Documents considered by the Committee on 25 May 2016 Contents

16European Cloud Initiative

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny

Document details

Commission Communication — European Cloud Initiative: Building a competitive data and knowledge economy in Europe

Legal base

Department

Business, Innovation and Skills

Document Numbers

(37687), 8099/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 178

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

16.1In recognition of the ever-increasing importance of digital technologies in all sectors of the economy, the Commission produced last year a Communication97 setting out a strategy for achieving a Digital Single Market. It has now brought forward, as part of a linked package of measures, this further Communication dealing more specifically with the European Cloud Initiative, aimed at developing the European digital infrastructure needed to drive Open Science.

16.2The Communication highlights the importance of data in all areas of modern research, and of an infrastructure which provides a trusted, open environment for storing, sharing and re-using data produced, and it identifies reasons why Europe is not yet fully tapping into the potential in this area. It then proposes two ways in which these barriers might be addressed—first, by the development of a European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), providing a trusted, open environment for the research community, and secondly by a European Data Infrastructure (EDI), which would underpin the EOSC by providing a computing infrastructure comprising super-computing capacity, fast connectivity and high-capacity data management. The Communication also addresses issues arising from unlocking the full potential of quantum technologies,98 and more generally from the widening of access.

16.3The Government has broadly welcomed this initiative, drawing attention to the work currently being conducted by the UK in this area, and adding that it will work with the Commission and other Member States to develop the proposals, paying particular attention to the financial implications and to privacy and data security issues.

16.4As we have noted, this Communication addresses one of the areas covered by the one which the Commission produced last year on the Digital Single Market. It has been broadly welcomed by the Government, and, although there are a number of individual areas which will need to be addressed as and when they arise, we do not think that the document as a whole—which is due to be considered by the Council later this week—raises any issues which require it to be held under scrutiny. We are therefore clearing it. We drew the document to the attention of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, in view both of its scrutiny of BIS’s role in research and its current inquiry into the digital economy.

Full details of the documents

Commission Communication — European Cloud Initiative: Building a competitive data and knowledge economy in Europe: (37687), 8099/16 + ADDs 1–2, COM(16) 178.

Background

16.5In recognition of the ever-increasing importance of digital technologies in all sectors of the economy, the Commission produced last year a Communication setting out a strategy for achieving a Digital Single Market. It has now brought forward, as part of a linked package of measures, this further Communication—which is accompanied by two Staff Working Documents (one on High Performance Computing and the other on Quantum Technologies)—setting out a strategy for developing the European digital infrastructure needed to drive Open Science.

The current document

16.6The Communication highlights the importance of data in all areas of modern research, and of an infrastructure which provides a trusted, open environment for storing, sharing and re-using data produced. However, it identifies five reasons why Europe is not yet fully tapping into the potential of data:

16.7The Communication proposes two ways in which these barriers might be addressed. First, by the development of a European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), providing a trusted, open environment for the research community offering free at the point of use, open and seamless services for the storage, management, analysis and re-use of research data, across borders and scientific disciplines. It says that, in order to develop the facility, it will be necessary to make all scientific data produced by the Horizon 2020 programme open by default; to raise awareness, and change the incentive structures for academics, industry and public services to share their data; to develop a specification for interoperability and data sharing across disciplines and infrastructures; to create a fit-for-purpose pan-European governance structure to bring together scientific data infrastructures and overcome fragmentation; to develop cloud-based services for Open Science, supported by the necessary data infrastructure; and to enlarge the scientific user base to researchers and innovators from all disciplines.

16.8Secondly, there would also be a European Data Infrastructure (EDI), which would provide a computing infrastructure comprising super-computing capacity, fast connectivity and high-capacity data management. This would underpin the EOSC with data infrastructures which store and manage data; high-bandwidth networks which transport data; and ever more powerful computers which can be used to process the data. In addition, the Commission says that the EDI will enable the EU to rank among the world’s top supercomputing powers by realising exascale supercomputers around 2022 which are based on EU technology, the EU aim being that these should rank in the first three of the world (and that at least two sources of this technology should be available). The Commission also suggests that the EDI should build on existing infrastructure and initiatives,99 as well as developing the capability for new technology such as low power HPC chips; offering supercomputing as a service by integrating supercomputers of top range capabilities with mid-range national computing centres and pan-European data and software infrastructure; and providing seamless, high-speed, reliable and secure connectivity to make HPC accessible across the EU by upgrading national and trans-European networks.

