Gaia-X, or the lost illusion of a European cloud

With its launch in 2020, the Gaia-X has become presented as the “first step” towards a “cloud infrastructure in Europe”. Many saw the promise of a sovereign European cloud, the possibility to do without Gafam. But a year and a half later, confusion reigns about the DNA of this project launched by ministers Bruno Le Maire and Peter Altmaier.

Some – convinced that building a sovereign European cloud remains not only possible, but above all necessary – saw in Gaia -X the opportunity to finally block the Americans. For others, betting on ” made in Europe » just has never been a goal. The contours of the project are always very blurry, so everyone is quick to project their own expectations. “Gaia -X is a compromise, and some do not understand it”, divide the representative of a “hyperscaler” – a giant in the sector.

So, when the Vice-President of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, declared at the end of March do not worry about the European cloud market, admitted that Gaia-X is there to “stimulate competition” against the behemoths of America, a dozen European suppliers quickly denounced a “perception” that does not conform to reality.

Less politics, more technology

On paper, Gaia-X is largely a “professional association”, made up of 333 members and established in 16 countries of the continent – has nothing to do, therefore, with an official organ of the European Union. Each country has its own branch, called ” hub »accepts national works and contributes, in its manner, to the missions of the association:

  • federate cloud services around common values ​​to be defined;
  • facilitate the exchange of data between companies in the same sector;
  • establish standards on infrastructure interoperability.

On the ground, Gaia-X finds itself. “Since 2020, the project has progressed,” said a digital industry representative. “Not so much politics, more technical. “Gaia-X is committed to” something more “trades”, defined Quentin Adam, boss of the French company Smart Cloud, specialist in cloud platforms (PaaS) and member of Gaia-X. Understand: the focus is on the cloud needs of professionals – travel, industry, energy or cultural professionals.

Sector data slots, or “data slots”, stars of the last plenary session of French Hub, will help to promote and facilitate the exchange of data between players in the same sector. On the French side, a first “data space” dedicated to mobility and tourism companies was created in March: Eona-X, created under the force of the Air France-KLM and Aéroports de Paris teams, from Marseille airport -Provence, SNCF, and technology provider Amadeus.

The priority goes, for example, to creation sectoral data spaces or removing barriers that prevent moving from one cloud to another. Gaia-X therefore contributes to advance the cloud cause on the continent, listening to the demands of European companies, but not valuing European cloud providers. The hyperscaler confirms:

“The project is not intended for suppliers. Whether German, American or French. It is intended for smart companies, industries, distributors, builders. They are the ones who should get something out of it.»

For Quentin Adam, the arrival of Gafam changed the situation. “When it launched, Gaia-X was presented as an initiative to drive cloud adoption European. Now, the goal being pursued is instead to promote cloud adoption in Europe. Gaia-X has changed its mission ”, he regretted.

“Gaia-X is not discussing the topic of sovereignty. It is discussing the topic of an industry that wants to consume the cloud a little bit like before, but by participating in the conversation,” maintained Yann Lechelle, boss of Scaleway, another French host.The latter joined Gaia-X in early timewith the many ambitionsand closed the door in November.

“Digital autarky in Europe is a chimera”

However, the choice was made to confine non-European actors to working groups and to ban access to the board of directors of the association. In June 2021, the latter was however form included Digital Europe – Brussels tech lobby, of which Gafam is a member. Now, in the upper echelons of Gaia-X, partnering with big names in the market is no longer a debate.

“To limit ourselves to a sufficiently small territory, to a technology, to a set of policies that we can manage, it’s a political sense of sovereignty. Is this what we want to be globally competitive? No, no, Gaia-X CEO Francesco Bonfiglio said at the end of March during a round table organized by Orange.

“The European market has no alternative and must survive in a competitive market,” the Italian insisted, citing the accumulated delay vis-à-vis the American cloud giants. “So we are trying to develop an initiative that is competitive in the global market. And for that, we need non-European actors.»

