The European GAIA-X initiative is taking shape

GAIA-X may not be a digital gas system that Europe likes to invent. We remember the Quaero project, a European search engine that was supposed to compete with Google and was initiated by France 15 years ago which ended in sausage water.

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GAIA-X is a Franco-German initiative that is private and supported by other countries. The aim is to be a European data ecosystem that respects the regulations in this area (GDPR) and is open (interoperability, reversibility). In short, it’s about offering an alternative to American clouds and avoiding the Cloud Act. It must be recognized that until June 2020 this was just a huge directory of European cloud providers who met these conditions.

A sovereign metacloud

Since the summer, the project has advanced rapidly, no doubt supported by the recovery plan for the European economy after the Covid-19 epidemic. Admittedly, the original goal has not changed: It is less about building large data centers with the stamp “GAIA-X”, but rather creating a directory of cloud providers who can offer specific guarantees with regard to the location. Interoperability, reversibility or data security. In a way, a sovereign metacloud.

The new thing is that it is no longer a project, but an international non-profit association (AISBL) with fixed statutes, which several European suppliers joined on September 15th. The members remain mainly French (OVHcloud, Atos, Orange, Docaposte …) and German (Siemens, SAP, BMW). If the main technical problem of GAIA-X is reversibility and data protection, the association is ready to welcome non-European actors, provided they adhere to these principles. But without being able to participate in the association office.

The chances that American suppliers like AWS or Microsoft will approach the project, however, seem slim, despite the opinion of Servane Augier, CEO of 3DS Outscale. Only IBM, which is not part of Gafa and has a strong presence in Europe – certainly less and less since the downsizing has been linked in France -, with research centers in Montpelier and Zurich, could show interest. All the more so, with the acquisition of Red Hat, Big Blue is a major player in open source, and Red Hat has developed the nugget OpenShift.

Franco-German cooperation

The interest of this non-profit association, besides the search engine, is to enable companies to switch from one European cloud provider to another, while respecting the founding principles, especially when they grow and have a need for an extensive cloud infrastructure that works with American suppliers can compete.

The various actors in GAIA-X are encouraged to work together in developing new offers. OVHcloud and T-Systems are planning to create a cloud in 2021 that was originally dedicated to OIVs (Operators of Vital Importance). It will be based on OpenStack – OVH is one of the leading providers in this cloud infrastructure stack – with T-Systems controlling the network infrastructure in particular. Other companies outside of OIV could have this cloud in a second step.