Sovereign, Networked, and Open Data Infrastructure

As the "cradle of an open digital ecosystem, in which data can be made available, merged and shared securely and with confidence.” This is how the GAIA-X initiators from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Research praise their initiative. Its name comes from Greek mythology where “Gaia” refers to the primordial goddess and the personification of the Earth. A great name for a no less great project.

What is GAIA-X?

The goal of the GAIA-X initiative is to create a cloud infrastructure for the economy in Europe to break up the dominance of foreign corporations, primarily from the USA. As announced at the 2019 Digital Summit, this will create a secure and trustworthy, sovereign, networked and open data infrastructure for Europe.

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier explained the background to GAIA-X: “Data will become the most important raw material of the future. Therefore, the European economy urgently needs an infrastructure that ensures data sovereignty and broad data availability with high security standards.” Research Minister Anja Karliczek agrees that this is indeed absolutely necessary: “Because the power over data in Europe should no longer be in the hands of a few international corporations.”

Research Minister Karliczek is most likely referring especially to the cloud offerings of US giants such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft, which dominate the cloud segment with rapidly scaling infrastructures, high market power and large capital reserves. To be digitally sovereign in the long term, Europe has to get equipped to guard against increasing dependencies.

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier during the announcement of GAIA-X: “Data will become the most important raw material of the future. Therefore, the European economy urgently needs an infrastructure that ensures data sovereignty and broad data availability with high security standards.”

Who develops GAIA-X?

The German government is by no means planning to go it alone with GAIA-X at the national level, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs emphasized. The project is to be understood as a proposal to Europe. That is why this path is being taken together with partners, especially France and the European Commission.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs is pleased that the response from companies to the GAIA-X project is very positive. Approximately 100 companies and organizations are currently involved in the technological implementation, and around 60 companies are also involved that contribute the requirements of the project from a user's perspective. Well-known companies such as Deutsche Telekom, 1&1, SAP, BMW, Bertelsmann, Bosch, ENBW as well as US giants such as IBM, Google, Amazon Web Services and meanwhile Microsoft are also on board.

What do cloud giants such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft say about GAIA-X?

The GAIA-X initiative is not intended to compete with the major US providers. Ultimately, the aim is to provide European SMEs with freedom of choice as to which servers and which security standards are used to store sensitive data. Therefore, the project is open to all interested parties who share the objectives of data sovereignty and data availability, according to the Ministry for Economic Affairs.

If Microsoft had initially expressed reservations (a state-driven solution would take too long and would not be successful in the market), Sabine Bendiek, CEO of Microsoft Germany, now stresses: “To exploit the potential of AI for industry, public administration and healthcare, we need a completely new willingness to share data across companies and industries.” According to Ms. Bendiek, the concept paper on GAIA-X contains many correct approaches to this. “That's why we officially registered our interest in participating with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs.”

Why is GAIA-X so important?

“Digital trust, in other words, the trust in secure and user-specific use of the data, is an essential factor for the digital transformation of industry in Germany and in Europe,” Dr. Frank Melzer stated. He is not only CEO of Product and Technology Management at automation specialist Festo, but also head of the steering committee of the platform Industry 4.0, a network of business associations, companies, trade unions, science and government for the further development and implementation of the future project “Industry 4.0”, anchored in the high-tech strategy of the German government.

As a pioneer of the Industry 4.0 platform, Mr. Melzer has co-initiated the GAIA-X project together with other companies such as SAP, Telekom, Bosch, Siemens and Schunk. To implement digital business models successfully, he believes that a trustworthy and secure, but also powerful data infrastructure in Europe is needed. With Festo, he now wants to contribute to the development of the open GAIA-X data infrastructure and, in particular, to participate in the practical testing of various use cases.

Who owns the data in the cloud?

Mr. Melzer sees the advantage of GAIA-X in data sovereignty, among other things. “This data sovereignty ensures that every user has complete control over stored and processed data and an independent decision concerning all access rights.”

GAIA-X co-initiator Prof. Dr. Friedhelm Loh, owner of the Hessian Friedhelm Loh Group, which includes the control cabinet manufacturer Rittal, sees the question “Who owns the data?” as central for SMEs. After all, VW and BMW together with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft create cross-factory and cross-company cloud platforms, in which component suppliers are also to be integrated. As a result, component suppliers have to fear either losing control of their production data or their supplier status if they refuse to send their data to the Amazon or Microsoft cloud.

They learned in their own factories how important data sovereignty was for industrial SMEs. In Rittal's modern control cabinet plant in Haiger, more than 100 machines supply their data, up to 18 terabytes per day. Since it makes no sense to transfer such data into the cloud, Loh Group developed a kind of mini-data processing center that is located directly in the factory. This is now even offered as a product to other medium-sized enterprises.

Such decentralized data infrastructures ( cloud and edge instances in IT language) for large, medium-sized and smaller companies in Germany and Europe are to connect GAIA-X to a homogeneous and user-friendly system and more or less scale to a huge cloud in the future. This should also make it possible to provide methods of machine learning as well as artificial intelligence as a service to small and medium-sized enterprises via standardized interfaces.

However, this idea is not entirely new. The International Data Space IDS research project has been creating a secure data space since 2014. One hundred companies are already working together in this data space and exchanging data about it, for example in materials research and medicine. The Fraunhofer researchers involved in the International Data Space IDS research project are therefore also involved in the design of GAIA-X.

What happens next with GAIA-X?

The aim is now to put the GAIA-X idea into solid forms in 2020. Festo CTO Dr. Melzer revealed that a use case "Collaborative Condition Monitoring" is designed to provide manufacturer-overlapping, continuous collection and analysis of operating and status data of production plants, for example. This use case would then also be used to validate GAIA-X. “The prototypical implementation of the basic functionality in a real customer environment is then to be implemented by Q4 2020.”