French cloud industry regrets government’s ambivalence in dealing with digital giants

"It is anything but a sovereign strategy. In reality, it's an open door to GAFAMs [Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft]," said Thomas Fauré, CEO of Whaller, a French publisher of cloud-based collaborative solutions. [ESB Professional/Shutterstock]

France’s “trusted cloud” strategy sends “contradictory messages” and leaves little room for competition in the race for digital sovereignty already dominated by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft, French cloud industry players have said. EURACTIV France reports.

Cloud industry players have criticised the French strategy for getting lost in a two-pronged approach that shows a willingness to back promising initiatives on EU soil while at the same time crying for help from the big names.

On 6 October, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and Secretary of State for the Digital Economy, Cédric O, welcomed the new partnership between Thales and Google. They want to offer a “trusted cloud” by 2023.

However, a few hours later, in a separate press release on the process of industrial rapprochement in the important Project of Common European Interest (PIIEC), Lemaire stressed that “there is no political independence without technological independence” and insisted on the need “not to depend on foreign technologies”.

“This ‘same time’ strategy is laudable, its objectives complementary, but its sequentiality sends contradictory messages,” Yann Lechelle, CEO of Scaleway, a prominent French cloud company, told EURACTIV.

“It is anything but a sovereign strategy. In reality, it’s an open door to GAFAM [Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft],” said Thomas Fauré, CEO of Whaller, a French publisher of cloud-based collaborative solutions. Quentin Adam, head of Clever Cloud, said he regretted the “lack of coherence in the trajectory”.

French defence company Thales partners with Google to offer 'trusted cloud'

France’s flagship security and defence company Thales announced a new partnership with Google on Wednesday (6 October). Its objective is to obtain the so-called “trusted cloud” label from the French government, propose a sovereign cloud service, and be operational by 2023. EURACTIV France reports.

‘Trusted cloud’

This dual strategy for a sovereign cloud, sometimes described as complementary, sometimes “schizophrenic”, is rooted in the new government doctrine of “trusted cloud”, which the executive presented in May. In practice, this translates into an adaptation of the SecNumCloud certification of the French National Agency for Information Systems Security (ANSSI).

On top of certifying a high level of cyber resilience, this label should ensure the imperviousness of hosted data to extraterritorial laws, particularly American ones. However, according to what the government indicated, the new strategy should not prevent Franco-American alliances as long as certain guarantees are provided.

“The notion of trust itself is questionable because the best ‘trusted clouds’ promised will be based on the same technologies that are subject to major leaks and hacks on a global scale,” Lechelle pointed out. He added that these solutions should also be more expensive because they will have to use intermediaries to comply with the conditions of sovereignty imposed by the label.

French cloud players agree that it will be highly complex to track data transit at the technical level. “We also forget a little quickly that without control of the source code, the raw material of the cloud, it is pointless to claim to be ‘sovereign’ in this area,” the head of Scaleway also said.

“We create this label as a barrier to entry, and it turns against us,” Quentin Adam added. French suppliers regret that this certification, which is challenging to set up, will exclude the smaller French companies from the field of trust, even though they are responding to the issues put on the table by the government’s doctrine.

“It’s becoming a weapon of destruction when it could be a weapon of conquest for the market,” the head of Clever Cloud also told EURACTIV.

He also regrets that the partnerships announced between Google and Thales and between Orange and Capgemini create “announcement effects” that will be used as a marketing argument by the already dominant players to attract new customers right away.

According to Fauré, whose company Whaller announced last week that it was joining forces with OVHcloud to bring a 100% French offering into the arena, this is “not a done deal and could be an opportunity.”

French MP: Digital sovereignty is about being able to choose dependencies

In an interview with EURACTIV France, French centrist MP Philippe Latombe spoke about France’s approach to digital sovereignty being about being able to choose who they can depend on and pointed to EU countries currently not being ‘on the same page’ when it comes to digital sovereignty.

More public orders

French cloud players also agree on the need for more public orders, instead of subsidies that act as “perfusions”, Fauré also said.

“The doctrine of the cloud as it stands postpones the possibility of public orders, which will save the local players who need it most, until the next decade, when indirect funding will have borne fruit… or not,” Scaleway’s CEO pointed out.

“What we want is public orders, calls for tender and demanding customers,” Fauré said, adding that “products and technology can only progress if they are demanding.”

While Adam’s from Clever Cloud said that if government departments used a French supplier, it would send a “good message” and improve. credibility in the face of competitors, Whaller’s Thomas pointed out that “foreign countries have built their offer on public orders.”

“This lack of confidence is a slap in the face to the thousands of engineers in France who work hard every day to provide efficient and competitive solutions in a particularly adverse context, constantly improving and catching up with the competition,” Lechelle added.

France launches digital sovereignty observatory

Telecom Paris and Netexplo officially launched the Technologies & Digital Sovereignty observatory on Thursday (20 May), which aims to bring together companies and startups as well as political players. EURACTIV France reports.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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