Infrastructure: the new venture area

For technology watchers, looking for upcoming trends, it’s always of interest to see where the venture capital sector is investing. Of course, not every business that attracts VC investment succeeds. But it’s an indicator of where attention is focussed.

MIT’s Technology Review carries an article which reviews this area of IT. With a report from the recent Venture Summit East conference (that’s East as in US East Coast – in Boston), it provides three useful insights.

First – start-ups are beginning to recover from the downturn. It’s been a dry six months for public offerings but a few are starting to come through again.

Second – what the angels are investing in now is new technologies that can assist the oldest of commercial imperatives: saving money. In particular, reducing the cost of infrastructure. The article cites two, perhaps surprising, examples.

Virtualisation is today’s hotspot; but  opportunities exist to update the “outdated” technology behind it. And there’s still a need to reduce the cost of storing and managing data which is an order of magnitude (or more) greater than the cost of acquiring it.

And third – that while VC priorities are still informative, the emergence of so much cheap and scaleable cloud infrastructure means that some startups with really viable ideas don’t need venture funding. In fact, they may be damaged by it with a push to go too far too soon. Technology watchers, take note!

• What VCs Are Investing In, Technology Review, 26 May 2009

Information Commissioner reviews EU data directive

Britain’s Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, leaves his post shortly after almost seven years. Computing reports on one of his final high-profile actions: the publication of a report he commissioned a year ago which reviews the action of the European data directive. The Press Release from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) refers to “growing fears that the current European Directive is out-dated and too bureaucratic”.

European legislation on data protection and privacy led the world, and in many ways still does. Its implementation into in-country legislation varies from wholehearted to grudging. But it’s established in public awareness and, in particular, in the information professions the need to respect information about individuals and handle data appropriately. None the less, both business and technology have moved on and Richard Thomas believes that regulation needs to catch up.

For example: the directive’s restrictions on cross-border flows of information didn’t push the US to implement full data protection legislation; but it did result in the creation of “safe harbor” provisions. But a work-around is common: notifying data subjects that the data they are providing may be transferred to non-EU countries. If they don’t agree, they can’t get access to whatever service they are trying to sign up for.

The report’s overall conclusion is that the Directive, as it stands, “will not suffice in the long term”. The principles remain good; but implementation needs to be what the authors call “harms-based” – that is, based on an understanding of the damage that can be done – in order to respond to the challenges of globalisation. The authors don’t call for the Directive to be scrapped, but they believe some of the concepts need to be re-thought and better consensus achieved in some areas.

So the report proposes, among other things, that global enterprises should shoulder global responsibility for the data they hold rather than having to work through “outdated” geo-politically based restrictions. The ICO’s Press Release speaks of “stronger focus on the accountability of all organisations for safeguarding the information they handle”, “improved arrangements … for the export of personal data outside the European area”, and “a more strategic approach to enforcement”. There are about four pages of recommendations in the full report, well worth reviewing if it’s in your area.

Thomas believes that “Data protection is too important to be left to data protection specialists talking to each other”. The report isn’t a blueprint for a new directive but is intended to stimulate debate. Let’s see where it goes.

Data protection needs new approach, Computing, 21 May 2009
• Making European data protection law fit for the 21st century, ICO Press Release, 12 May 2009 (PDF document, with links to both the full report and an ICO summary)
• European data directive 1995 (Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data)
• For Richard Thomas’s bio see the ICO management Board page

Gartner creates Business Continuity blog

Gartner recently added a new Business Continuity blog, categorised as Gartner Special Research. It contains advisories relating to the Swine Flu outbreak, which is a more serious issue in the US than it is yet in Europe. Like their other blogs, it’s on open access.

You won’t find it in their list of titled (topic-focussed) blogs, which followers here will know remains somewhat disorganised. Instead, and illogically, it’s been included in the Blog Network as if it were an individual analyst’s blog.

InformationSpan sorts these things out. There’s one new Gartner analyst on stream as well. Visit and click the link to our index of analyst blogs.