The planned European Cloud stack Gaia-X inspires dreams of digital sovereignty and independence from US cloud supremacy. Christian Schmitz contributes a few policy ideas. He is Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at ownCloud, a maker of software to create Sovereign Workspaces.
The European cloud and edge-cloud project Gaia-X has already progressed from an idea to being incorporated and now to a proof-of-concept in preparation of going live, making great strides towards the goal of a sovereign European Data infrastructure.
The strategic objectives set forth by the German government have convinced companies, government agencies and organizations big and small. That does not mean Gaia-X is perfect. ownCloud is an early proponent of open standards, supplier of vital technologies and a co-author of the technical papers regarding Gaia-X. As such, we want to share our expertise as well as insights gained from a number of talks with key players on how to strengthen the appeal of Gaia-X in the European Single Market.
The initial positioning of Gaia-X as a formidable competitor for the big US cloud providers has waned somewhat. We would like to see a more self-assured stance. Europe has the means to grow Gaia-X into a competitive network of infrastructures, capable of keeping up with the cloud services from Amazon, Google and Microsoft. In light of their considerable market share in Europe, reluctance is uncalled for.
Gaia-X is open to all providers that accept its standard of interoperability. That explains why the ostensible adversaries from the US are invited to join. But it is unclear if these providers will really play ball in the spirit of openness and the common good, after defending their lucrative closed systems for decades. There is a risk that they’ll try to weaken a nascent competitor from within. Also, US providers are still subject of the cloud act, enabling government agencies to access data stored in their clouds. Having these providers participate in Gaia-X therefore means sacrificing the digital sovereignty of everyone using a Gaia-X services that use their clouds.
3. Ecosystem and Scale
Gaia-X should embrace scalability, enabling an open ecosystem and full interoperability. The freedom to choose and combine different solutions within an infinitely scalable infrastructure can help bring the total cost of ownership to or even below the level provided by the big US cloud vendors.
Gaia-X-Certifications would allow for bundles of services or hardened infrastructures to be provided as part of Gaia-X. this could help differentiate Gaia-X from competing ecosystems
5. Fast Track Procurement
Procurement in the public sector is time consuming and, to put it mildly, mostly a bit less agile than in the private sector. Gaia-X could enable a transactional and thereby less complicated way to procure digital services.
6. Legal framework
For some use cases, laws must explicitly regulate the use of services provided with Gaia-X. For example, services addressing the needs of schools must be legally useable for teachers to make a difference. Also, authorities have to be able to mandate services for use by teachers and students if they are to be an integral part of teaching.
7. Build another role model
Despite some gaps in regulation, the GDPR is leading the way internationally in strengthening data protection. With Gaia-X, Europe can again be a role model by creating a flexible, secure and interoperable cloud infrastructure. This would not only shore up Europe’s digital soft power but also boost the role of open source and open standards internationally. Other regions that want to turn their backs on restrictive and expensive proprietary systems would take notice.