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Sustainable, inclusive, and equitable cloud infrastructure drives innovation and develops digital ecosystems

A sustainable European cloud that can be open-source, fair, and create economic opportunities for all is possible – and it will soon become a reality. Such digital infrastructure will reflect European values, and provide a blueprint that others around the world can draw inspiration from to further develop their own digital economies. This is the second part in our three-part blog series exploring how to achieve this vision, which focuses on how to make a European cloud sustainable and who it will benefit. Read part one here, part three here, and a summary of all three on RIPE Labs here.

In our previous post, we introduced the concept of a sustainable European cloud, and why the time is ripe to develop this resource. How do we go about building that, though, and who exactly is it meant to benefit? The answer is simpler than you may realize.

The European Union in and of itself is a great example of balancing many actors – supplementing local decision-making (on the national level) with central steering (such as with environmental and economic policy). This model provides great inspiration for how future cloud platforms, such as the one we are proposing, should be designed. That translates to local infrastructure with a positive impact on the local economy with local ownership. At the same time, some functions will be centralized within a regional (i.e., European), continental, or even global context, such as security, resource purchasing, and pricing. It ultimately reflects a careful balance between decentralized (and thus, local) value creation and centralized function for ease-of-use and accessibility.

A cloud platform that is designed like this is not limited to Europe, yet it is fundamentally European because it is built on European principles and values. It is inclusive, it is fair, it is accessible, and it is sustainable. It is built to distribute economic value across many local actors. We call this a “European cloud,” but what we are creating, essentially, is a blueprint for how to build local and/or regional cloud infrastructure as well as developing a model for how to build and include those central functions. It is a cloud platform that is intrinsically European, yet globally applicable.

We believe that such equitable, reliable, and sustainable digital infrastructure will benefit everyone. It will inspire change, innovation, and the overall growth of the digital economy that will serve both local and international communities since the actual infrastructure is built and owned by local businesses, municipalities, IT companies, energy companies, and/or data center operators. Thus, the main purpose of a European cloud platform will be to enable cities, states, and regions across the continent, both within the European Union and outside of it, to create and develop their own local cloud infrastructure.

Illustration European Cloud - 15 Colours logo

Closing the digital divide through open-source and competitiveness

The first building block to a European cloud platform is to enable local infrastructure. To do so, the SDIA is developing a blueprint that can be adopted by local actors.

This blueprint is open-source itself while utilizing open-source technology too, meaning no restrictive patents or burdensome lock-ins. It also contains an approach for pricing and a business model that is built on local collaboration. The aim is to create a local infrastructure that is competitive, providing a breeding ground for innovation, and creating a cloud platform where digital companies across the continent can get the best pricing paired with local support. Customer support will be local, personal, and accessible – making digital services and infrastructure available to all kinds of businesses – while, most importantly, accelerating the feasibility of a digital transformation across all industries and regions. 

The blueprint developed by SDIA contains all the building blocks of the necessary infrastructure – from design, architecture, and concepts, to business models and contracts – all of which are free to implement, open-source, and free of any legal or copyright claims. 

With this blueprint, each region, state, or nation would have the means to develop their own, local sustainable digital infrastructure that would enable a strong local digital economy and would help to close the digital divide across the continent. 

Developing local digital infrastructure starts with connectivity

Before regional cloud infrastructure can be deployed, connectivity is critical. Think of it as the roads and railways leading to a municipality. There is no need to develop local industry in that municipality if there are no roads or railways to transport the produced goods somewhere or facilitate resident’s engagement within their community. Fiber connectivity is the road and rail of the digital economy. 

The digital economy is global, and without connectivity, local businesses can not participate. Furthermore, digital power – consisting of the networks, computational processes, and data storage capacities, which is the commodity that powers digital products – can be produced locally, while being consumed somewhere else as long as robust, reliable, and resilient networks are in place. This is analogous to high-voltage transmission lines. If they exist, power can be produced at a power plant far away and transported to nearby cities. Without them, however, electrical connectivity will become consistently problematic.

When looking at the state of connectivity in Europe, 36 percent of the population in Central and Eastern Europe is still unconnected, compared to 19 percent in Western Europe. While connectivity has reached a saturation point, getting to 100 percent remains a significant challenge. Connecting communities bridges this digital divide. Connecting more of society to the Internet while enabling local cloud infrastructure to participate in national and continental markets is crucial to Shaping Europe’s Digital Future

Beyond helping to fulfill key strategic priorities, this will ultimately support the local economy by creating local tax revenues and enabling local innovators – providing a breeding ground for a community or region’s digital ecosystem. The end result would mean a thriving local digital economy that would ensure digital services that cater to businesses and society alike, in particular the communities they serve, and are not dependent on global actors.


A neutral body that will ensure that the cloud is sustainable and equitable

Laying the foundation for building and maintaining a European cloud platform will require transparency as well as an entity that will ensure that each part of the cloud is sustainable and equitable. Thus, having a neutral body that would at the same time represent society, while developing and maintaining a blueprint for building local infrastructure, is also a necessity. 

Building local cloud infrastructure is part of our Roadmap to Sustainable Digital Infrastructure by 2030, which is aimed at delivering environmentally positive, fair, and accessible digital infrastructure to society. 

At our core lies the fundamental commitment to realizing a sustainable digital economy, which the Roadmap underpins. We do this by assembling industry, government, and civil society together to create regional digital ecosystems, ones based precisely on open, fair, and equitable cloud infrastructure. The Alliance acts as a collaboration platform, delivering a blueprint for regional cloud infrastructure while emphasizing the importance of transparency and accountability.

But our vision does not end there. In the next article we will explore the steps that needed to build these regional cloud platforms, how they are interconnected, and how they reflect a larger, and in this case, European platform.

This post was authored by Bojan Stojkovski and edited by SDIA. It is the second of a three-part series introducing our manifesto for a sustainable European cloud. You can read part one here, part three here, and a summary of all three on RIPE Labs here.

Max Schulze
Max Schulze
Founder of the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance. Expert on Software Architecture, Technology & Cloud Infrastructure.

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