Europe readies its ‘Gaia-X’ cloud platform to take on the US hyperscalers

via Flickr © cwwycoff1 (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © cwwycoff1 (CC BY 2.0)

  • If you can’t beat ‘em, join together and get some European backing
  • The European answer to AWS, Google and Azure should be launched in 2021
  • All the signs say European companies would like a Euro hyperscaler, can Gaia deliver?

This week should be seeing more detail applied to the bones of Europe’s plan for its own, European-flavoured cloud computing platform. Called ‘Gaia-X’ it's been in  preparation for some time, but this week the process of turning the concept into a legal entity is due to kick off. 

It’s expected that the platform (or at least its first iterations) will be launched in early 2021. Amongst the backers is Deutsche Telekom, indicating that some large European telcos are likely to see an alternative to the Webscale cloud infrastructure providers as an attractive proposition - especially with the big Webscalers increasingly looking likely to converge on telco territory with plans to support the telco cloud (see - Microsoft affirms its telecoms intentions with Metaswitch acquisition).

The idea is to have an explicitly European cloud platform to act as an alternative to the US hyperscale model. It will be engineered in such a way as to make it elide more comfortably with European data sovereignty and its various security regulations. Importantly, it will function as a non-profit, so will be trying to establish itself as a secure and trusted public service, as opposed to a commercially driven concern.

Gaia is being spearheaded by 22 French and German companies who will be registering it as a company under Belgian law.  There are heavy-weight firms behind the initiative, including SAP, Deutsche Telekom, Siemens and Bosch along with France’s Atos, formerly headed by European Commissioner Thierry Breton. 

There doesn’t appear to be any British involvement, at least at this stage, but then given the politics involved here this is hardly surprising. Joining in with an avowedly European project which aims to act as a counterweight to Silicon Valley would not be a good look as the UK tries to grind out a trade deal with the US. Plus, having just extracted the country from the EU, the Tory government is unlikely to look upon it sympathetically anyway. How closely the UK intends to ‘align’ its regulations with Europe’s after Brexit is still a known unknown at this stage, but anything could happen in the next 10 years or so.

As to the drivers

There is substantial unease within Europe about cloud services generally. The European Securities and Markets Authority, for instance, has this month warned about the lack of transparency inherent with what it sees at outsourcing computing functions to the cloud. In a consultation paper published just yesterday it warned financial market participants not to become overly reliant on cloud service providers and it set out sensible security guidelines when contracting and monitoring services. 

In particular it worries about lock-in and recommends that firms develop comprehensive, well tested exit plans so they can pull out and change providers in an orderly way should the situation demand it, observing that important challenges and risks attach themselves to data protection and information security issues. 

With these concerns as a background, a scaled up European cloud provider capable of being relied upon to conform to European regulatory norms might, with a bit of  EU support,  stand a real chance in a market that European telcos alone have proved themselves incapable of tapping.  

According to Matt Pooley, Practice Lead on Telco cloud at STL Partners consultancy, there is clearly a market now for services designed to keep data within country boundaries. “The case for doing so rests on the obvious and growing regulatory and philosophical divergence being expressed by the US. government.  

“Whether this mood will last is another matter.” says Pooley, “and whether telcos and their collection of industrial partners in Gaia can muster the agility to compete against the likes of AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure in the longer term must be an unknown, but they’re certainly able to ride the wave currently.”

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