Europe’s Gaia-X takes on Amazon and Microsoft clouds

June 04, 2020 // By Nick Flaherty
Gaia-X aims to provide data portability, privacy and 'digital sovereignty' for cloud and data centre services across Europe.
Gaia-X aims to provide data portability, privacy and 'digital sovereignty' for cloud and data centre services across Europe.

The French and German governments have backed an ambitious project called Gaia-X to provide an open network of data centres that enable cloud services with a focus on security, data privacy and identity management. The project, demonstrated by German cloud provider Cloud & Heat, would take on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure as well as use their data centre resources.  

The German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs, Peter Altmaier, and French Minister for the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, today published the first architecture paper on Gaia-X which runs from large AI accelerators and supercomputers to edge computing for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0.

“I am pleased that we can now present the first tangible results from GAIA-X to the public,” said Dr. Marius Feldmann, COO of Cloud & Heat Technologies which runs 24 data centres across Europe powered by waste heat and renewable energy.

“With the presentation of the demonstrator, the project takes an important step on the way to a European digital ecosystem, especially since parts of it have already been programmed,” he said. “On this basis, we can not only clearly explain the Gaia-X principle to the world, but also identify hurdles more easily. The next goal is to expand the demonstrator with additional use cases and the addition of additional functions, especially in the area of ​​identity management.”

The architecture consists of a Node, Service, Service Instance or Data Asset. A Node is a computational resource, ranging from data centres, edge computing, basic hardware, network and infrastructure to building blocks such as virtual machines or containers. These hierarchical nodes can, for example, represent a pan-European Node Provider that is structured into country regions, which are themselves structured into data centre locations, racks and individual servers, which are themselves Gaia-X Nodes.

“There are a couple of good reasons for Gaia-X,” said Ronny Reinhardt, innovation manager at Cloud & Heat and one of the authors of the architecture. “In the current system, there is still insufficient interoperability and often a lack of data portability. Once you have committed yourself to a provider you are bound to their system in varying degrees.”

The hardware and services are implemented with security and data privacy from the start to comply with the European GDPR regulations.

“With a data and infrastructure ecosystem like Gaia-X, you can combine different services to match your needs,” he said. “For example, you can choose an AI service and specify that you want this service to run in a secure and GDPR-compliant environment in Germany on an infrastructure that utilizes its waste heat and is powered by renewable energy. Being able to make these decisions is what enables digital sovereignty.”

The Cloud offerings can be standalone or built in relation to other Gaia-X Services, but do not favour any of the common concepts such as Infrastructure-as-a-Ser vice, Platform-as-a-Service and so on. The Cloud Service Providers in Gaia-X cover all sorts of general-purpose cloud infrastructure providers ranging from high performance computing (HPC) supercomputers, small regional providers, specialized bare metal providers to large hyperscale data centres and will be listed in a catalogue.

The general openness of Gaia-X is a good fit for the HPC research community, as their resources are often funded by the public. The federated architecture securely bundles resources whenever needed, for scientific work loads or cooperation between industrial and academic partners. An additional incentive is the possibility to integrate and share research data in specialized Infrastructure Ecosystems, which is a main driver in some areas of research such as Covid-19 research.

Gaia-X also allows for sector specific clouds, for example processing medical data.

Edge clouds are an integral part of the GAIA-X Infrastructure Ecosystem. These are clouds that are not co-located with other cloud providers in data centres, for example clouds in factories or privately-owned data centres used for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0.

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