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A16Z Leads $58M Round In UK’s TransferWise To Ramp Up Its P2P Transfer Business

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TransferWise, the fast-growing UK-based P2P money transfer startup that has reportedly been in talks with Facebook for remittance services, has raised now raised a large round of funding led by one of the social network’s earliest backers. Andreessen Horowitz is heading up a $58 million round of investment in TransferWise, a Series C round with participation also from previous backers Sir Richard Branson, Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Index Ventures, IA Ventures, and Seedcamp.

Founded in 2011 and built by ex-Skype and PayPal engineers with the aim of making it easier (read: cheaper) to transfer pounds to euros, TransferWise says that it will be using the funds to fuel its global expansion.

A U.S. office will be opening next month led by Joe Cross. Outposts in Germany and Austria led by Moritz Kork, a Groupon and Rocket Internet alum, will be coming online in the next few months.

It also plans to add 300 more currency routes in the next year, alongside the existing 292 it already operates. (Among the currencies: euro, British pound, Swiss franc, Polish zloty, Turkish lira, Romania leu, Bulgarian lev, Georgian lari, Hungarian forint, Danish, Swedish, Czech, Norwegian krone, Canadian and US dollar, as well as transfers from these currencies to Indian rupee, Malaysian ringgit, Philippine peso, Singaporean, Hong Kong, Australian and New Zealand dollar.)

No word on whether the global expansion is to help the startup with potential partnerships that would need such scale. “We don’t have anything further to say on Facebook at the moment,” a spokesperson tells me.

The funding should also help TransferWise bolster itself against heavy competition. In addition to companies like PayPal and of course traditional banks offering money transfer services, there are other startups like Azimo, CurrencyFair and peerTransfer specifically in the area of P2P money transfer.

The company has already been growing at a rapid pace. It says that some £3 billion ($4.5 billion) has been transferred on its platform, with cost savings of more than £135 million compared to traditional bank transfers. As a point of comparison, it was only last spring (April 2014) that the startup said it had passed the £1 billion transfer mark.

“Andreessen Horowitz’s interest in TransferWise shows how ripe financial services are for disruption,” said Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “For too long legacy providers’ dominance of the market has allowed consumers to be hoodwinked into paying huge hidden charges for services as basic as currency exchange.”

As part of the deal, Ben Horowitz will be joining TransferWise’s board.

“We are thrilled to be backing Taavet and Kristo. They discovered an important secret and are are uniquely prepared to pursue it,” Horowitz said in a statement on the investment. “Not only is their solution 10 times better than the old way of exchanging foreign currency, but it could not have come at a better time. Since there has been little to no innovation from the traditional banking sector, we see massive opportunity for new financial institutions like TransferWise.”

So how exactly does a P2P money transfer service work? As with many startups, TransferWise was born out of a direct need of its founders.

As the company likes to tell it, Hinrikus and co-founder Kristo Kaarmann, friends from Estonia, were finding that it was too expensive to send money home when they were working in London. (Hinrikus originally worked for Skype in Estonia, and so was paid in Euros but lived in London. Kaarmann worked in London but needed to send euros back to Estonia to pay for a mortgage.)

They realised that they could effectively link up their different needs, using the mid-market exchange rate for conversions to deposit money in each other’s account, saving apparently thousands of pounds in the process. This formed the backbone of the basic idea behind TransferWise.

What TransferWise now does is essentially play out similar transfer “swaps” on a mass scale, orchestrating the money going from one person to another in its network.

The company’s average transaction is around £1,500 and is aimed at expats who are paid in one currency but spend money in another; sole traders and freelancers who take payments from companies in other countries; retirees who live abroad; and small businesses who have customers paying in different currencies.

The news of the funding comes on the heels of reports last November that TransferWise was raising a round of $50 million at a valuation of $1 billion, with another U.S. investor, Sequoia, in the lead. TransferWise tells me it is not commenting on its valuation.

TransferWise has raised $91 million to date.

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The Human Impact Of The Industrial Internet of Things

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Editor’s note: Bruno Berthon is the managing director of digital strategy at Accenture.

