CIOs across Europe add their VOICE to chorus of calls to regulate cloud gatekeepers

What do we want? Licences not lock-in! Where do we want to use them? Anywhere!

Industry bodies representing thousands of CIOs and tech leaders across Europe have thrown their weight behind calls to rein in some of the iffier software licensing practices of the cloud giants.

A letter sent to the European Parliament reiterates the harm being done by certain vendors, as flagged up by Professor Frédéric Jenny in a report commissioned by the Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers in Europe (CISPE)

Findings in the report included pricing for Microsoft's Office productivity suite being higher when bought for use on a cloud that wasn't Azure and the disappearance of "Bring Your Own License" deals, making it expensive to migrate on-premises software anywhere but Microsoft's cloud.

Oracle also took heat for its billing practises, which could differ between its own and third-party clouds.

The letter - seen by The Register - sent to MEPs on 5 November, states:

"The study’s sample included businesses of all sizes, all cloud users, including members of our organizations, seeking to digitalise their operations to improve service, cost and choice to their customers. Its findings provide evidence on the wide variety of unfair practices being deployed to deprive the members of our organisations of choice, and as a result our customers of innovative and more effective products.

"Proving the illegality of these unfair practices currently requires long and expensive investigations under existing competition laws. The timescale and resources required coupled with the absence of workable alternative solutions – and the potential retaliatory measures feared by many if they speak out - simply means that many enterprises will simply accept the onerous and unfair terms instead of seeking any legal resolution," the leter adds.

As for the signatories of the letter, VOICE (from Germany) represents over 400 public-sector or corporate CIOs. France's CIGREF accounts for 150 large users, including Airbus and Thales. The Netherlands' CIO Platform represents more than 130 members, and Belgium's BELTUG accounts for over 1800 CIOs and digital tech leaders.

Dr Hans-Joachim Popp of the German VOICE CIO group, told The Register:

"We are standing with the 'back to the wall' as far as the free choice of cloud providers is concerned. E.g. in Germany we are not in the position to fulfil mandatory legal requirements, since we are depending on the co-operation of mostly American cloud providers (who cannot be GDPR compliant when sticking to the public cloud approach because of the cloud act and other legal instruments of the US government)."

Dr Popp also highlighted the need for a requirement in the Digital Markets Act (DMA) for a stable set of common API and operation standards to ensure compatibility across cloud providers, governed by a committee drawn from "both sides of the table."

"By now," he said, "these standards are fully proprietary and can be changed randomly (for marketing reasons). The use of special features of a cloud provider locks you in to this provider with almost no way out."

As for the quality issues cropping up in the wares of the tech giants, he said "We would pay for good quality but certainly not for randomly forced, frequent updates.

"You would kick out a car manufacturer, who calls you in for an urgent inspection every single week," he noted, drily.

Iffy updates aside, the CISPE report also criticised "ever-changing" licensing practises and "deliberately vague terms" that all contributed to increased costs once customers were "locked-in" to the vendor's cloud infrastructure.

The lengthy legal process required to deal with such behaviour under existing competition laws in indeed a problem, hence the call for proscribing the activities in the forthcoming DMA.

"It is therefore essential that these unfair software licensing practices and behaviours are considered and added to the ex-ante requirements of gatekeepers in the DMA," thundered the letter. Companies dominating the legacy world of enterprise software in Europe should be "fully identified as gatekeepers in the final legislation," it adds.

The DMA seeks to regulate the tech giants with regard to their behaviour as gatekeepers. It has a few hurdles to go before its eventual implementation.

We have asked Microsoft and Oracle to comment. ®

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