Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scientists v. Cowboys: How cloud computing looks from Europe

Is Europe following the U.S. on cloud computing...or vice versa?

While I was over in Berlin for a chunk of the summer, I had a chance to connect up with some of the discussions going on in Europe around cloud computing. It's true, high tech information these days knows no international boundaries. Articles that originally run in North American IT pubs are picked up wholesale by their European counterparts. New York Times articles run everywhere. Tweets fly across oceans. And a lot of technology news is read directly from the U.S. sources, websites, communities, and the like.

However, homegrown European publications are brimming with cloud computing, too. I found references to cloud in the Basel airport newsrack and the Berlin U-Bahn newsstands, all from local European information sources (and some of their reporters are excellent). European-based and -focused bloggers are taking on the topic as well; take a look at blogs like and Even, one of the best news sources on (you guessed it) virtualization, is run by Alessandro Perilli out of Italy. And, of course, there are big analyst contingents from the 451 Group (hello, William Fellows), Gartner, Forrester, and many others in various European enclaves.

The real question, though, is not only how are Europeans getting their cloud computing information (though I'm betting quite a few marketing folks are watching that topic closely). The real question is what are European customers doing about cloud computing now and how do they want to adopt this new operating model.

First things first: there are many, many European cloud companies

One strong indication that cloud is going to accelerate in Europe: the start-up ecosystem is growing. Just in the past few months I've run across folks like Berlin-based Zimory; Symetriq (from the city that their website and my memory tout as "beautiful and stimulating," Edinburgh, Scotland); Barcelona-based Abiquo -- just to name a few.

This week, EuroCloud launched in 7 European countries as an industry organization to promote cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS). Part of the group's raison d'ĂȘtre (do you like how I worked in a European language?) is to show that there's a vibrant group of companies ready, willing, and able to help get cloud computing going. Another is to help those same companies work through issues that could be putting limits on cross-border growth -- language and legal differences. Phil Wainewright wrote a good ZDNet blog on the EuroCloud launch.

Cloud adoption in Europe v. America: "It's the little differences"

But back to customer adoption.

When I ran European marketing program(me)s for BEA out of London in the early part of this decade, I got a real flavor for some fundamental differences in how the Europeans approach IT compared with their American counterparts. I'm betting this is going to hold true for the cloud computing uptake as well.

America: The Cowboys

Americans, true to a stereotype or two, seem to be the cowboys of new technology adoption. They shoot first, ask questions later. Good thing, too. This approach gives start-ups a way to get some early customers and evangelists who seem to enjoy the thrill of sticking their necks out. Mind you, there are plenty of organizations in the States where that's not the case (and the bad economy is probably putting a damper on some of them now), but I've seen lots of examples of this willingness to take a bit of a risk in hopes of a big pay-off.

Europe: The Scientists

What I saw while living and working in Europe was that despite their many cultures and distinct national personalities, Europeans on the whole are much more methodical and measured in their consideration of anything new. At least when it comes to IT purchases. Maybe it's why they come up with things like ITIL. They are much more about process. They want to make sure all the issues they will run into have been considered. Security? Governance? Compliance? Management? Disaster recovery? I hope you've thought those all through, Mr. Vendor. And, if you have, and can deliver solid answers, you're in luck. These guys will go big for whatever it is. However, getting all those pieces in place can take a while, so you'd better plan on that.

Cloud computing in Europe: the waiting game?

So, where does that put us regarding cloud computing?

I'm sure there are some good adoption stats from IDC or someone similar that answer the question (or give us predictions) in the specific. I know what the European start-ups and other vendors of cloudy wares in Europe are hoping: they are hoping that the folks in Europe are willing to take a leap sooner rather than later. And, they hope that they will take that leap with a European-based company.

But there's another possibility, one that is less hopeful that the hype is going convince someone, and one that matches my experience from my BEA days: they'll wait. I've seen them do it. As is more their style, the European IT buyers might wait for some of the big players who will pave the way and make things safe for them. Or, maybe some will split the difference and get help from an innovator with big backing like Zimory (who has funding from Deutsche Telekom).

The economy is a bit of a wildcard if you're trying to place your bets. Earlier in the year, while working as Cassatt, I reported some commentary from our partner Bull who said that the bad economy really hadn't affected them yet. I'm hoping to revisit that in an upcoming post, along with additional info I'm seeing on where things stand now.

(If events are any indication, things are looking good. Recent Cloud Camps in Frankfurt, Munich, northeast England have all seemed to get a lot of attention.)

Either way, it will be interesting. I'd love to hear your take on the hotbeds of European cloud activity, which European vendors are doing unique and innovative work, and where and how customers are starting their cloud computing implementations of one sort or another.

In the meantime, here are some suggested folks to follow on Twitter to stay in touch with the cloud computing goings-on in Europe:

@mastermark @rjudas @zimory @vtri @abiquo @nubeblog @saasmania @raesmaa @stephenmann @wif @bryanglick

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