EU funds technical and policy research into cloud computing

The three-year project aims to develop technology to make the cloud more secure and reliable

The European Union is funding a three-year research project that intends to develop a variety of technical components and policies designed to make cloud computing more secure.

Cloud computing is a buzz phrase often invoked by companies offering computing services in their own data centers. Companies such as Google, Microsoft and IBM have been aggressively pushing cloud technology to their customers, saying the concept offers flexible, low-cost computing that lets enterprises roll new services out faster to their customers.

But there are a variety of privacy and security issues around cloud computing that have not been fully investigated, ranging from regulatory and legal issues to technical questions over how data stored remotely can be secured.

The E.U. project, called "Trustworthy Clouds" or TClouds, "will explore these legal issues," said Christian Cachin, a computer scientist specializing security and cryptography with IBM Research in Zurich.

IBM is leading the project, which also includes more than a dozen other companies and research organizations within Europe. The E.U. is giving €7.5 million (US$10.1 million) for TClouds, with €3 million coming from the companies and organizations.

On the technical side, TClouds will look into developing better privacy-protecting protocols for transferring information securely in between, for example, two companies that both offer cloud services. It will also look into developing security standards and building open APIs (application programming interfaces) and secure cloud management components.

The research will be published in scientific outlets along with ideas on proposed standards that could eventually be employed in software. The research will likely not end up in products for more than a decade as that is the nature of basic research, Cachin said.

The scientists will work on two scenarios to see whether it is possible to offer a higher level of security and reliability for cloud computing. One of those will involve Energias de Portugal, a Portuguese energy provider, and EFACEC, a company that provides electrical grid infrastructure, also based in Portugal. TClouds will investigate how a system designed to efficiently control a public lighting network can be migrated to the cloud.

The second scenario will focus on health care and involve San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy. The researchers will test to see if it is possible to remotely monitor and diagnose patients outside of the hospital in their homes, with data stored in the cloud and accessed by patients, doctors and pharmacists. The aim is to see if health care costs can be reduced but while preserving patients' privacy.

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