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Interview about Cloud&Heat’s avant-garde role in Gaia-X project

3.06.2020 - by Lea Haußmann

 

The digital summit in October 2019 kicked-off the Gaia-X project which aims for providing the basis for an efficient and competitive, secure and trustworthy data infrastructure for Europe. We from Cloud&Heat are fundamental part of it. Our Innovation Manager Dr. Ronny Reinhardt is a member of the Architecture Board and we are pleased that we can interview him today about Gaia-X as well as his and Cloud&Heat’s role in the Gaia-X consortium.

Ronny, an exciting project with an important milestone is coming up: the progress report event with the Ministers for Economic Affairs of Germany and France, Peter Altmaier and Bruno Le Maire, on June 4th. How does it feel to be a part of such an interesting project?

 

Gaia-X is an incredibly exciting project. A lot of different companies and institutions are involved and all of them are pursuing the same goal. Especially with this many parties involved, it is something which can not be taken for granted and which really emphasizes the feeling that we are working on something meaningful. It’s also a lot of fun to work with so many different people from various companies.

 

At the same time, it is a challenging project because of the many different views regarding more detailed aspects, which we try to resolve consensually. In addition, for most participants working on Gaia-X it is still a secondary job, which they have to coordinate with their main job. So, the progress of the project isn’t as rapid as other projects. Nevertheless, it’s surprising how much the project has achieved in the short amount of time and under these circumstances.

To get directly to the point and I guess this is what the readers want to know the most, what exactly is Gaia-X?

 

Gaia-X is a federated data and infrastructure ecosystem based on European values and standards. Basically, Gaia-X creates the framework conditions for an open, transparent, and interconnected system of digital services. These framework conditions include policy rules, an architecture of standards and federation services.

 

From my view, it is also important to know what Gaia-X is not. Gaia-X is not an exclusive club but rather an initiative open to everyone who shares the same goals. It is also not a research and development project because we are focusing our efforts on using existing technologies and standards.

 

However, Gaia-X is still in an early stage and everyone involved may have a slightly different understanding of what Gaia-X is and means for them.

Why do we need Gaia-X? 

 

There are a couple of good reasons for Gaia-X. 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. There is also a lack of transparency regarding many important questions from users such as:

 

  • “How secure are the services I am using?”
  • “Are my services running on an environmentally-friendly infrastructure?”

 

With a data and infrastructure ecosystem like Gaia-X, you can combine different services to match your needs. 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.

We assume there is not just one answer to this question because of the many parties involved, but what is the added value of Gaia-X for its users? 

 

You are right, there are many different organizations participating in the Gaia-X project and each one of them anticipates different added values. But let’s take a look at the two prominent groups: service providers and service consumers.

 

Many providers like Cloud&Heat already have a range of strong services. However, being able to combine different services in a modular way enables entirely new offerings with even higher customer value. For example, in our demonstrator project we are combining an AI service from AI4BD that runs in a secure environment provided by secustack, secunet and NTT and uses AWS’ storage service to meet the user requirements.

 

Many service consumers can expect a new level of transparency as providers, nodes and services will disclose relevant information through self-descriptions. Important self-descriptions will be verified or even certified to ensure trustworthiness. In addition, Gaia-X brings vast improvements regarding interoperability and portability, enabling a free-flow of data. By combining data from different sources in a sovereign manner, we can glean unprecedented insights from these pooled data.

 

These are just some examples of added values, the Gaia-X paper “GAIA-X: Driver of digital innovation in Europe”, which will be presented on June 4th, features many more.

Why are you and others from Cloud&Heat contributing to the Gaia-X project? 

 

The mission of Gaia-X and that of Cloud&Heat overlap. We both seek to improve digital sovereignty through open, transparent, and secure digital infrastructures. It’s a natural fit. We are also a company that always works on the technology frontier and we want to be a pioneer. Thus, we seek to be among the first to implement Gaia-X functionalities. Last but not least, we want to contribute to topics that are close to our heart. For example, we want to make the environmental friendliness of digital infrastructure more transparent to facilitate the shift towards sustainability in our industry.

In which role are you doing that and what are you working on specifically? 

 

As Cloud&Heat, we are active in several working groups and taskforces. I am currently the vice-convener of Working Group 2 “Operational Infrastructure” and I’m a member of the Architecture Board, which is the body tasked with coordinating the technical implementation. Currently, I’m also one of the coordinators of the work package on self-descriptions. We all have worked intensively on the series of papers that will be published on June 4th. These papers present the current progress of the project and provide a foundation for the next steps.

 

Together with a broad consortium of firms, we have also developed a demonstrator to illustrate the Gaia-X principles in a real-life setting. We will present this demonstrator during the Gaia-X event on June 4, 2020.

What does the demonstrator do? 

 

The demonstrator shows how users can find and combine different services to match their needs. In our example, the user needs an AI service from our partner AI4BD. She finds and selects the service in the Gaia-X Portal, which in this case is managed by German Edge Cloud. The system then guides the user through a series of steps so that her additional requirements regarding security and privacy are met. The user selects a powerful storage provider with client-side encryption; in our case AWS S3. She also selects an environment for the application; in our case the security hardened SecuStack Kubernetes. Finally, the user chooses the Krake orchestrator from Cloud&Heat that brings all the pieces together.

 

This set-up allows the following, highly interesting use case. Both the algorithm and the sensitive data are stored in encrypted form at Provider B. But the end user can now run the AI4BD service in a secure environment. The algorithm and the data are sent to Provider A and decrypted there.

 

Thus, this example demonstrates how a user can choose on the basis of a transparent offering and how she can combine different services to leverage their strengths to create entirely new combinations that match her needs.

You mentioned the open-source tool “Krake”. What is Krake and what role does it play in the demonstrator? 

 

In the demonstrator, Krake is the orchestration software that ensures that different services from different providers can be used together. The orchestrator deployed the all services and provides an endpoint to the user. Krake has additional capabilities such as scheduling jobs to optimize energy efficiency and cost efficiency. But these capabilities are not yet implemented in our demonstrator.

What happens after June 4th? What are the next steps?

 

I think the June 4th meeting is an important milestone regarding the conceptual foundations of Gaia-X. This process is far from being completed but I hope we can shift the focus a bit towards working on the Gaia-X MVP. Hopefully, we’ll also need to onboard many new members who are interested in joining our cause and who will help develop Gaia-X further.

Thank you very much, Ronny, for your time and your answers. We are excited and wish you and the rest of the team good luck and all the best for the future.