A Flagship in the Cloud

The Commission recently launched a European Cloud Initiative. Many of you reading this may be aware of previous Commission-led efforts in this area; this blog aims to shed light.

In 2012 the Commission launched a cloud computing strategy to enable and facilitate “faster adoption of cloud computing throughout all sectors of the economy”. Work streams included work on standardisation, contract terms and certification schemes as well as public sector adoption of cloud computing.

In contrast, the new initiative is very much rooted in research policy. Put simply, it wants to make more data accessible more easily to more researchers – and, ultimately, business and public sector users as well – to get better results, including for the public good.

More relevant data is to be released, e.g. via turning a Horizon 2020 pilot on opening up research projects’ data into the default from 2017, or through the Earth observation system Copernicus. (This mirrors an earlier initiative to make public sector information available for everyone to use and benefit from.) On the infrastructure side, existing data storage and computing resources across many Member States and scientific disciplines are to link up more, e.g. the GEANT high-speed network or the PRACE supercomputing partnership. As the plan contains 3.5 billion euros for hardware, mostly supercomputing technology and data centres, many companies will be very interested in the next steps and the way these funds are going to be used concretely.

But there is also overlap – in 2012 the Commission was careful to avoid top-down standardisation or certification schemes so as not to stifle innovation or shut out smaller companies. Perhaps large, established players will be among those happy to hear that now “a suitable certification scheme will be designed at EU level to guarantee security, data portability, and interoperability”.


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Quantum Effects

The EU mainly funds individual researchers (through the ERC) or cross-border cooperation projects. But some ideas require a larger critical mass, so the “Future and emerging technologies (FET) flagships” initiative was created: one community, one decade, one billion euros. A two-year competition, started in 2011, whittled down 20+ candidates to 6 shortlisted favourites and finally two winners, the Human Brain Project and the Graphene flagship.

The new instrument was formalised in Horizon 2020 and in September 2014 the Commission specifically set out “the Flagship model and its implementation in the Union’s Research Framework Programmes” in a working document, also announcing that the Commission “will undertake an interim evaluation of the Flagships in 2017.”

So the announcement that the Cloud Initiative comes with 1 billion EUR to fund a flagship on quantum computing certainly is a surprise. It will be interesting to see what other scientific communities, not least those unsuccessful in the 2011-2013 competition, make of this bold decision.

Carl-Christian Buhr is Senior Director in FTI Consulting’s TMT team

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