On the side of the giants in question, so we make sure we want to “put everything [son] weight behind the project “and all its experience in the service of the European digital economy.” European members of Gaia-X are active abroad. If Gaia-X is to play a role, it has to be sophisticated, operate in a global context, ”posits a hyperscaler rep.“ If what we are doing is only valid in Europe, we will pass our case ”, summed up Hubert Tardieu – former acting CEO of Gaïa -X, now a member of the board of directors of the Gaïa -X association – during the last plenary session of Hub France.

Cigref is the association responsible for defending the interests of large French companies and public administrations in their digital service providers. He was entrusted with the management of Gaia-X’s France hub.

Nevertheless, the questioning of sovereignty is on the wrong path, insisted Henri d’Agrain, general delegate of Cigref, the association of major French accounts (CAC40 and ministries), which manages Hub France from Gaia-X. “I call for not using this concept indiscriminately. We often confuse sovereignty and control with dependencies ”, he annoyed.

“Right now there is no European player that meets the needs of companies, allowing them to outsource difficulties as Amazon Web Services (AWS) does, for example. Digital autarky in Europe is a pipe dream,” it won’t happen. So Gaia-X is there to help control dependencies vis-à-vis the players with whom we continue to work, “continued the representative of French cloud’s key customers.

Cloud War and Software Abandonment

In 2020, a week after the official launch of Gaia-X, this French entrepreneur, CEO of open source software publisher Abilian, co-signed with Euractiv an opinion piece called Gaia- X being a “Trojan horse for Big Tech in Europe”. .

In this reluctance to invest in existing services in Europe to better adapt to the dominant offers in America, French businessman Stéfane Fermigier saw an “acceptance of vulnerability”. He regrets “that we no longer wanted to try something”. However, “cloud computing is not a finished market, we are currently doing 20% ​​of what we will do in 2028”, said Quentin Adam, who lamented that the speech according to which Europeans are “defeated in cloud war prevails..

Two French businessmen, like Yann Lechelle, were particularly concerned to see the “software” layer of the cloud left in the hands of Americans (see box). Everyone very easily recognizes the high quality offer of hyperscalers in this area, “but you never know what the future holds, warns Clever Cloud. Much of our economy, indeed our administration, depends on software of America, and we won’t be immune, he believes, that one day the United States threatens to take it back from us if we don’t follow through on a conflict.And if tomorrow, Europe wants to add or remove a feature for for such and such reasons, it has no power to do so. And therefore has no power to impose its values, “he continued.

Philippe Montarges, member of Gaia-X and co-founder ofAlter Way, an outsourcing company, insists what is at stake for the European industry. “Our connected cars, Renault, Peugeot, etc., are increasingly using Gafam. The weight of our digital industry is very weak compared to our economic weight, there is an important challenge for the software industry in Europe to be more meaningful, as well as the irrigation of stronger other sectors of the industry. And Gaia-X really has a role to play here, ”he maintains.

All ground lobbies

Whether they gladly accept or reject, European members of Gaia-X are concerned about the huge influence of the American giants in the works. The association “is dominated in the background of international companies”, concedes a second hyperscaler. A quick rotation LinkedIn enough to see that some have project-focused employees: a Gaia-X-oriented public sector engagement manager for AWS, a Gaia-X solutions manager for Microsoft, a Gaia-X architect at BMW.

For the smallest member, attending all meetings and ensuring timely feedback on documents is, on the other hand, impossible. “Our contribution is a drop in the ocean,” Clever Cloud laments. “It takes a lot of human resources to drive something, it can’t be reached. »

The big French industrialists were also trembling. In March, Martine Gouriet, director of digital equipment at EDF and member of Gaia-X’s board of directors, took the plenary session of Hub France to ask for help:

“If you’re not going into a working group, there are associations that are 100% of their time devoted to it, which are very strong in lobbying and well funded. Come on in. If not, me and a few others will be alone. to all the lobbies in the world that are trying to make us string pearls! »

The call was answered by several responders. Included by Henri d’Agrain, convinced that “Gaia-X will not benefit the competitiveness of France, if the French do not invest in the working group”. But that call, Quentin Adam believes, is for cloud users. Not to suppliers.

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