Cristina Ferrero Castaño
More than 300 Spanish companies bid to create GAIA-X, the cloud outside of Amazon or Microsoft.
Almost two thirds of them are SMEs, reports the Secretary of State for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence. The aim of the project is to create a European data storage and computing infrastructure independent of US multinationals.
Carlos del Castilllo
September 8, 2021
The plan to create a European cloud independent of the US multinationals that dominate the sector is gaining traction in Spain. The programme is called GAIA-X and up to 313 companies have responded to the expression of interest called for in June by the government, official sources told elDiario.es, with a total of 180 proposals submitted. Almost two thirds of the companies that have asked to participate in the creation of the national section of the project are Spanish SMEs, a result that the government considers "very relevant, because it shows that our SMEs see the relevance and opportunities of the data economy".
GAIA-X is a public-private initiative whose mission is to develop a data storage and cloud computing infrastructure so that European companies are no longer dependent on US technology companies in this field. This market is currently dominated by Amazon Web Services (32%), Microsoft Azure (20%) and Google Cloud (9%), according to the consultancy firm Trading Platforms. China's Alibaba (6%) is the top non-US company on the list.
The aim of the project is for the next generation of the cloud to be "European sovereignty" and "to represent a secure alternative in the market and provide access and reuse control capacity for those who produce the data", explain the Secretary of State for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence (SEDIA), which is coordinating the creation of the Spanish chapter. In short: data generated in Europe should stay on the continent, be governed by EU laws and not depend on foreign multinationals that use it to generate a profit that they then take abroad.
The ground anchor of this European cloud will consist of a network of national hubs. The original idea was born out of a partnership between France and Germany in 2019, which used a model based on a partnership of companies coordinated by their respective governments. The initiative soon after took on a European character. Spain will join the project in the coming months, drawing on EU funds for the recovery from the coronavirus crisis. The first step has been this call by the government to companies interested in forming the association responsible for the Spanish leg of GAIA-X.
This Thursday, SEDIA has organised the first workshop on the initiative for the organisations that have applied, which will be attended by representatives of a hundred companies. "Following this expression of interest and the good reception received, we are setting in motion the roadmap for work between now and the end of the year with industry agents (from very different sectors of activity) to begin to design and establish this national GAIA-X hub," the Secretary of State explained to this newspaper.
There are currently some 250 international organisations and companies subscribed to the project, a figure that serves to put into context the 313 companies that have submitted proposals for the Spanish chapter alone. In addition to France, Germany and Spain, Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Hungary have also announced their participation.
A first sanitary use
The scope of the new European cloud will be "very sectoral" at first, warn the same sources. One example of its possible uses is the healthcare data lake being promoted by SEDIA together with the Ministry of Health. This is a large database where large amounts of clinical information generated by hospitals and health centres would be dumped, with the aim of using artificial intelligence to detect new patterns, help research and develop preventive medicine. This data would be previously pseudonymised and anonymised.
The government has earmarked €100 million from the recovery fund for this healthcare "data lake". It has also asked the GAIA-X governing board to lead the development of the European cloud in the health sector in order to boost the initiative. A large number of Spanish medical societies (Oncology, Primary Care Physicians, Intensive Care Medicine, etc.) and patients (the Spanish Association Against Cancer or the Platform of Patients' Organisations) have already supported the idea.
The plan of the promoters of GAIA-X is precisely to create their own infrastructure so as not to have to submit information as sensitive as that of a health 'data lake' to providers outside the EU.
Cloud, data lake, artificial intelligence
The project to create a Spanish GAIA-X chapter is in line with the digital axis on which the government's recovery plan for European funds is based. "Spain is the EU country that is going to devote the largest percentage of these funds to its digital transformation. Exactly 30%, more than 20 million euros, as opposed to the average of 20% in the rest of the countries of the Union", Carme Artigas, Secretary of State for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence, recalled on Wednesday in an appearance in the Senate to explain the details of this strategy.
A central point of the plan, said the Secretary of State, is to boost the Spanish artificial intelligence sector. "It is one of the technologies with the greatest future projection and impact on the economy and society. It is a catalyst for research and development, making the generation, storage and processing of massive data, big data, an economic sector in itself," she said.
Artigas, who before joining the government was one of the biggest entrepreneurs in the national AI sector (she founded a data analysis start-up that she sold to Telefónica for 10 million euros, becoming one of the multinational's top executives), warns that this development will not come without prior effort. "The success of this transformation depends to a large extent on the existence of a competitive supply of infrastructures, digital service products based on enabling technologies and R&D activities that are also transferred to industry," she said.