Gaia-X, Europe ‘s safe data port – US competition


The amount of data circulating in every business today is huge and growing as applications grow in the new industrial revolution caused by digitization and artificial intelligence. An example is the continuous flow of data that is considered necessary for the operation of autonomous traffic. Each company is asked to choose the data management that suits it, ie the ideal way to store, use and exchange data. Businesses often trust cloud services in cyberspace. Already today the data on server farms is more than that stored locally, for example on the hard drive of a business associates.

Common specifications are the A and the Z in the data

An added advantage of clouds is that they do not need to be purchased, but can be rented, depending on the needs of the business, ensuring access for partners from all over the world. But which cloud service provider is the one that can guarantee secure management, reliable service and compatibility in data exchanges around the world? So far, the American giants Google, Amazon and Microsoft dominate. In search of a credible European alternative, France and Germany launched Gaia-X in 2019, a European cloud data project. Since then, international organizations, scientists, politicians and around 270 companies – large groups as well as startups – have been working to create a European infrastructure in which data can be stored, processed and circulated.

“Our goal is a digital ecosystem, which will foster innovation and the provision of new services, based on data processing,” said outgoing German Economy Minister Peter Altmeier, one of the project’s pioneers at the political level. Simply put, Gaia-X is not just another European cloud. The logic of the project is that all cloud providers should network with each other and coordinate their platforms to the common specifications established by Gaia-X. “The new project connects existing cloud services and undertakes the coordination, the orchestration of the process,” said Andreas Weiss of the Ecco association, which represents 1,100 internet entrepreneurs from across Europe. Many companies already store data, but can not use it economically as the unified technical specifications are missing. “Many times data exchanges are still done by e-mail or fax, executives need to talk to each other before the process goes on,” says Rainer Streter, an associate of the IONOS provider. When only two companies communicate with each other the system works, but when data exchange from hundreds of companies is needed, for example within a supply chain, communication is considered impossible if there are no uniform data specifications. That is why today, according to a recent study by IDC and Seagate, only one third of the data stored internationally is used.

European ambitions, American competition

For the European Commission, the added value of Data is a key factor in economic and social progress in the coming decades. According to experts, the total data volume in the EU will triple by 2025, reaching 829 billion euros. So far, of course, most cloud service users trust the American giants in the industry, which have a market share of around 70% in Europe. But is the data safe in their hands?
What is certain is that under current law, law enforcement and US intelligence services can intervene in these cloud services. Why the Cloud Act obliges American companies to deliver the data, even if local law prohibits their publication in the country of the person who stores it. This also applies to the personal data of European citizens. According to a survey by Bitkom Research and consulting firm KPMG from 2021, 75% of businesses that do not (yet) resort to cloud services cite data security concerns as their reason, while 67% cite more generally “Legal uncertainties”.

The long road to completion of the project

Six years have passed since the launch of Gaia-X, but the project remains almost unknown. In a survey of 500 companies conducted by the German Institute for Economics (IW), only 6% of respondents said they had heard of the project. For its faster implementation, the Gaia-X-Association was established in 2020, a Non-Governmental Organization that will work out not only technical specifications, but also rules of ethics. Many European countries already have national hubs, the Gaia-X-hubs, coordinating with each other in an effort to formulate uniform criteria and identify legal obstacles.

Meanwhile, the largest cloud service providers (hyperscaler) from the USA and China are participating in the project: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Palantir, Salesforce, Huawei, Alibaba. “We do not want to be isolated in Europe, we welcome anyone who is willing to accept our rules,” said Boris Otto, a senior fellow at the German Fraunhofer Institute. Rainer Streter also expresses a positive opinion. After all, he points out, for large companies such as Telekom and Volkswagen, which are now customers of foreign hypescalers, it will be easier to change providers once hyperscalers accept the Gaia-X rules.

DW – Inza Vrete / Giannis Papadimitriou


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