Cloud Culture: How Cloud Attitudes Differ in Europe and North America

By George Reese
December 30, 2010

Based on the work I have been doing in cloud computing Europe, Asia/Pacific, and North America, people have been regularly asking me the questions, "How are attitudes towards cloud computing different in Europe?" and "How has cloud adoption differed in Europe from it's adoption in the United States?" In fact, I was asked back in September to write a blog on the differences I have seen in cloud adoption in Europe versus my experience in North America.

I've been putting this off for a while, however, because making such generalized comparisons can be very dangerous. There's always a counter-example to any general statement I might make. In the spirit of attempting to provide some useful insight, I have decided to attempt to write a blog entry and answer those questions as 2010 comes to an end. Be warned however that my answers cannot possible be THE answers—just my experience.

Innovation and Regulation

The most striking recurring theme I've encountered when working in Europe as opposed to the United States is how the two each approach the challenges of cloud computing.

As with any new technology paradigm, cloud computing introduces ways of doing things that challenges the models to which we are accustomed. I've discussed many of the key challenges in this blog—security, privacy, governance, and more. There are answers to all of these challenges, but the way in which people go about responding to these challenges seems to differ fairly radically between the United States and Europe.

When faced with a challenge like on of the ones described above, I often hear Europeans ask what kind of regulations the government can craft to help address the challenge. I've heard this a number of times in Europe, but never have I heard it in the US. Instead, I mostly hear from Americans either FUD (cloud... security... bad...) or I hear the question, "Who is solving that problem?" When Americans ask who, they mean "which entrepreneur", not "which government agency".

Cloud Adoption

Though there have been some important entrepreneurial exceptions, the United States has been largely responsible for early stage cloud adoption. By the most simplistic measure, Europe is about 12-18 months behind the United States in cloud adoption. In other words, Europe is where the United States was in mid-2009. As was the case in the United States in 2009, most of the companies adopting cloud today in Europe are Web 2.0/SaaS businesses or companies leveraging the cloud for dev/test. Though enterprise adoption began in earnest over the course of the past year in the United States, it's barely in it's most nascent stages in Europe.

The exception to this rule in Europe and, in general, across the world lies in the telecommunications sector. The major telcos in the United States have yet to offer the market any kind of compelling cloud computing vision on strategy. Companies like BT and Orange in Europe and KT in Korea, on the other hand, are significant drivers of cloud adoption in their respective markets. I have no idea what this means for the future of the cloud, but I do find it to be an interesting distinction that is bound impact the cloud world at some point.

Where Does This Take Us?

The cloud functions best without borders, but the world in which the cloud operates still has a number of cultural and jurisdictional boundaries to overcome. I suspect the cultural issues create a risk for breeding new jurisdictional issues. If you really want to operate at cloud scale, however, you will need to figure out how to bridge both.

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