Gaia-X, a project that aims to establish a  cloud computing and data ecosystem, protected by European rules, is pushing for greater independence from the American and Chinese cloud giants.

Europe’s drive to keep data and data centres out of the hands of multinational digital behemoths received a boost when the leaders of Germany and France teamed up to launch the initiative.

French and German ministers met in Brussels to officially launch Gaia-X, a European cloud project aimed at establishing an interoperable data exchange through which companies can share data while remaining protected by European regulations.

In short, the project aims to strengthen Europe’s digital environment, but there is more to it. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

What is Gaia-X?

Gaia-X is a project to set up a unique cloud computing and data ecosystem, compliant with European data protection regulations.

Different cloud service providers would be connected to each other via an interoperable data exchange that would function as a shuttle for data between industries in the system. It will also serve as a repository for companies looking for particular data services, such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and big data.

It is not positioning itself so much as a competitor to the cloud platforms of Amazon, Microsoft and Google, but as an attempt to bring together the current cloud services of European companies into a single ecosystem. Gaia-X will simplify data sharing for businesses in many areas such as healthcare, agriculture, banking, energy and utilities. This will make local cloud providers more visible.

The goal of Gaia-X

The EU wants Europe to be a leader in data-driven innovation, especially in the areas of artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing, which are all evolving.

At present, this poses a problem for the EU. As the Gaia-X project documents point out, Europe does not have a notable cloud computing platform, search engine or operating system. Rather, it relies on a variety of infrastructure and platform providers around the world, particularly the United States and China.

These nations have different views on the ownership, treatment and privacy of data, which can lead to conflicts of interest. It is more difficult for a business to protect its customers’ data if it is stored and processed on a server in the United States, which operates under different regulations.

Gaia-X wants to minimise Europe’s dependence on large multinational cloud companies, by encouraging companies to choose local alternatives that are protected by European data regulations.

At the same time, Gaia-X is expected to encourage cross-industry collaboration by making it easy for companies to find cloud services, share data and cooperate on new digital services, which could boost the EU digital market.

What are the Gaia-X regulations?

Gaia-X will not develop its own set of regulations and standards from scratch. On the contrary, it will adopt and develop a number of current European rules.

Perhaps most importantly, participants have control over what data they want to share with other companies, what they want to keep private, and how the data will be used. This means that participants retain control over their data when using it across different industries.

Who can participate?

Any cloud computing company, including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, can apply to be a part of Gaia-X, but they must adhere to the initiative’s rigorous set of principles and regulations, which are as follows:

  1. Data protection in Europe

These are the adherence to European regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation, the Regulation on the Free Movement of Non-Personal Data and the Cybersecurity Act. This also implies the possibility of applying several degrees of protection depending on the type of data and the use case.

  1. Transparency and openness

Reducing complexity and costs requires an open data architecture that encourages openness and standardised contracts and procedures.

  1. Integrity and reliability

Gaia-X will include methods to ensure that participants respect IT security, data sovereignty, service levels and frameworks. The project will also take into account other criteria defined for collaboration, inter-company authentication and access management.

  1. Digital self-determination and sovereignty

Based on their own classification of data, each participant can determine where their data is stored, who can process it and for what purpose.

  1. Market access and value development in Europe

Entry into the Gaia-X project involves the possibility of sharing data between companies, organisations, universities, research institutes and associations in order to develop and grow innovative business models in Europe. Participants can, for example, integrate their cloud services and develop them together.

  1. Interoperability and modularity

Gaia-X will connect and combine data from many cloud computing platforms, removing barriers to access. This will allow small, niche cloud computing companies to be competitive.

  1. Friendliness

Gaia-X will use user-friendly interfaces based on centralised services, which will allow people with little or no technical knowledge to access it.

Who is part of Gaia-X?

Amadeus, Atos, Beckhoff, Bosch, BMW, DE-CIX, Deutsche Telekom, Docaposte, EDF, Fraunhofer, German Edge Cloud, Institut Mines Telecom, International Data Spaces Association, Orange, 3DS Outscale, OVHcloud, PlusServer, Safran, SAP, Scaleway and Siemens are among the founding members of Gaia-X, according to ZDNet.

Over 40 industrial use cases of Gaia-X have been submitted since the initiative’s initial launch in October 2019. According to the documents describing the project, 170 employees from 150 different companies, research institutes, organisations and institutions are now involved.

What are the expectations of the Gaia-X project

The Gaia-X initiative raises high expectations from European companies. They said the initiative will significantly contribute to the achievement of the EU’s digital ambitions.

According to the strategy, by 2025, the European cloud computing sector will play a leading role globally and serve as a showcase for competitiveness in the areas of climate neutrality, cybersecurity and reliability of  data transmission, ensuring the establishment of global standards.

However, opponents of the project have pointed out that the initiative involves powerful American structures. According to some free software experts, if the EU and national governments are to invest in Gaia-X to strengthen the EU’s technological skills, they must ensure that Gaia-X does not turn into a Trojan horse allowing  the “hyperscalers” of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) to siphon off public funds.

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