Eclipse Data Connector arrives for GAIA-X, Europe's plan to protect its cloud data from foreign tech firms

But local providers slip in favour of US tech - even at home

GAIA-X, Europe's long awaited federated data infrastructure, got a fresh bulding block this week in the shape of the Eclipse Dataspace Connector, an open-source framework for multi-cloud, policy-based B2B data sharing.

Presented by the German and French Ministries of Economic Affairs in October 2019, the ultimate aim of GAIA-X is to safeguard the sovereignty, availability, interoperability, portability and transparency of data by defining the rules of engagement for cloud providers in the EU.

GAIA-X is Europe's great fluffy white hope to help businesses meet EU data regulations - as part of the wider European Data Strategy - and to do so in a way that is safe from the American and Chinese service providers.

The pace of progress, as one might expect with so many moving parts, has been gradual, but Microsoft, which signed up to GAIA-X initiative in 2020, this week trilled about the Eclipse Dataspace Connector (EDC) as a key component.

"Existing open-source projects address the technical challenges of cataloguing and transferring data for a wide range of use cases," say the Eclipse Foundation's docs.

"However, there is no open-source effort aimed at providing an interoperable, cross-organization framework for data sharing that is built on a common identity model and uniform policy enforcement. This project will integrate with existing data exchange technologies and provide these missing pieces to create a system for data sharing where each organization is able to exert control over how its shared data is used," it adds.

The connector itself can be found on GitHub with a roadmap currently listed as "[TBW]" – to be written.

The interoperability standard has taken a while, although its own roadmap is somewhat better defined than the current TBW of the EDC. A V1 of the core service is expected in November 2021, an alpha version of the Federation Services in January 2022, and a V1 of those services in April 2022.

In May, Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery, outlined the strategy for a French national cloud, one that acknowledges the challenges of data transfer caused by the Schrems II judgement - a judgement which ruled that the EU/US Privacy Shield framework was invalid, meaning American businesses were not in compliance with Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

"Data is strategic, so you have to protect it," he said. "This is the whole goal of the trusted cloud". With this in mind, "servers must be operated in France and companies that use and sell this cloud must be European and owned by Europeans," Le Maire added.

He said the initiative was based on three pillars: data protection to administrations and companies to "guarantee total independence from American extraterritorial laws"; licensing Microsoft and Google services to French companies; consistency with European initiatives, such as GAIA-X.

"The trusted cloud offer is fully in line with GAIA-X's European strategy and precisely targets future developments within the framework of GAIA-X. We are working closely with our German partners on this subject and I am convinced that our partners will also make similar trusted cloud decisions in the coming months."

A local cloud provider, with an apparent vested interest, told us the "UK is going to fall behind Europe and US" in the cloud stakes.

The UK is dominated by the American cloud giants, particularly AWS and Google, with some homegrown organisations unable to compete with their scale, relegating them to tender mostly for niche contracts.

Hybrid cloud player HPE slung its weight behind the GAIA-X project earlier this year with a solution framework and roadmap service. The former, according to HPE, "supports virtually all capabilities that are required to both provide and consume data and services in a decentralized, federated environment."

The latter is simply aimed at helping the company's customers work out how ready they are for the world of GAIA-X and come up with a roadmap for getting there.

The arrival of the EDC comes in the same week that a report by Synergy Research Group shows how far European cloud providers have fallen behind the megacorps, even in their own backyard. Since the start of 2017 to the end of Q2 2021, the European cloud market has grown fourfold to $8.8bn. During the same period, European service providers more than doubled their cloud revenues and saw their market share drop from 27 per cent to 16 per cent, so it is clear who is winning this race.

"This is a game of scale," said John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy Research Group, "and the big three US cloud providers have ploughed over €14bn into European capex in just the last four quarters." Much of that was spent on upgrading and expanding their regional networks.

"Amazon and Microsoft will not be losing any sleep worrying about their future prospects," said Dinsdale, "the European cloud providers can still continue to grow steadily.

"The key for them is to stay focused on use cases that have stricter data sovereignty and privacy requirements and on customer segments that require a strong local support network."

The next few months will be crucial for GAIA-X. ®

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