In October 2019, the French and German economic ministries boldly announced that they were joining forces to build a European sovereign data cloud. They have set up GAIA-X as a specifically European response to long-standing concerns about data sovereignty following the passage of the 2018 US CLOUD Act. In June 2020, more concrete details followed; they reveal that the platform isn’t about displacing existing hyperscale providers generally, as some first assumed.

Three major US providers — Amazon, Microsoft, and Google — are still the primary public cloud vendors for 46% of respondents at European enterprises. No notable European incumbents are in the top five providers, which are all domiciled in the US or China.

GAIA-X to align to European norms and values

Over 300 European companies, research institutes, and public sector entities have now committed to more than 40 use cases for GAIA-X, covering industries like manufacturing, healthcare, public services, and energy.

GAIA-X’s project charters clearly state its desire to align to European norms and values in its design, but it runs the risk of being seen as an attempt to put nontariff barriers in the way of non-European companies, giving market share to local providers that haven’t achieved a presence on their own merits to date. If it does this, it will further erode trust among European CIOs.

European CIOs have long been aware of security concerns over the use of public cloud: This is one of the reasons why European adoption of public cloud lagged North America until recently. GAIA-X is another attempt to deal with some of the data sovereignty and privacy concerns associated with using US-based hyperscalers, driven by the 2018 US CLOUD Act.

However, GAIA-X is still early in its development, so European CIOs should be wary of seeing it as the answer to thorny data sovereignty and privacy issues.

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