Nationalism is rearing its head in cyberspace. A proposal is gaining ground in France to build a federation of interconnected local computing clouds—funded in part by the government—to protect the country’s sovereignty, data privacy, and jobs. Some observers fear the idea could spread to other countries on the Continent, potentially undermining the promised benefits to Europeans of universal cloud computing, which is being billed as the biggest shift in information technology since personal computers were introduced in the 1970s.
The idea for a cloud à la Française is in part a backlash against American providers of cloud computing services such as Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft. As with Europe’s billion Galileo sat-nav system—an alternative to the U.S.-operated GPS—and various Old World search engine projects such as France’s Quaero, some Europeans worry about becoming overly dependent on American technology in key strategic areas.
On May 17, a group of French technology companies and businesses known as the Association for a Digital Economy in France (l’ADEN), called on local governments in France to partner with private companies to build a network of data centers and shared cloud platforms and services that would cater to the computing needs of French businesses, organizations, governments, and citizens. Such a network would provide an alternative to handing over data and processes to American providers. The group has suggested that the local cloud infrastructure could be built with the help of funds set aside for France’s “grand emprunt national,” a €4.5 billion economic stimulus package that will kick in at the end of next year.
Cloud computing is the term for a new form of distributed computing that allows consumers, enterprises, and governments to store their data and applications on remote networked servers, rather than on local computers and data centers, and to tap into computer applications and other software via the network—freeing themselves from building and managing their own technology infrastructure. In addition to reducing operational costs, analysts say the shift to cloud technologies allows radical business innovation and new business models.
Some industry experts in Europe believe only giants like Google and Amazon can achieve the necessary economies of scale in building the massive data centers that underpin the cloud. They fear that national projects will be white elephants and question whether big enterprise customers like Danone and Carrefour will be willing to pay the price of French sovereignty.