Will digital technology be positive for workers and jobs? Amid today’s public debate about the consequences of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, along comes the industrial Internet of things (IIoT). Little understood but potentially very significant for multiple industry sectors, this next wave of technology will create more jobs than it will destroy, according to the majority of business leaders Accenture has surveyed.

The industrial Internet of things is a fast-growing network of intelligent connected devices, machines and objects. It will certainly automate and drive efficiencies, but the optimism of employers reflects their recognition that, more importantly, it will enable the creation of entirely new products and services and markets. Indeed, Accenture Strategy estimates the IIoT could boost the gross domestic product (GDP) of 20 of the world’s largest economies by an additional US$14 trillion by 2030.

Where some technology advances have simply improved the quality and price competitiveness of products—mainly through automation—the IIoT breaks new ground in helping use vast volumes of data from those products and other physical objects to offer tailored outcomes to customers.

Take the example of the agrochemical sector. By integrating climatic, geological and other data, companies can go beyond selling products to earning revenues from guaranteed yields for specific crops in certain locations. Similarly, engine manufacturers could be rewarded for delivering reduced air travel delays by pre-empting maintenance issues through the real-time monitoring of engine performance in flight.

In short, the outcome economy has arrived, where partnerships between companies and their respective workers inspire more bespoke and varied solutions for customers. Small wonder, then, that 86 percent of the 1,400 business leaders we polled think the industrial Internet of things will be a net creator of jobs.

There is already evidence that workforce transformation is happening. A Maryland steel company used automation and robotics coupled with analytics, which led to more knowledge-intensive work. The result? A safer, more engaging work experience alongside higher productivity and quality. By making digital investments, the steel company was able to significantly increase hourly pay and experienced growing demand that led to an increase in hires.

It is not just about new jobs but the content of those new roles. Many businesses will demand new skills and reward workers with more interesting work. Accenture and Royal Philips’ proof-of-concept demonstration uses a Google Glass head-mounted display to research ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of performing surgical procedures.

Theoretically, hands-free access to critical clinical information could also be applied in the utilities or communications industries, helping field engineers repair complex equipment in more difficult stations than they can today. These digital enhancements augment skills as employees blend their skills with those of digital labor.

The IIoT can also empower workers. By sharing data about how customers are interacting with products, employees can use 3D printing and other technologies to experiment in virtual teams, produce prototypes more quickly and tweak product design. Innovation is not only more spontaneous and synchronized; it is autonomous, liberating employees from traditional research and development structures.

At the core of this change is the way workers will be freed from volume activity to address individual exceptions revealed by data. In this way, they can resolve challenges faced by particular customers and design more tailored solutions for them. This shift in focus from delivering mass products to delivering outcomes for customers places greater emphasis on talent.

The benefits are not guaranteed, however. Seventy two percent of the CEOs and business leaders Accenture surveyed say their company has yet to make concrete plans for the industrial Internet of things. Only seven percent have developed a comprehensive IIoT strategy with investments to match. What do leaders need to do to ensure digital technology brings advantages to workers?

Leaders will have to take risks by collapsing hierarchies and permitting new levels of autonomy so that workers can use data and intelligent connected devices to collaborate more with counterparts in other companies. Some companies will need to get ahead of organizational change that will otherwise be forced on them, as digital technology reverses recent trends by centralizing manufacturing while decentralizing services’ delivery.

The IIoT depends on significant investments in developing ad hoc skills and breeding new talent. New jobs, from digital robot design and healthcare analytics to transport network engineering and software development, can only be created if businesses and governments and the education sector work together to redesign education curricula.

Talent and skills are the most important determinant of whether countries and companies use this new digital era to secure growth and boost their competitiveness. And workers and employability could also be the greatest beneficiaries. That tantalizing prospect depends on business and governments doing more to recognize the generational transformation in the workforce that could result from embracing the industrial Internet of things.

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Gillmor Gang LIVE 01.23.15

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Gillmor Gang – Benedict Evans, Robert Scoble, Keith Teare, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor. Live recording session has concluded for today.

Our live FriendFeed chat during the show broadcast

Gillmor Gang on Facebook

Our sister show, G3, on Facebook

Our sister show, G3, on Ustream

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What Happens To Privacy When The Internet Is In Everything?

