Until a few months ago, many saw Gaia-X as a dead entity — a project designed to create a federated and secure European data infrastructure that got stuck in a rut of bureaucracy, national interests, and blurred objectives. The service catalog was empty, the number of members was stagnating, and the real-world impact was absent. Still, at the Gaia-X Summit in Brussels in December 2022, CEO Francesco Bonfiglio was just announcing the then-upcoming launch of the first Gaia-X Digital Clearing House (GXDCH). The announcement was accompanied by a demo of more than 170 service descriptions from members that were ready to obtain compliance through the GXDCH. At that point in time, we were still dealing with just announcements and slides.

The Market-X Conference & Expo in March 2023 started to demonstrate Gaia-X’s capabilities, moving it from slideware to a concrete deliverable for the first time. Though it is good to see progress beyond slideware, it is not clear if what has been built meets a defined business need that customers see value in. If Gaia-X does not show clear usage patterns showing real customer demand, then all of this will be for naught. Real adoption of the clearing house by vendors and end-user organizations will finally show us whether Gaia-X flies or not. This might take time, as adoption itself will have to move beyond the pilots and small projects that meet the bare-minimum requirements to qualify for compliance with the clearing house’s rules. Organizations will have to be willing to spend their own money and make real investments in projects underpinned by the clearing house. If the Gaia-X Digital Clearing House becomes part of the essential infrastructure to power data exchange across Europe and beyond, then Gaia-X will have delivered clear value at last. If organizations find other ways to more cheaply or easily keep their data moving, then Gaia-X’s time is finally past.

The Gaia-X Digital Clearing House: A Step Toward Realizing Early Promises

The creation of the Gaia-X Digital Clearing House does provide a more transparent view of cloud data sovereignty in Europe and facilitates cloud migration and data space projects. European organizations can now use the GXDCH to demonstrate compliance and appear in the Gaia-X master catalog, showing their level of compliance and their commercial offer. Organizations can search for Gaia-X services, build their own private catalog or federation, or join an existing one.

In Germany, for example, the lighthouse project of Gaia-X for future mobility, funded by the German government, includes use cases such as predictive maintenance of traffic infrastructures and inter-/multi-modal mobility with T-Systems as the main technology partner. The project adopts Gaia-X design principles to shape the use cases, which in turn guide the work of other service and solution providers in developing solutions in the mobility data space that are Gaia-X compliant.

In Austria, the provider K-Businesscom has become a clearing house to bring its services onto Gaia-X, strengthen the scalability of data services, and enable data sharing among organizations. Gaia-X delivers the framework and the software components that are necessary to do that. HPE’s Austria business unit is also involved, with an intent to enable trust from the data to the silicon.

In Italy, Aruba.it is on board as part of Structura-X, another lighthouse project that complements the previous, industry-specific lighthouse initiatives for the automotive (Catena-X), agriculture (AgriGaia), and finance (Eurodat) sectors. Structura-X in fact targets the European cloud infrastructure space and endeavors to enable existing cloud services and infrastructure providers, as well as their data and infrastructure services, to be Gaia-X certifiable.

At the EU level, in the energy sector, the lighthouse project OMEGA-X is following the design principles of Gaia-X to build an operational energy data space. The project aims to promote data sharing among energy operators and find further concrete use cases. OMEGA-X is funded by the European Commission, which plans to build five interoperable energy data spaces in total. Atos is delivering the technical part of the data space, while energy players such as ETF and Ilia are providing the expertise and data from the energy field.

The GXDCH Supports The Data Spaces Concept

The GXDCH acts as a “node of verification” of the Gaia-X rules. By going through them, organizations obtain Gaia-X compliance and become part of the project’s ecosystem. This is one of many possible ways to establish trust within the EU around data spaces. Furthermore, it gives European players a new centrality for use cases that are data-sensitive. It is important to mention that, according to Gaia-X principles, every player that follows the rules can become a clearing house. One of the declared goals of Gaia-X, however, is to free up part of the European data market from the predominant power of non-European players and strengthen the positioning of European cloud service providers in the EU-27 data market. The EU cloud service provider market is projected to reach €830 billion by 2025. One of the obvious consequences of this is that it still drives a horse and cart through the declared EU single market goal of “free trade and open competition” and allows plenty of good old-fashioned dirigisme and protectionism for this market.

Overall, Gaia-X is proposing a framework for sovereignty ensuring that data services traded in Europe are compliant with the variegated EU regulations and can support the creation of compliant “data spaces.”

A Cornerstone For Sovereign Cloud In Europe

Despite earlier efforts such as Cloud28+, Europe has lacked a comprehensive framework to leverage the isolated strengths of vendors and service providers and build broader capabilities compliant with a non-unique body of EU regulation. This new stage of the Gaia-X journey helps connect European organizations having data sovereignty concerns with European vendors and service providers. To compete with hyperscalers for data-sensitive workloads and engagements, local providers will need to up their game on the functionality and ecosystems that their solutions support. While we do not see a groundswell of technology leaders looking to exclusively buy local, there does remain considerable political and regulatory pressure that will push some customers in this direction whether they like it or not. French (SecNumCloud) and German (C5) initiatives are influencing the next wave of regulations in Europe and are triggering fresh interest in the solutions of European vendors.

To find out more about how European organizations can plan their cloud and digital journeys to account for an ever-evolving regulatory environment, explore my research.