Sovereign Clouds: Cloud-first to cloud-smart

Posted on 20/09/2021 by vmwareemeasmt

Joe Baguley, VP & CTO EMEA, VMware

Political leaders are not renowned for their ability to agree. This is the case at a national level, let alone an international one. So, the fact that heads of state and policy-makers across Europe see a need to build a pan-national capability for digital infrastructure and resilience means they must be onto something.

It’s the subject of our latest whitepaper, ‘Return of Sovereign Cloud: Protecting and unlocking the value of critical data’

Data economy – a vital national interest

Political leaders in both France and Germany have recently spoken about the need for ‘European champions’ as an alternative to U.S. cloud providers. In September, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “The battle we’re fighting is one of sovereignty…If we don’t build our own champions in all areas—digital, artificial intelligence—our choices will be dictated by others.” Similarly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has previously expressed concerns about “digital dependencies” on the U.S. These are just two examples.

In this excellent article, Simon Hansford, CEO of UKCloud says “Data monopolies are a real danger, as hoarding assets means no competition in the market, which inevitably raises concerns for local communities and businesses alike. Handing over the reins willingly to one or two companies can have hugely detrimental and very real consequences’

It is clear that, as the data economy becomes a vital national and pan European interest, sovereign states need a digital capability that prevents them from becoming dependent on foreign organisations and operators for processing their own data. And there’s a ton of market data that supports this. According to KPMG, The European cloud market was worth an estimated €53 billion in 2020 and is expected to climb to between €300 billion and €500 billion by 2027-2030.

Carrot and stick of Sovereign Cloud

It’s critical to establish what Sovereign Cloud is, exactly. At its core it is about the emerging data economy and protecting and unlocking the value of national, corporate, and personal data. It is a specific response to the realities of the growing importance of data privacy – this from the citizen-level, up. That’s one half of the equation.

The other is what is driving the need for it now. There are many reasons for this, which are covered in detail in the whitepaper but can be summarised here as follows; dominance of hyperscalers like Google and AWS and the increasingly uncomfortable reliance on these US-based entities to hold valuable information. The Cloud Act too, which permits the US government to obtain this data. The increasing prevalence of sophisticated cyber attacks is also an issue. According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2020, there was a 400% increase in reported cyberattacks and an 800% increase in ransomware attacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Away from the stick, there is the carrot too. The economic stakes are massive (jobs, investment, value) due to strong demand for cloud services in Europe.

So, while the concept of Sovereign Clouds is not new, it has taken on new meaning and importance recently.

Who owns the data

Of course, the concept of who owns the data and therefore how it is best used, isn’t necessarily straightforward. Take UK car registrations for instance, the bastion of the DVLA. On the surface this data has value around people movement, automotive spend, carbon output and the like. But if this information is exploited to its potential through machine learning tools it can inform a huge amount of decision making in both the public and private sector as well as for citizens too. This is the point around sovereignty. It is the desire to create value from baseline data that flows back to the people for whom it will most benefit.

But in a world of borderless commerce the lines, regulations and requirements can blur. France, for example, has a national agenda where it requires data to be stored in the European Union. Germany requires localisation either in Germany or the EU depending on the level of sovereignty in the background check of the data. But whatever the data, it’s no longer just bytes on a hard drive but the lifeblood of future economic value that needs to be managed, protected and shared in a sovereign manner, but for Europe to exploit.

 Of course, this is what the Gaia-X project has been designed to address.

Overlap that delivers value

The Gaia-X project goes way beyond Sovereign Cloud but, as a concept it is creating frameworks where different industries and groups can come together and share data. Not only is this done in a structured fashion but in a way that actually aligns under clear guidelines that ultimately brings the value back into Europe. Both Gaia-X and Sovereign Cloud stand alone, each in its own right, but there is overlap when it comes to creating a trust ecosystem for the region based on gold-standard practices.

Gaia-X is facilitating new data spaces in which data can be shared within and between industries and could advance science, society and economies. Yet there is recognition of the importance of enabling market players to see the impact too. The challenges of data portability, interoperability, and common commercial and legal frameworks have different implications for different industries. That is where Gaia-X is helping participants come together to define use cases for their industries and to share information that can make industry data spaces possible. This is because they each have a responsibility to think about how that data is going to be used, where it sits, who can exploit it and how it can be combined to deliver a real economic opportunity for many years.

Investing in a data economy

Just as policy leaders have invested resources for many years in developing national highway infrastructure or airports or port facilities to foster economic growth, they must now invest in building a data economy. We have the technology to enable everybody in Europe to have their own Sovereign Cloud, one that enables digital sovereignty through the Gaia-X framework. We’re not excluding the hyperscalers, we’re just going from cloud first to cloud smart.

Europe is evolving very fast in on the Digital Economy journey. Data is the fuel and Cloud is the engine. It does represent huge investments which need to be protected with new frameworks. Gaia-X framework is focusing on the development of Data spaces, and Sovereign Cloud ensure the alignment of the Cloud Services with security and local regulation. The exponential growth of data represent a massive opportunity to create new use cases for added value services (transforming data into knowledge and services). An advanced Creation Toolkit for Data space is required to maximize the value of these new opportunities. With Tanzu Data, VMware has demonstrated advanced capabilities in developing new dataspaces.

Francesco Bonfiglio, Gaia-X CEO, will be joining us at VMworld. Please join us for our session:  Ready for the Gaia-X revolution? Let’s talk about the acceleration of the European data-driven economy#

You can read much more about this subject in our whitepaper here.


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