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This week Google’s Eric Schmidt was on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he suggested that the future Internet will be, in one sense, invisible — because it will be embedded into everything we interact with.

“The Internet will disappear,” he predicted (via The Hollywood Reporter). “There will be so many IP addresses…so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with that you won’t even sense it. It will be part of your presence all the time.

“Imagine you walk into a room, and the room is dynamic. And with your permission and all of that, you are interacting with the things going on in the room.”

This is not an especially outlandish forecast, given the trajectory of connected devices. Analyst Gartner calculated there were some 3.8 billion such ‘smart objects’ in use last year, and forecast 4.9 billion this — rising to 25 billion in circulation by 2020. (The global human population was estimated at around seven billion, at the last count.) In other words the sensornet is here, it’s just not densely (or evenly) distributed yet.

Google already owns Nest, a maker of connected devices for the home, such as a smoke alarm and learning thermostat. Google-Nest also owns Dropcam, a Wi-Fi security camera maker. Mountain View is clearly making a bid to be the nexus of the ‘connected home’ — which, along with the ‘connected car’ (of course Google is also building driverless, Internet-tethered cars), is the early locus for the sensornet. See also: wearables (‘connected people’), and the fact smartphones are gaining additional embedded sensors, turning our pervasive pocket computers into increasingly sensory mobile data nodes.

One of Davos’ more outlandish (perhaps) predictions for our increasingly connected future came from a group of Harvard professors who apparently sketched a scenario where mosquito sized-robots buzz around stealing samples of our DNA, as reported by Mail Online. “Privacy as we knew it in the past is no longer feasible,” computer science professor Margo Seltzer is quoted as saying. “How we conventionally think of privacy is dead.”

What Seltzer was actually arguing is that it needs no sneaky, DNA-sealing robo-mosquitos for connected technologies to violate our privacy. The point is, she later told TechCrunch, we are already at a privacy-eroding tipping point — even with current gen digital technologies. Let alone anything so futuristic as robotic mosquitos.

“The high order message is that we don’t need pervasive sensor net technologies for this to be true. We merely have to use technologies that exist today: credit cards, debit card, the web, roads, highway transceivers, email, social networks, etc. We leave an enormous digital trail,” she added.

Seltzer was also not in fact arguing for giving up on privacy — even if the Mail’s article reads that way. But rather for the importance of regulating data and data usage, rather than trying to outlaw particular technologies.

“Technology is neither good nor bad, it is a tool,” she said. “However, hammers are tools too. They are wonderful for pounding in nails. That doesn’t mean that someone can’t pick up a hammer and use it to commit murder. We have laws that say you shouldn’t murder; we don’t specialize the laws to call out hammers. Similarly, the laws surrounding privacy need to be laws about data and usage, not about the technology.”

With your permission

What especially stands out to me from Schmidt’s comments at Davos is his afterthought caveat — that this invisible, reactive, all-pervasive future sensornet will be pulling its invisible strings with your permission.

Perhaps he was paying lip-service to the warning of the FTC’s Chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, at CES earlier this month that building connected objects — the long discussed ‘Internet of Things’ — demands a new responsibility from businesses and startups to bake security and privacy protections into their products right from the get go.

“[The Internet of Things] has the potential to provide enormous benefits for consumers, but it also has significant privacy and security implications,” she warned. “Connected devices that provide increased convenience and improve health services are also collecting, transmitting, storing, and often sharing vast amounts of consumer data, some of it highly personal, thereby creating a number of privacy risks.”

Ramirez said that without businesses adopting security by design; engaging in data minimization rather than logging everything they can; and being transparent about the data they are collecting — and who else they want to share it with — by providing notifications and opt outs to users; then the risks to users’ privacy and security are enormous.

The problem with those well-meaning words from a consumer watchdog organization is that we are already struggling to achieve such rigorous privacy standards on the current Internet — let alone on a distributed sensornet where there’s no single, controllable entry point into our lives. The Internet and the mobile Internet can still be switched off, in extremis, by the user turning off their router and/or powering their phone down (and putting it in the fridge if you’re really paranoid, post-Snowden).

