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India panel wants localisation of cloud storage data in possible blow to big tech firms such as Amazon

The policy will be the latest in a series of proposals that seek to spur data localisation in India as the government finalises an overarching data protection law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 12:27pm

A panel working on the Indian government’s cloud computing policy wants data generated in India to be stored within the country, according to its draft report seen by Reuters, a proposal that could deal a blow to global technology giants such as Amazon and Microsoft who offer such services.

It could not only raise their costs because they will need to ramp up the number and size of data storage centres in India, where power costs remain high, but at least some of those increases are likely to be passed onto customers who include everyone from small start-ups to large Indian corporations.

The policy will be the latest in a series of proposals that seek to spur data localisation in India, as the government finalises an overarching data protection law. Local data storage requirements for digital payments and e-commerce sectors are also being planned.

The authorities want the information stored locally so that they can more easily get access to it when conducting investigations.

India’s push for localisation comes at a time of heightened global scrutiny of how companies store user data. In July, India said its federal police had begun probing Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook user data, which New Delhi suspects included information on Indian users.

The draft report of the cloud policy panel, which is headed by the co-founder of Indian tech giant Infosys, Kris Gopalakrishnan, said a “forward looking” data protection regime was needed as India’s IT laws framework was “not sufficient” for cloud computing.

“We recommend localisation of cloud data and any data that is stored about Indian entities or data generated in India,” it said, adding this data “must be available for investigative agencies and national security agencies.”

Gopalakrishnan declined to comment on the draft report, but said he hopes to submit it to the information technology ministry before month-end, or at least by September 15. A spokesman for the IT ministry said the department would review the report once it’s submitted but won’t comment before that.

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Cloud computing refers to the provision of software, storage and other services to customers from remote data centres. It allows companies to use programs at lower operational costs as programs and data are not stored at the customer’s own data centres, or on their desktops.

Industry executives said many Indian businesses store their data on cloud servers located outside the country and a localisation mandate could force them to migrate data to India.

“Data localisation will increase costs for public cloud companies as they might need to expand data centre capacity to fit customer data currently hosted outside India,” said Santanu Patro, a research director with research and advisory firm Gartner in India. He said they could pass on the increase to customers.

The panel’s draft recommendations said that India must consider the importance of securing “data sovereignty, especially in the context of cross-border data flows”.

“Indian legal and policy frameworks must focus on ensuring that data generated from India can be utilised for the benefit of Indian citizens, governments and private players,” it said.

An executive at a global technology company offering cloud services in India described the policy’s recommendations as “protectionist”.

“It seems we’ve turned the clock back on globalisation,” the executive said.

The Indian public cloud services market is set to more than double to $7 billion by 2022, the draft report said. Enterprise spending on data centre infrastructure software will rise 10 per cent to $3.6 billion in 2018, research firm Gartner estimates.

The government panel’s draft listed Amazon, IBM and Microsoft among key companies already registered under a government initiative on cloud computing. It also listed Alphabet Inc’s Google, Oracle and Salesforce.com Inc as those with “significant presence”.

Amazon, for example, says “tens of thousands of customers” in India use its AWS cloud service platform.

“Due to increasing requirements of data hosting, India would need rapid establishment of data centres,” the report said.

The report, however, highlighted infrastructure and connectivity challenges faced by cloud service providers in India – such as high power costs and the need to get various permits – which raise the cost of running data centres.

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More than 80 per cent of India’s data centre supply was concentrated in five cities, the panel said. It recommended conducting a study to identify 20 locations conducive for such infrastructure, while also looking at incentives and relaxed tax structure for the industry’s growth.

The panel also plans to recommend development of a “national cloud strategy” that could bring cloud service providers under a single regulatory and policy framework.

The Indian government’s data localisation push has already unnerved US companies who fear it will drive up costs and unsettle businesses. A government panel last week floated a bill that proposes all critical personal data should be processed within India.

Lobby group US-India Business Council said the bill had raised some concerns and it would seek to work with the Indian government to improve it before its passage