In Brussels on March 22nd Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Digital Agenda European Cloud Computing Strategy, made a speech at the opening of the Microsoft Centre for Cloud Computing and Interoperability. In this she said “ offer a true utility in a truly competitive digital single market, users must be able to change their cloud provider easily. It must be as fast and easy as changing one’s internet or mobile phone provider has become in many places...” So what are the difficulties to achieving that goal and how far are we away from it now?

Well – it depends upon what Cloud model you consider and which Cloud service you are using. For an e-mail service – then standards like SMTP and MIME make it very easy to switch or even to use multiple providers at the same time, providing you download your e-mail data. If you hold your e-mails in the Cloud then it is a different story. The same is true if you use any other Cloud service which holds your data for example: file backup, word processing, accounting etc.

So here is the rub – connection standards make it easy to connect to any Cloud service. However moving data between Cloud providers is much more difficult.  For most practical purposes the only way to move data is to download it to your own computer and then upload to the new provider. This may also involve a lot of work to reformat data into a different standard.

In the last week Amazon announced their “Cloud Player”, which allows users to play songs across a number of computers and Android smart phones. Music lovers will be able to upload most of their existing music library – including tracks bought through Apple's iTunes – to Amazon, as well as buy new songs for digital playback. This service has opened another concern – who owns the music (i.e. data) in the Cloud. Amazon said it has sidestepped legal uncertainties about allowing users to upload music from their computer – some of which may have been downloaded illegally – by the service being the equivalent of any other storage device, such as an external hard drive. This means that if you decide to switch to another service say from Google later – you may need to download and then upload to the new provider!

So – there is a long way to go before it will be possible to switch Cloud provider as quickly and easily as your mobile phone service. The problems include legal issues relating to ownership of data and service agreements that allow users to painlessly transfer their data between Cloud providers when they switch.