Although 80 percent of current cloud offerings are based on open source, if your data is in the cloud, is it still your data?"
Although various cloud certification programs and benchmarks have been launched, there is still no de facto standard for moving workloads or data among different clouds. This difficulty can amount to an effective lock-in, undermining the very flexibility that makes cloud computing so appealing.
The Commission, the European Union's executive and regulatory body, has recognized this and is taking steps to get the major stakeholders involved with a consultation to be launched in the coming months. "It is going to take partnership between industry and government, and European leadership," said Kroes, while acknowledging that the "Holy Grail" is a global solution.
With international IT giants such as Dell, Citrix and Amazon all looking for a slice of the cake, consensus could prove difficult. But imposing standards only on a European Union level is unlikely to be effective given the distributed nature of the cloud.
Formal consultations on European cloud computing will take place in Brussels on May 23, as well as online. The feedback from these consultations will form the basis of the Commission's strategy on cloud computing.