Brian Larkin is a Senior Policy Advisor in ITA’s Office of Digital Services Industries.
Cloud computing, which allows companies of all sizes to easily and inexpensively access computing resources, has become a key enabling tool for firms in many global markets. It should therefore come as no surprise that corporate cloud spending may reach $191 billion by 2020, more than triple the 2013 total, according to Forester Research. U.S. providers have leveraged technological expertise, innovative approaches, first-mover advantages, and other strengths to earn leading international positions in the delivery of cloud services. While they are sure to benefit from growing demand, these trendsetting firms still face challenges in some critical markets.
The 2015 Top Markets Report on Cloud Computing explores this global landscape. International Trade Administration (ITA) policy experts and embassy staff contributed to the report, which features profiles of countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, as well as an overall ranking.
All but a few of the world’s top enterprise cloud providers are based in the United States. These firms may specialize in bits and bytes instead of the physical shipments that trade discussions often evoke, but they are major contributors to our nation’s exports. In fact, digitally-deliverable services, a category that includes cloud computing, have accounted for over 60 percent of U.S. service exports in recent years and been an area in which the United States enjoys a substantial trade surplus.
The U.S. economy is far from the only one benefiting from the popularity of cloud services, however. These make it easy for companies, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to quickly access advanced computing resources without having to invest in and manage costly technical infrastructures. They unlock technologies and platforms that could otherwise be out of reach, enabling firms in all industries to enhance business processes, lower expenses, and raise productivity – a key contributor to broader economic growth. And for those digital startups looking to launch the next must-have app, they provide a host of useful tools. It’s thus little wonder that foreign technology groups like Rovio, Spotify, and Shazam chose U.S. cloud providers to help them achieve global success.
Despite the clear benefits of cloud adoption, some countries are considering or have enacted policies that would limit their domestic companies’ access to these services. These include rules preventing data from moving freely across national borders, such as from an SME in one country to a cloud provider with servers in another, such as the United States. Data flow restrictions undercut economies of scale and make it extremely difficult for cloud firms to offer affordable, reliable access to productivity-boosting resources.
Among other justifications, policymakers may believe that by requiring data to be stored locally, they can stimulate the growth of their domestic technology sector. However, these mandates are far more likely to make it impractical for cloud providers to continue supplying local firms, potentially cutting off a wide array of enterprises from the most sophisticated services available. Accordingly, the European Center for International Political Economy has found that recently proposed or implemented data localization rules in several countries would cause GDP losses.
ITA is a leading voice in the U.S. Government’s global engagement on regulatory issues affecting U.S. cloud providers, such as data localization. Every day, ITA engages with foreign leaders and policymakers, analyzes fast-changing market dynamics, and works with inter-agency colleagues to help ensure that U.S. firms receive equitable market access overseas.
We also strive to provide useful information to U.S. cloud providers big and small as they seek specific export opportunities. We believe that this year’s Top Markets Report on Cloud Computing does just that, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.