But once a distributed sensornet has achieved a certain penetration tipping point, into the objects with which we humans are surrounded, well then the sheer number of devices involved is going to take away our ability to trivially pull the plug. Unless some kind of regulatory layer is also erected to provide a framework for usage that works in the interests of privacy and consumer control.

Without such consumer-oriented controls embedded into this embedded Internet, the user effectively loses the ability to take themselves offline, given that the most basic level of computing control — the on/off switch — is being subducted beneath the grand, over-arching utility of an all-seeing, always on sensornet. (Battery life constraints, in this context, might be viewed as a privacy safeguard, although low power connectivity technologies, such as Bluetooth Low Energy, work to circumvent that limit.)

In parallel, a well-distributed Internet of Things likely demands greater levels of device automation and autonomy, given the inexorable gains in complexity generated by a dense network of networked objects. And because of the sheer number of connected devices. And more automation again risks reducing user control.

Connected objects will be gathering environmental intelligence, talking to each other and talking to the cloud. Such a complex, interwoven web of real-time communications might well generate unique utility — as Schmidt evidently believes. But it also pulls in increased privacy concerns, given how many more data points are being connected and how all those puzzle pieces might slot together to form an ever more comprehensive, real-time representation of the actions and intentions of the people moving through this web.

Earlier generation digital technologies like email were not engineered with far-sighted privacy protections in mind. Which is why they have been open to abuse — to being co-opted as part of a military industrial surveillance complex, as the Snowden revelations have shown, offering a honeypot of metadata for government intelligence agencies to suck up. Imagine what kind of surveillance opportunities are opened up by an ‘invisible’ Internet — which is both everywhere but also perceptually nowhere, encouraging users to submit to its data-mining embrace without objection. After all how can you resist what you can’t really see or properly control?

That is exactly the Internet that Schmidt wants to build, from his position atop Google’s ad sales empire. The more intelligence on web users Google can harvest, the more data it can package up and sell to companies who want to sell you stuff. Which, for all Google’s primary-colored, doodle-festooned branding, is the steely core of its business. Mountain View has long talked about wanting search to become predictive. Why? Because marketing becomes a perfect money-pipe if corporates can channel and influence your real-time intentions. That’s the Google end game.

Learning about human intention from the stuff people type into search engines is laughably crude compared to how much can be inferred from a sensornet that joins up myriad, real-time data-dots and applies machine learning data-mining algorithms dynamically. More dots are already being joined by Google, across multiple web products and its mobile platform Android — which brings it a rich location layer. Doing even more and deeper data mining is a natural evolution of its business model. (Related: Google acquired AI firm Deep Mind last year — a maker of “general-purpose learning algorithms”.)

The core reality of the Internet of Things is that a distributed network of connected objects could be deliberately engineered to catch us in its web — triangulating our comings and goings as we brush past its myriad nodes. The more connected objects surround us, the more data points wink into existence to be leveraged by the Googles of the digital world to improve the accuracy and texture of their understanding of our intentions, whether we like it or not.

So while the future Internet may appear to fade into the background, as Schmidt suggests, that might just signify a correspondingly vast depth of activity going on in the background. All the processing power required to knit together so many connections and weave a concealed map of who we are and what we do.

The risk here, clearly, is that our privacy is unpicked entirely. That an embedded ‘everywhere Internet’ becomes a highly efficient, hugely invasive machine analyzing us at every turn in order to package up every aspect of our existence as a marketing opportunity. That’s one possible future for the sensornet.

But it seems to me that that defeatist argument is also part of the spinning which vested interests like Google, whose business models stand to benefit massively, engage in when they discuss the digital future that they are trying to shape. Technology is a tool. Diverse applications are possible. And just because technology makes something possible does not also mean it is inevitable.

As Seltzer says, we need to be thinking about how we want the data to flow or not flow, rather than throwing our hands up in horror or defeat. What is also clearly necessary — indeed, I would argue, is imperative — is joined up thinking from regulators to comprehend the scope of the privacy risks posed by increasingly dense networks of networked objects, and how the accumulation of data-points can collectively erode consumer privacy. A clear-sighted strategy for ensuring end users can comprehend and control the processing of their personal data is paramount.