16.9The Communication also proposes a long-term and large-scale flagship initiative to unlock the full potential of quantum technologies, accelerate their development, and bring commercial products to public and private users: and it proposes that the user base of the European Cloud Initiative should be progressively widened by making public data accessible for use by scientists, policy makers and business, including innovative SMEs and industry. Finally, it identifies the need for the Initiative to meet high quality standards of reliability and security in order to ensure protection of personal data and intellectual property, adding that appropriate standards will be designed at EU level to guarantee security, data portability, and interoperability in compliance with legal requirements.

The Government’s view

16.10In his Explanatory Memorandum of 6 May 2016, the Minister of State for Universities and Science (Joseph Johnson) first comments on the European Open Science Cloud, where he says that the UK:

16.11As regards the other aspects of the Communication, the Minister says that, in the case of the European Data Infrastructure, the UK acknowledges that Europe would benefit from deployment of a large scale European HPC, data and network infrastructure as long as the governance and funding frameworks take sufficient consideration of existing initiatives and their sustainability and of a global level playing field, and that it has always maintained a significant presence in HPC (through, for example, the UK National Supercomputing Service, and the collaborative research, innovation and development services provided by the Hartree Centre).

16.12In the case of quantum technologies, he says that the UK welcomes the Commission’s effort to build European capacity in turning developments in quantum science into a new industry and wealth creation, and has already begun this with its own £270 million national quantum technologies programme, with the coordinated government, academic and business activities having raised the UK’s international reputation in this field. It is also leading internationally on the development of standards for quantum technologies, with UK researchers and business playing a prominent role in facilitating the interoperability of different equipment within networks, providing assurance of security and promoting component supply chains, all of which are important for the commercialisation of the technology.

16.13He notes that the Commission intends to fund actions to develop a quantum technologies flagship scale initiative, and says that the UK would stand to benefit from the greater European coordination of quantum science and innovation programmes this entails. He adds that the UK has worked closely with other EU stakeholders to develop the case for coordinated EU level action on quantum technologies, and will continue to do so with the Commission and Member States to ensure that any future activity is set up in an open and consultative way, delivers value for money, has appropriate governance, and a funding structure on which all Member States can agree. However, he cautions that the timescales proposed for the launch of the initiative in 2018 should not pre-empt the outcome of the next EU Multi-Annual Financial Framework.

16.14As regards issues arising from the widening of access, the Minister notes that, in the UK, the E-infrastructure Leadership Council (ELC) is tasked with ensuring that industry can access and benefit from UK e-infrastructure and Big Data (including access to both HPC and Cloud resources and research data), and that it therefore supports the proposed partnership between industry and the public sector. However, whilst it sees value in widening the user base of the ECI for research purposes, he says there would be concerns if this extended into general cloud services such as Government as a Service. In particular, he notes that there is a well-established global cloud market, and that there is a risk that the ECI would be extended first to offer government services to the public, then be broadened out into a public-private offering competing directly with the commercial sector. The UK will therefore work to ensure that future activity to broaden the user base of the ECI does not duplicate or crowd out private sector provision of cloud computing services.

16.15In addition, the Minister says that:

16.16Finally, the Minister notes that the Communication sets out that existing funding under Horizon 2020 should support the ECI, the initial estimate being that additional public and private investment of €4.7 billion is required. He says that the UK will work with the Commission to explore appropriate governance and financing mechanisms for the proposals in the Communication, adding that, although match funding is anticipated from Member States, this is for agreement at Member State level in line with national investment priorities. He also expects the proposals set out in this Communication to be financed from existing budgets, but notes that some may go into the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework, and will therefore need to be considered in that context.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


97 (36836), 8672/15: see Fifth Report HC 342-v (2015–16), chapter 4 (14 October 2015).

98 Described by the Commission as “understanding and applying physical laws of the microscopic realm”.

99 Such as the Pan-European High Performance Computing infrastructure and services (PRACE), the trans-European high speed network (GÉANT), the contractual Public-Private Partnership on HPC, the Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership (ECSEL) Joint Undertaking, and the recent Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) on HPC and Big Data enabled Applications by Luxembourg, France, Italy and Spain.




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1 June 2016