Buckle up for a new wave of cloud protectionism

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Add France to the list of European countries pushing a nationalistic cloud computing agenda, one that could have huge repercussions for U.S.-based cloud powers and the nature of cloud computing in general.

France Telecom is partnering with Thales SA, a maker of aerospace systems and industrial electronics, to build a homegrown cloud to offer built-in-France software, according to a Bloomberg news report.

And the verbiage is getting heated.

“It’s the beginning of a fight between two giants,” Jean-Francois Audenard, the cloud security advisor to France Telecom, told Bloomberg.  Audenard added:

It’s extremely important to have the governments of Europe take care of this issue because if all the data of enterprises were going to be under the control of the U.S., it’s not really good for the future of the European people.

The impetus or justification comes from the U.S. Patriot Act, which allows U.S. law enforcement to force disclosure of cloud-based data if they perceive a security threat. Last spring Microsoft said that it would have to hand cloud data over to U.S. authorities if asked, even if it resides in the company’s European data centers.

Such statements obviously caused consternation in the European Union, especially in Germany, which has much tighter data privacy laws than most countries.

In September, Reinhard Clemens, the CEO of Deutsche Telekom’s T-systems group, said local regulators should enable super secure clouds to be built in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. He cited pent-up demand among customers who do not want their information accessible to the U.S. government.

Some in the U.S. will cry protectionism as American companies ranging from Google to Microsoft to Facebook now lead the universe in creating very efficient data centers to run their massive cloud operations. If EU countries all proceed along this path, there could be severe repercussions not only for these companies but also for the value of cloud computing.

And this Europe-first policy, if it takes hold, is risky for the Europeans as well. According to a new report from Informa, the European telecom operators that are pushing this strategy “risk being sidelined in the global cloud computing market as aggressive North American and Asian operators spend billions to build international presence.”

The Informa Telecom Cloud Monitor shows that these European operators make up just 7 percent of the world’s overall cloud assets as of 2011, while their North American and Asian counterparts account for 90 percent.

As GigaOM reported last month, U.S. tech giants aren’t taking this threat lying down. Google, IBM, Citi and several other large U.S. tech and banking companies are lobbying the U.S. government to push global treaties to assure the free flow of information across international borders. But the Patriot Act could hobble their efforts.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user dandeluca

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