Gaia-X: Breathing Life into European Cloud Independence
Thu 16 Jul 2020 | Alexander Kalkman
Alexander Kalkman, Chief Marketing Officer at Leaseweb Global, explains the implications of Europe’s ambitious cloud project
With around 90% of companies now ‘in the cloud’, the industry has become a driving force behind global technology infrastructure and service delivery. While this has offered major benefits to the entire European economy, the market dominance of US-based hyperscale cloud providers has raised concerns among EU leaders.
Between them, AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud account for over 53% of worldwide cloud infrastructure spend, according to Canalys. European cloud hosting providers, in contrast, lag significantly behind, even in their domestic markets. As Synergy Research Groups puts it, “Behind the top two the battle is being played out between Google, IBM, other smaller global cloud providers and some major local telcos and IT service providers.”
For European governments, this presents a number of challenges to the regional digital economy. High on the list is the issue of independence and the reliance European organisations place on US-based cloud providers, who must follow regulations and practices that can be at odds with the interests of European organisations, governments, citizens, their personal and company data.
Further issues, from the growth in decentralised data processing locations and the complexity created by multiple technology stacks, to insufficient clarity about applicable jurisdiction, have encouraged the French and German authorities to establish sovereign European data infrastructure. The solution is the Gaia-X project, a federated European infrastructure project that will be implemented by European service providers, regulated by local laws and independent of wider jurisdiction.
Covering everything from data infrastructure, data warehouses, data pooling to the development of data interoperability, those behind Gaia-X claim it will remove barriers to EU compliant service usage, driving innovation and strengthening the digital sovereignty of business, science, government and society in the EU.
In doing so, it will also reduce private consumers and businesses dependency on single providers, improve European control over data location, while decreasing existing sector-specific dependencies.
By removing the current data monitoring risks associated with the dominant US-governed providers, Gaia-X aims to free European government-based organisations from existing rules that can force US cloud providers to hand over data to authorities, even if that data is stored beyond US geographic boundaries. And despite objections from market leaders Amazon and Microsoft, who claim Gaia-X will restrict data services along national borders, Europe is on a timetable to launch the project in 2021.
Europe’s leading cloud hosting providers like Leaseweb are already enthusiastic supporters of Gaia-X and the project has built an alliance of over 500 participants from around 300 companies and organisations. Three quarters of these are private businesses from a diverse range of industries, including mobility, energy, manufacturing and finance.
Many other European countries like the Netherlands are also onboarding or expected to get on board and support the initiative, which perhaps explains why the German Economy Minister recently described the project as, “the most important digital aspiration of Europe in a generation.”