Gaia-X: Inside the bid to create an open, next-gen data infrastructure for European enterprises

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One thing that periodically triggers European governments and industrialists is the continent’s failure to produce a major tech firm to challenge the giant US corporates. 

There are European successes in some areas: Skype and Spotify, for example, but not when it comes to the provision of major infrastructure.

When it comes to naming the hardware, software and cloud service providers that dominate the IT landscape, the names that invariably spring to mind are US-based firms (with Alibaba butting in on the cloud side).

It has not been for want of trying. In the 1970s, vast sums of money were thrown at the likes of ICL, Bull, Olivetti and Philips by their respective national governments in an attempt to produce a national champion to take on the might of US tech giants such as IBM, but they all failed.

Even so, that has not dimmed Europe’s dreams of punching above its own technological weight, which has given rise in the past year to the Gaia-X project.

Set up by representatives from the fields of politics, business and science, its aim is to create a cross-continent data infrastructure based on open standards, created “by Europe, for Europe”.

Its founders are currently in the throes of hosting their first virtual conference to set out what they hope to achieve with Gaia-X, while shedding some light on the roadmap for the project.

A European alternative to the US tech giants

On the face of it, it would appear the project is geared towards creating a European challenger to the new nimble overlords of the digital economy, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Salesforce and so on.

Interestingly, though, the first day of the conference has seen AWS named as a contributor to the project, with the public cloud giant claiming to have been an “active supporter” of the initiative since its inception.

“We joined Gaia-X to help our European customers and partners accelerate cloud-driven innovation in Europe,” said Max Peterson, vice-president of international sales for the worldwide public sector at AWS.

“We support the development of an open and competitive digital ecosystem for Europe’s industries, governments, and citizens. It’s important that our customers have the freedom to build services quickly, securely, and efficiently using world-leading technology. This will best help prepare them to compete at home, across Europe and globally.”

This serving to highlight another aim of the project, which is to give European firms a leg-up when it comes to scaling up their businesses to trade with the wider world.

From a technology competitiveness standpoint, Europe has made efforts to do battle with the US tech giants in the past.  In 2008, the French government (with support from Germany) launched Quaero, a European search engine to compete with Google. After spending nearly 100m Euros of French tax payers’ money on the venture, the government pulled the plug.

The Gaia-X project, originally initiated at the tail-end of last year, has attracted some heavyweight support already. French AWS challenger OVHCloud, BMW, Deutsche Telekom, Atos, Siemens, Bosch, SAP Orange and EDF are among the project’s list of supporters.


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