Sovereign cloud: “The role of the French is to push the button”

INTERVIEW // Jérôme Lecat, co-founder of private cloud specialist Scality, gives us his insight into the divisive national cloud strategy announced by the government in May 2021. For him, the direction he is treading lacks ambition.

The cloud strategy adopted by the French government in the spring of 2021 is divisive. On the one hand are those who regret the choice to leave the door open to the American and Chinese cloud giants (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba, Tencent) with regard to the data of French public institutions and companies. On the other hand, others, such as the Choiseul Institute, believe that it is really necessary to work with these companies, which are subject to having an adequate level of legal and technical security. It aims to combine competitiveness and sovereignty, as these companies will offer the most advanced technologies and France will still have too much delay.

ang “cloud switch” that some years we have observed in all sectors of society is not “just start and the market is set to grow tremendously”, underline the Choiseul Institute. In France, it now weighs 15 billion euros, with annual growth of more than 20%.

In the face of these questions of delay, the need to remain competitive and the obligation to regain a form of sovereignty for a France trying to reconnect with its technological knowledge, opinions seem numerous. Jérôme Lecat, co-founder and CEO of Scality, private cloud specialist founded in 2009 and service provider for many CAC 40 companies, cloud-producing telecom operators and public administrations, gives us his.

THE DIGITAL – What is your view on the national sovereign cloud strategy adopted earlier this year?

JÉRÔME LECAT – The exercise is difficult because, on the one hand, it is very important to ensure technological independence for the future and therefore promote European companies. On the other hand, it is very important that State services have access to the most developed technological means, the most technically efficient. There is no doubt that the Americans and Chinese have the lead in getting started in cloud technologies. It is therefore a double goal that must be acknowledged. I think the approach taken by Bruno Le Maire and Cédric O responds well to the second goal, but not very well to the first. I would like to see more ambition in European technologies. Of course, it’s not about doing anything. We have many very good companies in Europe. In calls for tenders — I see it every day — we are clearly facing Americans and Chinese. But with equivalent practices, it’s not really obvious that we’re the chosen one. Now, regarding the problem of developing companies in Europe, this first key is missing in the strategy drawn.

A recent report by the Institut Choiseul makes a similar observation between the need to remain competitive, but at the same time sovereignty …

In this topic, it is necessary to underline the complexity involved in decision making. But I found that what was taken was no ambition for our technologies. We have much more to offer than that. Let’s be clear, American players clearly understand that they need to earn in France, so they get jobs there. But there are still questions about the long -term sovereignty of the technology. Why is this important? Because the most interesting jobs are mainly in this field, and if we let American and Chinese companies lead, we will end up with the lowest wage jobs. When we see Microsoft’s cloud announcement, Azure will have all the intellectual property. And so the role of the French is to push the buttons.

The 1.8 billion envelope over four years recently announced by the government to support France’s cloud industry seems low in the eyes of some observers. What do you think ?

I don’t really understand where the money goes. Obviously, as a leader, I’m looking for contracts rather than funding. I think the state can act through public procurement. Especially in France, where public order represents a significant share of costs.

If you could suggest a roadmap for creating European cloud giants, what would it be?

I will put the bar all the way to the fact that all public services use clouds in Europe, because mechanically that will include everything. You also need to ask yourself if this is the right question. European clouds, many are emerging. Not everyone is a giant, but it’s okay. For me, the main tool not used in France is public procurement, which is very widely used in the United States. There, they repeatedly tell us that they don’t subsidize their companies: they actually use the Department of Defense. There are large budgets from the Ministry of the Armed Forces to provide contracts to their start-ups leading up to the analysis. Because a contract is more important than a grant.

Do you think cloud service providers should be included in the Digital Markets Act?

I must admit to Bruno Le Maire and Cédric O that the idea of ​​having American technologies managed by Europeans was very good. We benefit from advanced technology without being subject to the Cloud Act. From joint ventures of this type, which escapes the Cloud Act, there is no doubt for me that it should be included in the DMA. Then, I was very careful about the Cloud Act.

There doesn’t seem to be any case at the Cloud Act level in terms of data transfer …

They have no obligation to declare! That’s part of the problem: we don’t know! For me, I can’t exclude that Americans don’t want, at some point, to look at what’s going on in a French company for the purposes of industrial warfare. When Villepin opposed the war in Iraq, they did not hesitate to take retaliatory measures. There was this again in wine, when it was a question of tax increases on French wine. So I don’t think we can bring out this scenario and we need to be vigilant.

Scaleway, a founding member of the Gaia-X project, recently left the program. Is it possible to launch a movement with this departure?

I do not think so. Many of us are frustrated that Gaia-X moves so slowly. It’s a bit like Europe: when you start something too much, it’s complicated to move forward. I think Gaia-X has a role to play in forcing large cloud players to have interoperability standards, which is not in the interest of Amazon or Microsoft. No entity is pushing in that direction right now. The Gaia-X is moving in this direction and it’s a good thing, and this, somewhat beyond Europe: the problem exists all over the world, it’s just that Europe has taken it up. It seems very useful to me, and in this sense, very good that American artists are there. In this regard, I do not understand Scaleway’s decision.

Scality recently joined forces with Jaguar Network to offer a secure sovereign offer and try to take market share from AWS and its S3 offer. Beyond the “sovereign” buzzword, do you see a very deep need in Europe for this type of sovereign service?

This offer works great. But a “very deep request” was exaggerated. For some, it may not be on the radar. But this is a topic that has been emerging ever since about the Covid crisis. Now, this is part of our conversations in Europe.

Scality has been part of the FT120 index for two years. With 30% growth, is the ambition to be a unicorn?

We will see in the next financial transaction. We are a private company so we don’t have a valuation every year. What is certain is that we are growing, we are in a market that is currently particularly growing, even more than three years ago, and we have established world leadership in this market.

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