Gaia X – the Airbus of the Cloud?

Back in July (2019), the German economy minister Peter Altmaier let slip that Germany “has a claim to digital sovereignty” and it needs a European cloud industry of its own to rival “US corporations such as Amazon”. Why not??


So it sounds like Germany might be leading the EU towards creating a European rival to AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). This rival would be called Gaia-X. Should this proposal gain traction in the EU, expect lots of spluttering and astro-turfing about Europe trying to “balkanise the web“, the end-of-the-Internet-as-we-know-it and the loss of “free speech” and “digital rights” – unfortunately everything is political these days.

But why shouldn’t Europe take its own view on cloud services? The reach of cloud platforms like Amazon AWS is staggering – almost any SaaS service  currently consumed in our company, resides on AWS or Azure. It is ultimately on AWS and Azure servers that much of our company’s   deepest company secrets reside. While we have a policy of ensuring that the appropriate availability zone is used (e.g. Europe/West is usually used for our internal information on AWS), the fact remains that a couple of companies have potentially unprecedented access to our data. This should pose a problem for many European organisations, given the history of snooping by the likes of the NSA and recent successful hacking attempts.

But there is also the issue of competition. If Gaia X does come into existence, it will be compared to Airbus. As Airbus began to seriously compete with Boeing in the eighties, accusations of unfair competition pertaining to illegal state assistance were leveled by Boeing. Make no mistake, such accusations will also be leveled at Gaia X. As with Airbus, it will be probably be the case that Gaia X will accept loads of startup funding in the form of soft loans and grants. However, when it comes to pork, there is always a lot to go around – both AWS and Boeing are fed plenty by federal and state governments in the US. 

However, lets put aside the hypocritical claims and counter claims regarding non-level playing pitches, and instead focus on the effect of another large cloud player entering the market. Once again, there are lessons from Airbus: if Airbus never came into existence, Boeing would not produce the incredible products it does today – and vice versa. Boeing and Airbus need each other to ratchet up their ambitions. In the same way, I believe that a Euro-centric Gaia X competing on the world stage would prompt AWS and Azure to innovate even further. For the consumer, there is no such thing as bad competition and while another cloud platform might create some fragmentation amongst developers, is that such a terrible thing? Sometimes I look at AWS and wonder what is different from when IBM or Digital or Microsoft seemed to dominate everyone’s thinking. 

Personally, I’m anxious to see what, if anything, emerges. Diversity is good!!

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