Without that, the risk for startup businesses playing in this space is that the rise of more and more connected devices will be mirrored by a parallel rise in human mistrust of increasingly invasive products and services.

In the hyper personal realm of the Internet of Things, user trust is paramount. So building a framework to regulate the data flows of connected devices now, while the sensornet is still in its infancy, is imperative for everyone involved.

In the offline world we have cars and roads. We also have speed limits — for a reason. The key imperative for regulators now, as we are propelled towards a more densely-packed universe of connected devices, is coming up with the sensornet’s speed limits. And fast.

Featured Image: Daniel Canogar/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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The Net Neutrality Debate Also Affects SMS

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Editor’s note: Nic Denholm is a content consultant for SMS marketing platform FireText.

Net neutrality was one of last year’s biggest tech stories. The one that went mainstream after John Oliver poked fun at it and beseeched his viewers to flood the FCC’s comments page with tirades against a two-tiered Internet (which caused the site to crash).

So far, the main focus of the debate has been whether ISPs should be allowed to discriminate between the various data they deliver. The main opponents of a tiered Internet are companies like Netflix and YouTube, which deliver high volumes of rich content to their audience and don’t want to have to start charging customers more (in the case of the former) or upping their advertising (in the case of the latter).

Unsurprisingly, audiences are on their side, leaving the broadband providers and a few libertarian politicians in the opposing corner fighting what should be a losing battle. I say “should” because even overwhelming public opposition was not enough to prevent a D.C. Court of Appeals overturning a previous ruling requiring ISPs to treat all traffic equally.

Despite the attention, huge swathes of the American population still have no clue what “net neutrality” refers to. According to a recent Pew poll, some 40 percent of Americans either don’t understand the concept or they’ve flat out never heard of it.

Even fewer understand the relationship between net neutrality and SMS. HeyWire Business, a Cambridge, Mass., tech firm that provides text message services to businesses, learned of that relationship the hard way. Until April 3 of last year, HeyWire was merrily going about their business, giving businesses a way to receive text messages via toll-free 800 numbers. Then everything stopped. No error messages, no warning – just thousands of errant texts failing to reach their destination.

The company contacted Verizon, which informed them of a new set of fees and regulations to adhere to if they were to continue expecting delivery of text messages. HeyWire claim Verizon has unfair control over how they operate – something they view as a breach of net neutrality.

At this point, those 125 million Americans with no interest in net neutrality aren’t getting any more interested. It’s complicated. Complications are boring. With that in mind, here’s a brief explanation as to why SMS and broadband provision are lumped in together by carriers:

Basically, mobile services are divided into two distinct elements: voice and Internet. The voice element is protected under the Communications Act of 1934. Internet-based services are not. For the purposes of prizing more money out of users, service providers have decided to stick SMS messaging under the Internet banner. Because they can.

Carriers essentially have the right to deliver text messages as they see fit, at whatever price they can get away with. That means they can not only charge extortionate premiums, but also police content to decide what people see. This is worrying for neutrality campaigners.

The FCC is currently considering net neutrality regulations for home and business broadband. Democrats are pushing a bill to ban paid prioritization allowing preferential treatment for premium payers. A vote is set for Feb 26. Advocates of a fair, open Internet are hoping for an outcome that will prevent the big carriers from running roughshod over their customers.

In light of the experiences of HeyWire and other companies, SMS messaging should be added to the cause.

Featured Image: COME 2 US/Shutterstock (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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As Cloud Arrives On Main Street, We Need A New Set Of Metrics For Cloud SLAs

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Editor’s note: Sharon Wagner is the founder and CEO of Cloudyn, a leading provider of cloud analytics and optimization tools for multi-cloud deployments. He is a leading expert and key patent holder in SLA technologies and previously worked at CA Technologies within its cloud-connected enterprise business unit.

A lot can happen in a year, and in the world of cloud computing, 2014 was a breakout one. Cloud adoption finally experienced a tornado of demand that swept up large enterprises en masse. Yet as businesses move services to the cloud and increasingly depend on third-party vendors, important questions should be answered around who is responsible for managing these services and how service quality should be measured.

