Data sovereignty is a popular theme in Europe as governments and enterprises seek ways to reduce their reliance on the large Chinese and US cloud providers that dominate the market.
Such concerns prompted the 2020 launch of the Gaia-X initiative that aims to establish a federated data infrastructure built on European data privacy principles. The Gaia-X European Association for Data and Cloud AISBL, which is the body that runs the initiative, launched in January 2021.
Deutsche Telekom (DT) and its IT services unit T-Systems have been strong supporters of the initiative from the outset. In June 2021, T Systems' chief technology officer Maximilian Ahrens was also elected chairman of the Gaia-X board of directors.
Nevertheless, Gaia-X is aimed at providing secure public clouds at European level. Its creation has not stopped telcos such as DT from creating sovereign clouds at national level.
Local clouds, for local people
Like its French peer Orange, which recently established an independent cloud platform called Bleu that is designed to meet "enhanced data sovereignty" requirements in France, T-Systems has just announced plans to build its own "Sovereign Cloud" for Germany.
In both cases, it seems somewhat ironic that the operators are apparently forced to rely on US public cloud providers: Google Cloud for DT, and Microsoft Azure for Orange.
Also worth noting here is that DT does operate its own public cloud provider in the form of Open Telekom Cloud. Furthermore, T-Systems has previously acted as "data trustee" for Microsoft's German cloud services, although the collaboration came to an end in 2018.
A DT spokesperson said there is one important difference between the old Microsoft offering (at the time called Microsoft Cloud Deutschland/MCD) and the Sovereign Cloud from T-Systems and Google Cloud.
"The MCD offering was an offer disconnected from Microsoft's global cloud platform. It provided less functionality and slower innovation at a price premium for the added security, a proposition that ultimately didn't resonate [with] the market. The [DT] Sovereign Cloud will be part of Google Cloud's DC DACH region.
"The sovereign cloud is a fully connected version of the GCP platform and as such benefiting from all upgrades and updates and innovations without delay. Our concept of sovereignty is not built on physical separation and disconnecting, which is more a heritage of the on-prem world, but by adding protection through a whole set of controls, exercised by T-Systems," the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Orange has said that Bleu will also ultimately join the Gaia-X initiative. T-Systems noted that clients of its service will benefit from "help complying with existing European sovereign cloud policies," including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and DT has indicated that the Sovereign Cloud could form part of Gaia-X.
The DT spokesperson pointed out that Gaia-X is not designed as just another cloud platform. "Rather, it is a pan-European, open network of cloud providers and users. The vision of Gaia-X is primarily to enable data-driven innovations for European users: cross-company, sector-specific data spaces based on cloud infrastructures that comply with European values and rules.
"Both T-Systems and Google Cloud are supporting the development of Gaia-X. The Sovereign Cloud can be an important element of the Gaia-X network," the spokesperson said.
As things stand, T-Systems has said it plans to build and supply sovereign cloud services for German enterprises, the public sector and healthcare organizations in collaboration with Google Cloud.
The new joint offering will be available as of mid-2022 and aims to manage a set of sovereignty controls and measures, including encryption and identity management. In addition, T-Systems said it will exercise a control function over relevant parts of the German Google Cloud infrastructure.
Adel Al-Saleh, CEO of T-Systems, indicated that the service could be extended to Austria and Switzerland "as a next step."
"We are happy that we'll be able to offer customers a cloud solution that is secure and sovereign, but also gives access to the innovation and scalability of Google Cloud in Germany," Al-Saleh said.
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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading