View From Above

October 10, 2011  10:33 AM

Microsoft’s conflicted cloud-mobile vision

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Microsoft has to have a conflict regarding how to proceed with mobile. On one hand, it is first and foremost a software company. Job One is to sell software and its primary focus is supporting Windows–and probably even more so on Windows Phone 7 where Microsoft is competing fiercely with iOS and Android.

And as a company, Microsoft surely wants users to buy Windows phones, but it has to know that at present their market share is fairly minuscule. That’s why when it comes a popular enterprise software package like SharePoint, it has to be conflicted.

Should it support iOS and Android versions of its more popular titles, and admit people might not be using Windows phones, or should it ignore these important rivals in spite of their huge market shares.

It’s probably fair to say that Microsoft’s instinct is to keep customers inside an all Microsoft-stack all the time. Who can blame them, but as we move into a consumer-controlled enterprise world, chances are that many users are going to want to buy iOS and Android products, no matter what IT might think, and if Microsoft is smart, it’s going to give in and provide access to its popular products from these platforms (or one of their many partners certainly will).

As Lubor Ptacek, vice president of Strategic Marketing and general manager of the Microsoft Solutions Group at Open Text told me Microsoft is coming up against the consumerization revolution like everyone else. Unlike in the recent past where everyone used the same phone and notebook computer in the organization, that’s not happening anymore and companies like Microsoft need to adjust to this shifting strategy.

That said, Microsoft continues to work both sides, releasing an iOS version of One Note for example earlier this year. But Microsoft should be supporting a product like SharePoint, which it claims has 125 million users worldwide, on any device users want to access it, and that’s currently not the case with the core product.

Neudesic is one company that has already built a product to give users access to SharePoint on a variety of mobile platforms. And that’s what the partner network is for of course, but Microsoft needs to have this kind of support built into the platform, and this is especially the case as Microsoft begins to develop a cloud-based version of SharePoint and a general company-wide cloud vision.

What is the point of being in the cloud if you don’t provide a full mobile-cloud experience across all of the major platforms — even those that might be competing with you on some level.

And that’s the problem that Microsoft faces as it attempts to compete as a phone OS. Google is an all-cloud company, so it works on every platform by default inside the browser (and also via platform-specific apps) and for Apple, iOS supports the hardware it’s trying to sell, rather than Microsoft’s software focus.

That’s why Microsoft faces this kind of predicament when it comes to mobile because while it wants people to use Microsoft products across a variety of platforms, it still wants to protect its own above all else, and that’s a tough way to do business if you want to build a complete cloud-mobile connection.

October 5, 2011  7:24 PM

Jobs’ Undeniable Influence on Mobile

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
~Don McLean, American Pie

By now, you probably know that Steve Jobs died tonight. I was going to write about something mundane like the differences in Microsoft and Adobe’s mobile-cloud strategies, but that can wait for another day. Tonight we come to celebrate Jobs’ undeniable influence on mobile computing.

If you think about it for a minute, he changed everything, first with the iPhone and later with the iPad. If you want to be technical about it, it all really started with iPod a decade ago, but the iPhone started a shift in the way we interact with one another and the Internet on cell phones.

It was the first touch screen mobile device with the perfectly wonderful awful idea of an App Store, a place where developers could sell small, distinct applications designed specifically to complete a simple task while taking advantage of the fact you were on a touch screen mobile device. It’s still a remarkable idea, and every phone that came after it that uses a touch screen including Android owes a deep debt of gratitude to the vision that Steve Jobs brought to the modern smart phone. And of course, the App Store phenomenon has spread rapidly and far.

Yet even surpassing the iPhone, was the iPad, which in many ways altered the entire computing landscape. To me, it’s still difficult to believe that this device which we take for granted now, was only released in April, 2010. Yet within months it started a trend called the consumerization of IT. People wanted their work applications to work as well and as smoothly as the iPad. You started to see devices like scanners with touch screens. It really did change everything.

And within months, you were starting to see its influence everywhere. Of course, there would be the parade of wannabes from Samsung, Motorola, Asus, Dell, RIM and HP (for about a month) and the Kindle Fire is on its way as well, but as with every touch screen that came after the iPhone, every tablet has to live up to the beauty and elegance of the iPad.

When I was at the SharePoint Conference this week, I saw a marketing rep trying to give away tickets for a raffle for an iPad 2 outside the convention center. A hard-core Microsoftee sneered at her with derision and spit out the words, “Why would I want that toy.”

As I walked toward the door I turned around and grinned at the guy and said, “Seriously?!” And he said, “Yes, it’s a toy. You ever try typing an email on there?” Well, it’s not really great for generating content because of the touch keyboard, but this man clearly missed the point of the iPad, and for that matter any tablet that comes down the Pike from here on out.

It is about media consumption, not media creation, and for that, there has never been a better device created in terms of size, weigh, screen quality, touch screen, applications and so forth that has come together as well as the iPad has up to this point.

We don’t really know what will happen to Apple in a post-Jobs world (or to any of us that cover and use mobile devices on a daily basis), but one thing is certain, he left a legacy that will never be matched.

And I don’t say that as post-death hyperbole. It is simply a fact. Jobs changed the world and not many of us can say that. Perhaps someone will come along some day with the intelligence, vision and spirit of Steve Jobs, but I fear when they made Mr. Jobs, they broke the mold and we won’t see the likes of him ever again.

It’s sad day for the world, but for those of us who cover mobile and cloud computing, it’s like the day the music died. And it really makes me wonder where we go from here.

Photo by Danny Novo on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

September 30, 2011  8:05 AM

The IT-Cloud Disconnect Remains

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
I came across an interesting post on the Cloudability blog the other day, the gist of which was that IT might not have a clue that their business users are accessing cloud services without their knowledge.

The Cloudability blog looked at a recent study by 37 Signals, the Base Camp folks, which found they had pretty decent traction inside big Fortune-level enterprise organizations including 37 of the Fortune 50, 68 of the Fortune 100 and 321 of the Fortune 500 — decent traction by any measure.

But where it gets more interesting is when the post author met up with an IT executive at a party and asked him about his IT cloud spend, he was told almost nothing. Interestingly enough, he writes he met up with a developer at the same company and asked the same question. The developer said, $5000.

This is a telling tale for a number of reasons. First of all, it illustrates that business users are probably using cloud services with or without the knowledge of the IT department and why wouldn’t they. These services are inexpensive and easily accessible and they don’t require IT intervention and all the bureaucratic implications inherent in dealing with a defined department.

Now, I don’t want this post to become an anti-IT rant because that’s really not what this about. Instead, it’s understanding how cloud computing has changed the way business users in some organizations (and from the 37 Signals poll results; quite a few of the top ones) have taken control of applications and service purchases because the cloud just makes it so easy to do that.

This is not a new theme. In fact, I was hearing this two years ago at the MIT CIO Conference panels where some CIOs insisted that their users weren’t using cloud applications and the cloud company executives on the same panel were saying, “Yes they are; you just don’t know about it because it doesn’t flow through you.”

Some may see this democratization or consumerization of IT services as chaotic, but if you can offload some of the more mundane IT tasks in this fashion argues Forresters Matthew Brown in a recent blog post,  it makes sense and lets IT concentrate on more important organizational tasks. Brown writes, “I for one would much prefer to see IT people working on stuff that adds net new value to the business.”

Hard to argue with that logic. For too long IT has had to worry about keeping the lights on instead of really taking a hard look at how technology can help the organization achieve its strategic business goals. If cloud computing in its various forms can free up IT to do more important work, that seems like a reasonable trade-off from a business perspective.

For now, it’s certainly telling that even now as we approach the end of 2011 and cloud computing begins to gain some maturity (or at least enters adolescence maybe?) that IT executives appear to be just as clueless about cloud usage in their organizations as they were two years ago when cloud computing was less well known in IT circles.

September 27, 2011  6:46 AM

Will patent wars eventually have an impact on mobile IT?

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

I’ve watched the patent wars unfold with a mixture of amusement and disgust. Amusement that big companies have nothing better to do with their money than sue one another, and disgust because that money could be put to better use such as research and development where it could help fuel mobile innovation.

As this infographic shows, anybody who is anybody is suing or being sued for patent violations. The highest profile cases involve the biggest names like Oracle versus Google (which is in negotiations stage right now with the two CEOs supposedly hashing it out) and Apple versus Samsung (and vice versa).

The latter has reached absurd levels as the courts in Germany ruled earlier this month that Samsung Galaxy Tabs had to actually be removed from store shelves.

It’s completely out of hand and it’s stifling real, meaningful innovation. What’s more, this idea that you can simply remove the competitors from the store shelves is down-right anti-capitalist. Let them both sit on the shelves and see which one consumers want. So far, consumers have voted overwhelmingly for iPad. What exactly is Apple afraid of here and what point does it serve by paying all these lawyers to hash this out day after day for years? Not much that I can see.

And that’s just one case. Then you have companies spending billions of dollars, not because they are actually interested in what the company does, but the patents it holds. Google bought Motorola Mobility last month, probably for a lot of reasons, but clearly one of the big reasons was they got a boat load of patents in the deal.

Then they can take the new patents and sue somebody like Oracle for a patent violation, at which point we have an old-fashioned stalemate and maybe everybody backs down (until the next time).

It’s enough to make developers and IT pros tear their hair out because they don’t know where any of this going. Suppose Apple were to win similar injunctions against the Samsung tablet and other competitors (like the upcoming Amazon one for instance) in other markets. In this consumerized IT world where more often than not it seems, users are choosing their devices, you might find yourself wasting your company’s time and resources learning to support devices that are no longer available because of a court decision.

And this isn’t just phones, it’s whole platforms. Don’t forget that Oracle is suing Google over Java patent violations regarding its implementation of Android. While this will likely only result in billions changing hands, and probably won’t have a huge impact on the platform itself, it’s disconcerting nonetheless to see two giants fighting like this over a popular mobile OS.

Regardless of any direct impact these lawsuits might have on you and your organization, eventually they have to hurt the market as a whole as more dollars are directed to buying patents, suing others and defending suits. It’s completely out of control right now, and in spite of some noise from politicians to the contrary, it doesn’t look like the situation is going to improve any time soon.

Unfortunately, there’s not much any of us can do, but to watch this blood bath play out ad nauseum until somebody does something to stop it.

And with nobody likely to step up soon, all we can do is hold on and hope none of us ends up as collateral damage.

September 22, 2011  10:04 AM

Win Phone 7 Mango Ready. Does it Matter?

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

Microsoft announced this week on its Windows Phone Blog that the long-awaited Windows Phone 7 upgrade, code-named Mango, will be rolling out in the next week or two. You need the Windows Phone Mac Connector or Zune for PC to upgrade existing phones. But the big question is does it matter when it comes to prospective customers?

IDC is predicting that Windows Phone market share will remain low this year, and I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever gain any serious traction. Nonetheless IDC is saying that the Windows Phone OS could account for 20 percent of total worldwide marketshare by 2015, lead by the upcoming partnership with Nokia.

But Nokia is having problems of its own as it sits in limbo waiting to release those Windows Phone 7 phones some time in the fourth quarter.  What’s more, it remains unclear if Nokia will have the market power necessary to drive Windows Phone 7 phone sales, especially after losing many customers in key markets including China, since announcing it was dropping support for Symbian earlier this year.

Still, PCworld reports that Mango is a significant upgrade with lots of enhancements including the ability to customize those trademark tiles you see on the front of Windows Phone 7 phones. What’s more, it firms up that crucial mobile-cloud link we like to talk about in this blog by reportedly having tighter integration with Microsoft’s cloud storage service, Skydrive.

But it remains to be seen if these enhancements will matter much to the market, or if it has moved on, content to buy Android- and iOS-powered phones, leaving Microsoft an also-ran that came late to the game.

Microsoft has to have a lot of things roll its way if it hopes to make that 20 percent marketshare by 2015 that IDC is predicting. First of all, it needs to roll out this update smoothly. The last thing it needs is reports of glitches as happened with an earlier update. Both consumers and IT pros need to believe that this is going to work well or they will choose an OS they can rely on.

Microsoft also needs its manufacturing partners to come up with some killer phones. Nokia has to design something really special right out of the gate. It can’t be simply a repeat of what we have seen before. It has to grab the attention of the market in a big way. Anything short of this, and the Windows Phone OS will remain in the back of the pack for some time to come.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised that IDC is making these predictions so far out into the future when so many factors can affect marketshare between today and 2015.

Whatever happens, Mango is probably not going to be the magic marketshare bullet that Microsoft is looking for. It’s going to take time and patience to build up a market for these phones, and there are no guarantees no matter how good they might be, that it will be enough.

As Android and iOS roll along, Microsoft will more than likely have to settle for third place well behind the market leaders, no matter what happens moving forward.

Image courtesy of Microsoft.

September 19, 2011  11:08 AM

The Rise of the Country Cloud

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
We’ve all heard of the private cloud and the public cloud Well how about a country cloud?

Last week a story surfaced about Deutsche Telekom (DT), the German telecommunications giant, asking German regulators to provide a certificate for German and EU companies that proves the data is protected from US government prying.

DT intends to offer customers a more secure alternative and it wants some certification system in place to prove it. Let’s face it, the EU has much more stringent privacy laws in place to protect companies from government interference with their data.

Many companies live in fear of placing their data on US servers because of the USA Patriot Act. Earlier this month,  I wrote a post, Patriot Act Casts Shadow on Cloud Computing, on the negative effects of the Patriot Act on cloud computing in the United States. As a result of the restrictiveness of the law, many countries and the companies that are based there will not do business with a cloud company if the data is going to be stored on US servers.

Bloomberg reported that Reinhard Clemens, DT’s division’s chief executive office sees this as a simple marketing advantage, one he intends to leverage with German companies. “Certain German companies don’t want others to access their systems. That’s why we’re well-positioned if we can say we’re a European provider in a European legal sphere and no American can get to them,” Clemens was quoted in Bloomberg.

Ben Kepes writing on Cloud Ave certainly seemed to be sympathetic when he wrote, “I’ve been saying it for years. US based cloud vendors, regardless of whether or not they have footprint outside of the US need to face up to the real concerns and risks that non US companies have when dealing with US located, or owned, infrastructure.”

It’s a point I made in my post on the Patriot Act when I wrote, “Regardless, companies and individuals outside the US remain distrustful of storing any data inside the US where it is subject to US laws.”

Kepes thinks a move such as the one DT wants to make could be seen as a trade barrier, but given the situation with the Patriot Act, it seems that it’s a reasonable one.

This gives rise to the notion of the “country cloud.” It’s like a private cloud for a country or region, though it’s counter to the idea of data moving freely across borders. Who can blame Deutche Telekom for taking this huge opening provided by growing concern of The Patriot Act outside of the US. I’m actually surprised somebody didn’t think of it sooner.

It highlights further my point in my earlier post, that one of the unintended consequences of this law was to hurt cloud computing business in the US and this new development proves that point far better than I could.

As more companies move to take advantage of this opening, large cloud infrastructure players in the US may start complaining to the government, and when that happens it will be interesting to see which political argument wins: business or security.

For now, we are left with an interesting starting point that could develop into a trend if the US doesn’t move to stop it.

September 15, 2011  10:14 AM

Trying to Read Between the Lines of Microsoft’s Cloud Play

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

As I read the litany of news streaming in from Microsoft’s Build Conference this week, one thing is clear. Microsoft appears to have bought into a cloud strategy, while suddenly grasping the Cloud-Mobile connection, but I can’t help but wonder if we’re being dazzled by the Microsoft hype machine, or if this is really a case of the leopard changing its spots.

The problem I have is Microsoft’s hype machine is always oh so good at demos and hype and shadows and light. How many times over the years have we seen what looked like something so promising launched at a conference like Build, only to find the cold reality of the release was something quite different.

I’ve been burned enough times to look at any Microsoft announcement with healthy dose of skepticism, but on its face, it appears that Microsoft is building a new system that combines desktop, mobile and cloud into one convenient little package, and if that’s true, it’s an amazing transformation for a company whose bread and butter has always been firmly entrenched on the desktop.

In a commentary on ExtremeTech, writer Sebastian Anthony wondered if we were ready for an all-cloud Microsoft world.

Windows 8, Windows Server, Windows Phone 7, Xbox, Bing, and Office, and each of their corollary utilities and tools, will all become “continuous services” — services that fully leverage Windows Azure and Live to provide a new level of context- and position-aware computing.

It certainly *sounds* like a company that has bought into the cloud-mobile vision, but as recently as last Spring when I attended a couple of different Microsoft events at the CeBIT conference in Hannover, Germany, I was struck by how they didn’t seem to get that connection, even while talking a lot about it.

Could the company strategy have changed that much in the months that followed? Not being at the Build Conference myself to get a first-hand look, it’s hard to make a judgment, but I can’t help but feel I’m missing something here.

Microsoft must certainly understand on one level that the future of computing is in the cloud, but is it truly forward-thinking enough to begin to wean itself off of itself highly lucrative desktop business? If it is, CEO Steve Ballmer is a smarter guy than I thought, and so far, I’ve seen nothing that would suggest to me that he suddenly became this brilliant visionary leader in a few months.

So you’ll excuse me if I take all of this cloud-mobile talk from Microsoft with a serious grain of salt. It could be I’m completely off base here and Microsoft has really turned it around, that the future is really all about the cloud for them and that they completely understand how to integrate a desktop-cloud-mobile experience, but if history is right, there’s probably a lot more talk and less action. But in the event I’m wrong, I’ll happily admit it and tip my cap to them for understanding the future of the market in spite of the leap of faith that obviously takes.

But something tells me we should step back and wait and see because it’s one thing for Microsoft to say something at a conference, but it’s another thing altogether for them to deliver it in the finished product. And until I see proof of that integration in action, count me as an unconvinced observer.

September 14, 2011  9:34 AM

Are Cloud Security Concerns Overplayed?

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

For as long as I’ve been hearing the term “Cloud Computing” the biggest concern has always been security, especially if you are handing the keys to the kingdom over to an external vendor, but I’m wondering if these concerns are overplayed to a large extent — and so is former US CIO Vivek Kundra.

The story goes if you want to secure your content, you need to keep it inside the confines of your firewall because anything less is exposing your precious data to outside forces. Now I don’t mean to minimize these concerns because certainly some companies, regulated industries in particular, have to keep these concerns top of mind, but are security concerns really valid?

It’s a question Kundra asked recently during an exchange with CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce 11,’s huge user conference. According to a report on, Kundra, who has been a big advocate for cloud solutions in the government, belittled the idea that security was a reason to stay away from the cloud.

In fact, he sees the security argument as a red herring:

In other areas, what you get is a false choice; people erect these barriers around security and privacy, which in some ways are very unfounded. And the reason I think they’re unfounded and ridiculous in a lot of ways is because the United States government already has outsourced over 4700 systems.

And it’s a valid point. He goes onto suggest that these systems are often built by highly paid systems integrators — some of whom might have a lot at stake to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about cloud computing.

Yet how many private companies outsource many of their own services? How many companies for instance do their own payroll anymore? Even very small companies tend to outsource this kind of activity because it’s easier to have someone else do it. Yet that means these payroll companies have access to your employee’s names, addresses, salaries, social security numbers and a lot of other highly confidential information outside your firewall.

And yet we rarely if ever hear anyone getting up and claiming its crazy to outsource your payroll data because you could be compromising your employee’s privacy and crucial company information.

Heck, what better example of cloud computing is there than When it launched in the late 90s, did you think it would be common place a decade later to store your most important customer information on another company’s servers? Now thousands of companies, big and small, do just that.

My favorite cloud security story comes from the MIT CIO Conference in 2009. As I explained in a post on DaniWeb at the time, Rear Admiral Elizabeth Hight, vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency fully embraced the cloud, and in fact described the first private cloud I had ever of at the time, used by military personnel in the field to access services they needed quickly and relinquish them when no longer needed.

What was interesting though was not just that the military was on the cutting edge of cloud computing, but that a drug company executive on the same panel complained the cloud wasn’t secure enough for her. As I wrote:

Panel moderator, Erick Brynjolfsson of the MIT Center for Digital Business did not miss the irony that the military, which requires perhaps the most secure network in the world was not afraid to engage in cloud computing, but the private sector company CIO claimed she was handcuffed by regulations around security.

The point being that 2 years later, we’ve come a long way, and cloud computing has matured remarkably quickly. Yet we are still being subjected to what Kundra sees as misleading arguments about security, and he may be right that it’s time to move on.

September 9, 2011  8:51 AM

Let’s Not Name Amazon Tablet Champ Just Yet

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
As we await the arrival the long anticipated 7-inch Android-powered tablet from Amazon, I am continually amazed to see press and analysts ready to call it the iPad killer — mostly because every tablet that has been manufactured to date has been called that, only to fail miserably.

But this one is different folks, and why? Well mostly because it has the retail clout of behind it and that makes all the difference in the world — or so they are saying.

You can look this a couple of ways I suppose. The other players — whether we are talking Samsung, Motorola, RIM and for a brief time HP — all came from hardware perspective. From what I’ve read, they all performed well, but they lacked something on the software side and so far at least have been no threat to Apple.

Now we have a company that understands online retail perhaps better than any organization on the planet producing a tablet. Amazon doesn’t have the same level of consumer electronics experience that the other players have, although they have had some success with the Kindle (to the extent we can know that since Amazon doesn’t actually share sales figures).

Amazon has also smartly created an App store ahead of the launch of the device, and according to Venture Beat launched with 3800 Android Apps in March — without a device to run them, mind you. The dearth of software has been a big flaw in the other tablet offerings, so this is a smart move on Amazon’s part, I have to admit.

And I can see that  Amazon has a compelling three-prong strategy with it’s retail clout, its hardware ready to roll and an App Store that has at least a few thousand apps, maybe more at this point.

All good, but does it mean that it is somehow going to magically blow Apple away because it enters the market. There are no guarantees in life and just because Amazon enters the market doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be a smashing success.

Yet the tech press and analysts alike are falling all over themselves to say how successful this thing is going to be…sight unseen mind you (except for MG Seigler at TechCrunch who claims he got to play with one).

I’m here to present the contrary view on this. First of all, let’s wait until we all see it before we start predicting sales of 3 or 4 million in a quarter as Forrester’s Sarah Epps has predicted.

The other thing is that I don’t see this device as necessarily competing directly with the conventional tablet market (i.e., Apple, Samsung, Motorola, etc.) so much as the Barnes and Noble Nook. The Nook Color beat the Amazon device to market by almost a year (perhaps a full year by the time we see the Amazon offering). It too boasts a full-color screen and runs Android. Its chief purpose in life of course is to sell books, but being a full tablet-like device you can cruise the Internet and do other things you can do on the tablet.

I’m guessing that this is what the Amazon tablet will be like. It will be a Kindle with some special powers to cruise the Internet and a touch screen.

I’m not saying Amazon can’t have a very successful run here because anything is possible (especially at a low price), but I am suggesting that we wait and see because as we have seen in the tablet market so far, it has been Apple and everyone else, and Apple is front and center until somebody has the chops to move them aside.

I’m not convinced will be that company, but only time will tell if that’s the case.

September 7, 2011  2:02 PM

Patriot Act Casts Shadow on Cloud Computing

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it’s worth looking at a piece of legislation that was passed into law less than two months after the attack — The USA Patriot Act — and its impact on cloud computing.

The Patriot Act was intended to give US government and law enforcement authorities broad investigative powers under the guise of preventing such an attack from recurring. Whatever you think of this law, the law of unintended consequences certainly applies here because as a result of these broad enforcement powers, many individuals and companies outside the US no longer want to store their data on US soil.

And this has cast a pall on certain types of commerce, especially cloud computing — a concept to be fair, that wasn’t even really thought about back in 2001 when the legislation was drafted.

Of course, to the extent the US Congress understands any technology, cloud computing certainly was more mature when the 4-year reauthorization was passed earlier this year.

Regardless, companies and individuals outside the US remain distrustful of storing any data inside the US where it is subject to US laws.

And Europe, which has strict privacy and data protection laws, has not taken kindly to this law. John Newton, who is chief technology officer at Alfresco and an American expatriate living in England says Europeans tend to distrust US law enforcement under the best of circumstances and the Patriot Act didn’t help matters.

“Europeans tend to be suspicious of US regulatory and law enforcement since many aspects of American and European legal and law enforcement practices are incompatible and inconsistent in more areas than just Cloud Computing,” he said. “The Patriot Act just exacerbates this problem,” he added.

And in my experience hearing from Europeans about cloud computing, this has held true. In fact, as far back as 2008, I remember attending the Evening in the Cloud at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston. The event included representatives from Google, and explaining the advantages of the cloud at a time when it was a new concept to many. At the open microphone part of the night I recall at least one person from Europe stating that as long as data was stored on servers inside the US, there was no way he was considering using these services — because of fear of the broad power given US authorities by the Patriot Act.

Last year at CeBIT in Hannover, Germany, I heard a similar story at events throughout the conference, and in spite of my annoyance at still hearing questions about security and adhering to EU privacy laws holding back cloud computing, people and companies in Europe are put off from doing business with US cloud companies because of the privacy implications inherent in the USA Patriot Act.

And it’s not just Europeans, Canadians aren’t too fond of the law either. Cheryl McKinnon, a Canadian citizen and a consultant who works with the Canadian government around content and document issues, says with so much shared business and cultural tradition between the US and Canada, it’s easy to forget there are major differences around privacy and data protection between the two countries.

In fact, Canada has its own sweeping privacy law that according to McKinnon “requires that all businesses (and government agencies) must ensure that the personal information gathered from customers, citizens or employees are handled in a way that protects privacy” — and that means they can’t do business with any business with US-based servers due in large part to the Patriot Act.

Lubor Ptacek, who is VP of strategic marketing at Canadian company Open Text says the Patriot Act has prevented many people outside the US from using cloud services. “The [Patriot Act] grants the US government sweeping search authority that is scaring away many well-intended users and businesses.” He adds, “While the ‘safety over privacy’ principle may be acceptable in the United States, most Canadian businesses have a much lower level of tolerance for government intervention in private enterprise and we get the same sentiment from our customers in Europe.”

So 10 years after it was passed, this law designed to protect the public from an external terrorist attack, has also cast a long shadow on cloud computing commerce that continues to this day.

Although cloud computing services are clearly thriving, to make them truly useful in today’s connected world information needs to be able flow freely across borders, and this law remains a huge obstacle to such a vision.

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