The main objective of a Service Level Agreement (SLA) is to clearly define relationships and set expectations for adequate service levels between the buyer and the seller. In the case of the cloud, this would be the cloud provider and the cloud consumer. A traditional SLA is a rigid and custom contract with complicated legalese focused around operational metrics provided by IT and using IT internal resources.

A cloud SLA is a different animal mainly because cloud customers leverage the cloud as an extension of their internal IT: They don’t own the infrastructure, they don’t maintain it, and they can’t control its provisioning or maintenance procedures. The cloud’s shared responsibility model splits the responsibility between the cloud provider and the cloud customer: The customer is responsible for the application SLA and the provider is responsible for the infrastructure SLA. 

Four 9s or five 9s — does it really matter?

Cloud providers and customers typically zero in on availability that is measured as the time a system is accessible and is expressed as a ratio between actual uptime and expected uptime presented in a percentage. Note that expected uptime is subject for discussion: expected uptime may or may not include scheduled maintenance hours, reduction of “force major” hours, and more.

Assuming no “force major” situations or scheduled maintenance hours, in a 365 x 24 year, five nines (99.999 percent) represent five minutes of downtime and four 9s (99.99 percent) represent about 50 minutes. Does it really matter?

Given availability as an indicator for quality of service, rest assured that cloud vendors continue to invest in additional infrastructure to support a growing number of customers and enterprises. Therefore, perhaps a better way to measure cloud availability would be to apply qualitative metrics, such as mean time to repair (MTTR) and the mean time between failures (MTBF).

Redefined metrics for the cloud

Undeniably, availability is an important metric. However, good service in the cloud goes far beyond availability. For enterprise-level companies seeking to monitor or enforce the transit of their workload from on-premise to the public cloud, we believe that a new standard is needed that measures a group of categories.

While most cloud vendors focus on availability and provide credits based on availability, a cloud SLA should reflect multiple service level objectives (SLO) and various aspects of the provided service. SLOs should be categorized and measured as follows:

  • Availability: Metrics such as uptime, MTTR and MTBF
  • Performance: Response time, number of simultaneous requests and service throughput
  • Support: Response time, resolution time, resolution rates and service escalation rates
  • Authentication and identity assurance and vulnerability remediation — MTTR
  • Data management: Data mirroring latency, backup retention time and transfer rates

Since no standard SLA is used across cloud providers, those providers redefining and building these new set of SLO standards will be the ones to help enterprises accelerate the onboarding of their critical applications to the cloud.

End-to-end: The right SLA for the shared responsibility model

Many businesses blindly take for granted that they will be protected by an SLA. While the SLA is used to settle any dispute between a provider and a customer, in the case of infrastructure failure, the SLA cannot be considered as “protection.” Customers who provide their users with service based on a public cloud infrastructure should define SLAs end-to-end.

Let’s take the example of a cloud customer who provides a CRM platform to their users and uses services of one of the public cloud providers. While the cloud provider is responsible for the infrastructure, the platform availability is managed by the client. The end-to-end CRM SLA will include metrics such as service availability. This will be a combined business metric that includes the cloud infrastructure availability SLO and the CRM application availability SLO. After all, the end user is not interested in the shared responsibility model; they just want to ensure service availability. 

Standardization: Is it coming?

Until now, SLAs have been unregulated in what has been a sellers’ market, with the cloud service providers calling all the shots. However, the pendulum has started shifting slowly in favor of the buyers, ultimately making it better for businesses.

The evolution of these new standards will mirror what happened in the IT market. In the IT world, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library became the best-known standard after organizations started independently creating their own IT management practices. As enterprises demand metrics from cloud providers, they will eventually become mandatory requirements with credits and penalties for violations. We expect such a shift to occur over the next 12 months.

Since the Edward Snowden disclosures of 2013, there has been increasing pressure on governments and technology companies to provide more transparency. Europe has been one of the strongest supporters for change. In June of last year, Europe took a leap forward and began establishing cloud SLA standardization. NIST (National Institute of Standard and Technology, US Department of Commerce) provides further SLA guidelines for vendors.

Cloud SLAs will be standardized, one way or the other. It’s really just a function of time. After all, the cloud is ubiquitous and doesn’t have borders.

Featured Image: American Sprit/Shutterstock

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