So the starting gun has been fired on the UK referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union or try to go it alone in an uncertain economic climate. Whichever side of the argument you are on, it is going to be settled on 23 June, a rather short period of time for people to consider all the evidence and make up their minds regarding a stultifying complex issue that will ultimately decide the fate of the country.
I'd better stop at this point and make a disclaimer. My own feeling is that exiting from the EU is a dangerous fantasy that seems to be tied up with a nostalgic desire to get back to a golden age when Britannia ruled the waves, if not the world. The sooner everyone realises that such a golden age, if it ever existed, has long gone and we need to move forward, the better.
But that is not the focus of this column. V3 is a technology site, and I started to wonder about the possible effects of the UK leaving the EU on the technology sector, and specifically how it might affect IT services.
For starters, the EU is in the process of enacting new data protection and privacy regulations to cover European citizens. If the UK is no longer a part of the EU, British citizens will not be protected by such legislation and British companies and UK subsidiaries of European firms may well find themselves hampered by regulations that place restrictions on the data that can be moved outside the EU.
And consider cloud computing. The use of cloud services is growing, whether that's cloud-based applications or migrating infrastructure to the cloud, but many of the largest and most popular cloud services are operated by multi-national companies. This may not have mattered much before, but a potential UK exit from the EU means that organisations here may have to consider more carefully where their data actually resides in future.
For example, if you use Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft's Azure cloud, the chances are your data is held in a data centre just outside Dublin in the Irish Republic. In the event of a 'Brexit', you could find that your data is safely stored inside the EU, while your company headquarters is now beyond its borders.
Of course, this may not have any implications for UK customers of these services, but we don't know that with any certainty do we? And Microsoft and Amazon are in the process of building UK data centres that should allow British firms to effectively repatriate their data inside the boundaries of this country when they come online sometime towards the end of this year.
However, both companies saw their new data centres as an expansion of their investment in the EU region as a whole. They also said that proximity to businesses in the City of London was a major reason for siting their UK data centres in the south of England, but it seems almost certain that future data centre expansion would happen elsewhere in Europe if the UK leaves the EU.
Then there is the question of the wider technology sector. The UK has tried to foster a technology startup scene to rival that of Silicon Valley, but many of these companies will be at a disadvantage if they find themselves operating outside the EU, and some technology firms have even hinted that they might move out of the UK to stay within EU borders.
The real issue for all concerned is the vast amount of uncertainty raised by a possible exit. If UK citizens vote in June to take the country out of the EU, it will not be the end of the matter. Far from it.
Instead, it will start an interminable round of negotiations between our government and the rest of the EU over the terms of the separation, and nobody can predict with any certainty where the outcome of those negotiations will lead.
This uncertainty makes it difficult for firms to plan ahead right now, especially if any projects are likely to involve cross-border infrastructure between the UK and other European nations.
In short, the EU referendum seems to have opened up a whole can of worms that we could quite frankly do without right now, in my opinion. But perhaps there are upsides that I'm missing, and there are people out there who can see how the UK being outside the EU might be beneficial for the country's technology sector. If so, the comments box below is awaiting your feedback.
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