Sovereign cloud: why Gaia-X will succeed

The European sovereign cloud project has launched. The Gaia-X project relies on openness, services and innovation to bring European values to the cloud and rebalance the value that Europe derives from its own data.

The objective is not to recreate a “hyperscaler” but to create an ecosystem connecting producers and consumers of European data in an environment of trust, while giving visibility and consistency to the cloud offers that already exist in Europe.

The Gaia-X Foundation has 22 founding members, including Orange. This core membership is the precursor of a community that will soon grow, as illustrated at the second Gaia-X summit on November 17. Initially it was formed by 11 French and 11 German companies. These are not just major cloud players but are also manufacturers such as EDF, Amadeus, Safran and BMW, all of which are major consumers of cloud services. This organization gives user companies a balanced voice in the structure.

Gaia-X arrives at a key moment in digital transformation

This new phase, formalized for the Gaia-X project, marks Europe's desire to take back the initiative in a key area for its future. European, and particularly French, companies are now massively adopting the cloud. While a minority are currently moving towards a 100% public cloud, most have adopted a hybrid approach using private resources and the public cloud. Companies rely on the connect between internal resources, often dedicated to the most sensitive uses and data, and potentially unlimited public resources in terms of storage quantity and processing power. Attention will increasingly turn to the public cloud, given its agility and additional and innovative services that it regularly makes available.

This strategy increasingly favors multicloud. After previously selecting a single cloud operator to gain expertise in this new approach to IT, companies now prefer a multi-supplier approach. It helps to minimize the risks of vendor lock-in, strengthen the resilience of their global solutions and puts service providers in competition. This leads to the best commercial advantage and the latest innovations delivered quickly.

A renewed interest from companies in trusted cloud services

This new phase of maturity of the cloud computing market has also highlighted the digital dependence of European companies. It has exposed companies’ difficulty in creating value from their most sensitive data without risking exposure to much more intrusive legislation than that of the EU. This is undoubtedly a window of opportunity for Gaia-X, allowing it to find its place alongside the "hyperscalers." In this context, the Orange strategy of being an operator of cloud infrastructures and cloud services (on all types of infrastructures, not only those of Orange) while remaining agnostic in terms of technology for its customers , is undoubtedly an asset in the face of this corporate multicloud strategy.

It is estimated that by 2025, 60% of the data generated in the world will come from businesses, a rapid climb from 30% in 2015. This growth is currently driving the cloud market. However, companies will not place all of their data in the public cloud due to confidentiality. For European companies, engineering information related to R&D, international contracts under preparation, M&A files under study and other data subject to strong regulatory constraints will not go to the hyperscalers outside the EU, in particular those subject to the American “Cloud Act.”

Orange Business Services thus estimates that the sovereignty market (storage, processing, analysis) will be between 15% and 25% of the overall French market. It will mainly involve the public sector, Operators of Vital Importance, and various regulated sectors (health, finance, aeronautics, etc.). Like the GDPR, the rules for digital sovereignty on a European scale will allow the European members of Gaia-X to position as players in an ecosystem of trusted, visible and complementary data and cloud services, in contrast to the hyperscalers' offers.

Gaia-X must first and foremost focus on innovation

Gaia-X is not a defensive project, and hyperscalers are welcome if they are ready to contribute to European competitiveness and growth through their services hosted in Europe and on condition of respecting the European rules. Much remains to be resolved, but in the future, a company will be able to turn to trusted actors to host or process its sensitive data, while calling on “less sovereign” actors for its less critical services or data such as that already encrypted, anonymized and/or consolidated. It is through this combination of all the digital services available, matched with clear and transparent attributes as to their guarantees of sealing and control of treatments ("environment of trust"), that Gaia-X will offer the agility required by businesses.

The openness that we are advocating within Gaia-X must push the entire European cloud ecosystem to innovate. Hyperscalers launch dozens of new cloud services each year, but the European digital ecosystem is also teeming with innovation, albeit in a much more fragmented way. Combining all of these innovations to offer the best of cloud services to our customers is a challenge that Orange intends to take up in collaboration with the Gaia-X community. We’ll do it by leveraging our 5,000 employees at Orange Labs, the wealth of our Orange network and the cybersecurity expertise of Orange Cyberdefense.

The first Gaia-X services are due to be marketed in 2021. This initiative is a great opportunity for the European Cloud ecosystem to energize and boost value creation thanks to Europe's own data and trusted solutions. It’s up to us to seize this opportunity.

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Cédric Prévost
Cédric Prévost

As a graduate engineer of École Polytechnique, I worked in the public sector for ten years in technical architecture and security within the Ministry of Defense. Following my position as CIO of the French Government from 2007 to 2011, I am now Marketing Director for Trusted Cloud Solutions at Orange Business Services.