Professor Lukas, cloud computing is one of the key topics of Cebit 2012. In cloud computing, applications are provided over the Internet rather than being installed on computers. What is the idea behind this?
Lukas: Cloud computing offers a number of advantages. For example, it enables users to share computers. They have access to huge processing power via an infrastructure that already exists and does not have to be purchased especially. Connecting several computers also cuts costs for users. In other words, cloud computing offers great economic benefits.
In addition, it enables almost unlimited amounts of data to be stored on external computer architectures. Users do not have to own a certain piece of software - they can use the software that is already available online. Accounting is a good example: businesses no longer have to purchase accounting software, which also means that they do not have to buy the related updates. With cloud computing, users can order the applications they actually need and then pay for what they used. As a positive side effect, this also promotes competition.
But doesn't cloud computing also pose many risks?
Lukas: Yes, of course it does. Users have to hand over what is often their most valuable resource - their data. For example, cloud computing requires companies to entrust their customers' information to the Internet. So the concerns are justified. Providers have to be absolutely reliable. And there is another important aspect: each user remains responsible for data protection, even if his or her data is stored elsewhere. The users themselves have to bear risks to their health data and other personal data. After all, there is the danger that data and services on online servers attract the interest of cyber-criminals. So we need data security - and the trust that comes with it - more than ever before. Unauthorized access must be prevented at all costs.
This ties in with the most recent data from the Federal Statistical Office. Apparently, about 58% of all Internet users in Germany had some form of online contact with authorities or public institutions in 2011. A third of them downloaded official forms from websites. However, relatively few of them - only 17% - sent back the completed forms electronically. Many expressed concerns about the privacy and security of their personal data.
Lukas: Exactly. This means that there is a particularly strong need for research in the field of data security. But the potential rewards are also high: if cloud computing works and is accepted by users, it can bring huge economic profits. It is a resource we need to tap. But the risks are not the same across the board. We need to distinguish between different situations. For example, it is relatively easy to provide security when you are dealing with closed clouds in companies. Such intra-clouds already exist, although companies are sometimes reluctant to open them to their customers. And then there are open clouds that are open to any potential partner, for example on the Internet. And what if a company wants to leave a cloud? What happens to the data stored on external computers? There are countless copies, and not all of them can be deleted. Although the data is generally encrypted, the code could be cracked a few years down the line.
What is the Federal Government doing to ensure that cloud computing can establish itself more quickly and that security concepts are improved?
Lukas: The "Trusted Cloud" initiative, which was launched by the Federal Ministry of Economics and in which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is involved, supports local authorities and small and medium-sized enterprises. The Federal Ministry of Economics is providing about 50 million euros for this purpose until 2015. The Federal Research Ministry supports research platforms on the subject of IT security in which researchers can test their cloud approaches. About 40 million euros will be provided for this until 2015.
Can't the scientific community contribute, too?
Lukas: The scientific community has a pioneering role to play in all this. Science requires huge computer capacities but generally does not use sensitive personal data - which, in this context, is an advantage and sets science apart from business. In addition, unauthorized access to information is rarely a problem for researchers. After all, they want their results to be transparent; they want them to be published. Also, science is generally open to new ideas - scientists developed the World Wide Web and are used to being pioneers. It would be great if other users could learn from the scientific community in the area of cloud computing.
What sorts of applications do you have in mind?
Lukas: For example, the Federal Government is thinking about pooling certain services between Ministries and making joint use of software tools. Cloud computing is particularly useful for local authorities. There are a number of promising approaches, some of them in cooperation with Chambers of Commerce and Industry or with universities. For instance, I know that the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry is discussing how it should enter the world of cloud computing with companies and the University of Cologne. Cloud computing also offers a way for the financial authorities at Länder level to work together more effectively. Citizens could benefit from cloud computing in that administrative processes could become simpler, more inexpensive and more consistent. Imagine how useful it would be if all local authorities used the same user screens and forms - if entrepreneurs, for example, could use the same forms no matter where they were located. However, rather than being prescribed by the state, these solutions should establish themselves and succeed in practice.
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