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News & Highlights

Driving the European digital economy through cloud transformation and initiatives like Gaia-X

Laurent Allard, Strategic Business Development EMEA, VMware

We’re entering a new era for Europe where digital is driving the economy across both public and private sectors. One that promises to address many of the major challenges faced by each of the member states – everything from privacy and security to the fluidity of data to empower rapid decision making, and an accelerated change in the way people consume services, work and live their lives. All of which, when combined, can usher in a new era of prosperity for the region. The realisation of this vision – the culmination of digital transformation initiatives, strategic foundation of cloud technology and the embryonic, but rapidly growing, Gaia-X initiativeis to protect the European investments.

As a result, we are seeing data emerge as the cornerstone, the lifeblood and the strategic asset in this next digital phase.

Power of European data

But it is precisely because of its importance that data must be protected and prioritised. If, as a collective, we can harness the power of data in the European economy the results have the potential to be staggering. Key to this is how this 21st Century gold mine is stored, used and transferred. Put simply, data from European consumers must be kept thus in order for it to be commercially beneficial for the region and create a market to drive innovation.

That said, looking to achieve digital and data ownership doesn’t automatically equate to autarchy. The vision is not to create new trade barriers or to increase protectionism. Rather that European governments and businesses, as an essential part of the value chain, come together with a common goal and both involvement, and the commodity, remain sovereign. This can only be achieved if access to data is made uniform, and everyone has ease and choice of access, so that everyone involved is able to make the best decisions, from the best data set within the best regulatory, security and access parameters. Data is the strategic asset of the new e-economy.

Cloud control, security and governance

To provide a degree of scale, the value of the data economy of the EU27 is predicted to be more than €550 billion by 2025, representing 4 % of the overall EU GDP, according to the Final Study Report: The European Data Market Monitoring Tool. But fundamental to realising this impact is the move to the cloud. Europe will simply not reach its digital sovereignty potential without the appropriate cloud infrastructure structure in place to reduce expenditure in IT, drive application modernisation and increase data portability and reversibility. But this requires transparency and trust. The fact that today, only 25% of EU applications and data are in the cloud is a direct indicator of how much progress needs to be made. But also, how much more opportunity there is, for individual economies, for consumers, for cloud providers and technology providers – and for Europe.

The reasons behind such a figure can be charted back to the inception of cloud technology. European businesses were slower to adopt cloud computing because, for several years after it took off in North America, there were no major cloud service providers located in Europe. The main driver has been the fast emergence of digital powerhouses in the US leading to a fast development of hyperscaler cloud service providers. Due to the time delay in adopting the cloud, European businesses learned from the mistakes of their transatlantic colleagues about control, security and governance. Fast forward to today and reticence clearly remains, fuelled by developments like the CLOUD Act. Passed in 2018, which gives U.S. law enforcement authorities the power to request data stored by most major US cloud providers, even if it is outside the United States.

No surprise then that some governments and organisations are weary, but another opportunity came to the fore when the Gaia-X project was unveiled. Europe’s initiative to promote and develop the digital economy in Europe.

Data driven innovation

The EU wants Europe to be a leader in data-driven innovation, particularly in the evolving fields of AI, big data and cloud computing. At present, this poses somewhat of a dilemma because Europe currently has sizeable regional providers but no global hyperscaler, search engine or operating system to speak of, and instead, relies on a selection of infrastructure and platform providers from overseas, particularly the US and China. These countries take a different stance on laws governing data ownership, data processing and privacy, which can create conflicts of interest: it’s more difficult for a company to protect their users’ data if it’s being stored and processed on a server in the US, operating under different data laws.

Gaia-X aims to mitigate Europe’s dependency on non-European providers, and instead encourage businesses to look to European solutions, and control the risk when they use non-European cloud service providers protected by European data laws. It seeks to combine rules and policies, with technical standards to provide transparency, security, interoperability and reversibility of applications and data. This, of course, is not suggesting Gaia-X is Europe’s digital sovereign cloud but that it promotes and supports digital sovereignty within European countries. Indeed, non-European regions, like in the Middle East, have started to express interest in Gaia-X, which will probably see it extend out of Europe in time.

It’s hoped that Gaia-X will stimulate intra-industry collaboration (emerging new ecosystems) by making it easy for businesses to search for cloud services, exchange data and collaborate on new digital services as never seen before that could boost the EU’s digital marketplace. This will be done by creating common data spaces that will enable the sharing of data while following common EU guidelines, legal requirements and protocols.

This doesn’t mean Gaia-X will create its own set of policies and architecture guidelines from the ground up but will instead incorporate a number of already existing European rules and build on them. Selecting the best practices from across the technology ecosystem worldwide is the mantra for this project. This is particularly the case with its cloud infrastructure, which must be hybrid, combining cloud on premise and public cloud offerings provided by market operators. This is to ensure any solutions are interoperable, provided by multiple actors and in line with the core values of the project. 

Key attributes to cloud and digital success

As a day-one member, and now one of over 200 members, we are not only matched to the way in which Gaia-X works on a practical level but are ideally placed to advise and guide on what is required to accelerator of digital transformation. We, and our unique ecosystem of cloud provider partners, ranging from hyperscalers to local country cloud providers can offer control and choice as well as innovation. In addition to providing operational building blocks as a foundation of Gaia-X principles – both for infrastructure ecosystem and for Data Space development frameworks – we are continually working alongside Gaia-X working groups to share our experience to meet industry standards and expectations, including:

  1. Intrinsic Security – Built-in from the ground-up, which guarantees the highest level of security required within the regulatory framework
  2. Fully interoperable, reversible, & portable – The ability to migrate between public and diverse private cloud solutions seamlessly according to cloud consumption needs, with no serious risks and no hidden costs
  3. Open source-based – The ability for organisations to glue different bits of technological solutions, whether open source-based or proprietary, to avoid dependency of proprietary solutions and no lock in.
  4. Cloud Neutral – The ability to migrate workloads from one cloud solution to another, bring the workload back home or operate workloads on different cloud services at the same time
  5. Energy efficiency – Improvements in green technologies are key to reaching the European Commission’s target of ensuring data centers are carbon-neutral by 2030 – Through workload control, automation and cutting down on energy-intensive hardware equipment, VMware already realise both a reduction of the CO2 footprint of Data Centers but also a reduction of 60% of the IT costs

VMware is a trusted partner to international, national and local businesses across Europe, as well as Governments, European and International security organisations, public agencies dealing with personal health information or Social Security and employment-related data, as well as the defence industry. We already give organisations control over their technological choices and data as they respect the principles of autonomy without becoming dependent on any cloud provider or, indeed, VMware. These proven and trusted technologies are used by international security organisations, governments, police and armed forces as they embed intrinsic security, interoperability, reversibility, and portability, and support both open source and cloud-neutral environments. Our own ambition is to help organisations focus on their business goals, driving their application modernisation, the lifeblood of business, supported with one cloud foundation that enables them to deliver any app, on any cloud to any device. So, we believe we are fully aligned.

Benefit the data-driven economy and cloud

The digital economy, and indeed the success of the Gaia-X project, hinges on the technology at its foundation, and that means Europe needs more cloud-ready business. This means the very highest principles are not just a target, but mandatory. The approach of opening Gaia-X to international partners is a key and welcome step here. We in turn will continue to be guided by our own cloud principles, with the full force of our ecosystem of cloud provider partners, to foster openness in the cloud – and thus a strong digital European economy that benefits businesses, governments, people and society.


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