Building a European ecosystem of federated cloud and data spaces

By Francesco Bonfiglio, Gaia-X CEO

Established in 2021 as a privately funded not-for-profit Association, Gaia-X brings together an international community of providers, users and researchers of technology, from all different sectors and regions, with the aim to build a common standard for transparent, controllable and interoperable technologies in order to enable the creation of common data spaces and doing so boost the European data economy.

The key question is why data spaces do not exist today. Do we face a lack of technology, data or of, business cases or use cases? Absolutely not. There is more data out there that we can handle. What we miss is a Common Trust Framework. In other words, there is no regulation talking about trust.

Gaia-X is trying to translate this concept of trust into a technology framework implementing a set of rules. We aim to provide transparency, controllability, and interoperability of services through a Transparency Framework called the Trust Framework.

Data is currently collected everywhere, but still very little is used. The potential of available information is largely unknown and unexploited by most companies because they are scared of the control technology platforms will exercise on their data.

Also, industrial, economical, and societal ecosystems cannot fully become digital unless their value chain – involving all participants – becomes digital through data exchange. But data exchange requires the definition of a common value for all participants and requires trustworthy technologies.

Without digital value chains – that are common data spaces where all participants share one another their data – it is not possible to reduce dependencies from single sources, it is not possible to calculate ESG impacts of a product or service, it is not possible to optimise the cost of production or the overall energy footprint across the value chain, none can optimise its own product or service without the data from all others in its value chain.

We already live in a world where our lives, the way we consume goods and create, heavily depend on digital technologies and solutions. What we are doing at Gaia-X is creating services that can be added to already-existing cloud technologies to create trusted platforms where data can be exchanged between parties in a secure, transparent, and user-controllable way, reducing reliance on opaque and black-box platforms, controlled often by private, monolithic, international parties.

Gaia-X is not designing new technologies or creating alternative platforms to compete with the market dominants; we are creating the premises to start adopting existing technologies, trusting them and creating those digital value chains to create competitive, innovative, and impactful services in the market, in the society, and the natural ecosystems.

As a user or a provider, we must ask ourselves, do I want, or does my company really profits from a technology where the decision on how the information is made and shared is centralised and controlled, often by one party? In this system, no single entity has access to a complete system of information, and the decision-making process is top-to-down, and the smaller you get, the less flexibility you have.

So, instead of a centralised system, we are offering a federated system of decentralised connections. Where information processing is distributed among multiple nodes of data providers and users, which agreed to adhere to the same rules and act in accordance with before mentioned Gaia-X Standards, this system is more robust and dynamic. It goes beyond maintaining a database and allows one to manage systems dynamically. With the Gaia-X Framework, and soon to be released to the public, Gaia-X Digital Clearing House (GXDCH), many actors of today and the future digital market, will be able to formalise and secure new business relationships.

At Gaia-X, we are developing digital governance based on regulatory, industry standards, and requirements from our project members (large and small industries, technology providers and users, academics, and trade associations) to allow them to define the rules and characteristics required to meet real market expectations.

What distinguishes us is that we not only define these criteria in textual specifications, but we also implement them into a technical framework – i.e., source code – to achieve Gaia-X Compliance.

The degree of cloud technology adoption in Europe is less than 25%, indicating a lack of confidence. This hurdle inhibiting the growth of the data economy cannot be removed without a description of the norms for obtaining trust and an objective evaluation of the amount of trust.

Under the above premises, Gaia-X has created a new standard for determining trust and controllability of digital services and developed a technology framework to implement its verification. In the first months of 2023, the first Gaia-X Digital Clearing Houses – nodes of execution of the Gaia-X compliance services – will be up and running, enabling the population of Gaia-X marketplaces with thousands of services already available from the members and ready to show a concrete alternative.