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How the European cloud can help build a more sustainable and efficient digital economy
22 Jul 2021

How the European cloud can help build a more sustainable and efficient digital economy

Max Schulze
Max Schulze

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. In our three-part blog series, we will explore how to achieve this vision. Read part two here, part three here, and a summary of all three on RIPE Labs here.

Sustainable, transparent, and inclusive – building a sustainable European cloud will bring prosperity, growth, and innovation across the continent.

A functional European cloud would be the ideal platform for the continent’s growing digital infrastructure, and one that would offer limitless opportunities for innovation and digital transformation in both an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

Sustainable infrastructure that will last for decades

With digitalization becoming an ongoing process that is affecting almost every aspect of our lives, it is becoming inevitable that Europe needs to have a quality digital infrastructure that will last for decades. 

Digital power – consisting of the networks, computational processes, and data storage capacities – is the key ingredient for new emerging technologies, and this will also help Europe’s digital economy to grow significantly over the coming years.

We strongly believe that infrastructure that produces sustainable and competitive digital power that supports emerging technologies will also attract global technology companies to build on Europe’s backbone, not just European companies (both EU and non-EU). 

At the same time, infrastructure like this needs to be affordable and easy to use, leveraging existing European infrastructure, and creating inclusive growth opportunities for the pan-European community. This sustainable European digital economy can then act as a blueprint for other nations or regions to follow. Using open values, the technologies and business models that are driving this sustainable digital economy can be made available to everyone.

The need for a European cloud

Today, Europe and its ecosystems have all the necessary means at their disposal to become a leader in the global, ever-growing digital economy. This would benefit both the people – via the opportunities it can provide – and the environment – via the EU's high sustainability standards – while enhancing the competitiveness of local businesses.

At the same time, Europe can bring out its strength, exemplified by renewable energy, strong innovation and R&D capabilities, and the desire to lead in creating a sustainable economy by developing a European cloud.

Additionally, this would also embody and reflect European values. It is not about owning or building new infrastructure; it is about creating a platform that enables digital businesses and applications that would bring Europe’s existing infrastructure together, making it accessible and competitive to not just the EU’s 27 member states, but also the non-EU Western Balkan states, the European Neighborhood, and beyond.

Creating a competitive and sustainable digital environment

This digital infrastructure will offer technology companies what they are craving for: a competitive and sustainable digital environment, with affordable resources, with the right ingredients, delivering digital power that will help any company or enterprise to transform seamlessly to participate in the digital economy.

Creating a cloud that is more cost-competitive and more sustainable in both economic and environmental terms will also help drive digital innovation across the continent.

A European cloud is also going to contribute toward achieving the sustainability goals of the EU’s European Green Deal, while accelerating its progress and enabling a green transformation. At the same time, it will not create a new environmental impact itself, which makes it even more necessary given the already present climate crisis. Sustainable European cloud infrastructure is the foundation upon which new and existing sustainable software technology and digital business models can be built – ones that Europe urgently needs to realize its ambitious climate goals.

A competitive European cloud infrastructure inspires innovation, from sustainable software technology to new digital business models, that improve the lives of all Europeans. Concurrently, such innovation enables the continent to set a new precedent for climate goals, all while using digital technologies.

A cloud that embeds European values and offers better solutions

European values – including an emphasis on security, respecting privacy & data protection, and accountability – are the compass that helps technology companies to navigate the digital revolution. And in this case, they will serve as tools that shape the digital technologies enabling a sustainable economy for Europe to thrive.

Built on a common, federated digital infrastructure, highlighting Europe’s strengths, resilience, and diversity, and offer transparency and inclusiveness with strong decentralized structures that will be available to all European technology companies, enterprises, and communities.

Its ownership structure will be inclusive and fair, offering its users a much more viable solution than the ones before, creating a shared, European utility for digital power. Existing initiatives such as GAIA-X, which seek a common and unified marketplace for digital services, require a common sustainable, competitive, European digital infrastructure. We believe the European cloud we outline here is a key facilitator of that vision as well as critical to achieving the EU’s Europe Fit for the Digital Age strategy and its European Cloud Initiative.

Such structures will also help amplify the strengths of those that participate in the digital economy and create a new open market platform where anyone can offer or purchase digital power, and get the best value while creating prosperity for the continent and beyond.

A federated and open market drives the efficient use of resources, while at the same time allowing the continent’s digital economy to sustainably grow and expand. In turn, the digital transformation will also cement Europe’s pole position on renewable energy and overall energy transition.

Amplifying diversity and strengthening Europe's digital economy

The digital infrastructure outlined above will also serve to preserve Europe’s diversity, amplifying the strengths of those who are participating in the digital economy, and therefore creating an open marketplace that will lead to establishing a united and inclusive European ecosystem.

The timing of this development could not be more critical either. Already across both Europe as well as globally, digital infrastructure is becoming more centralized in hyperscale data centers for cost (i.e., economics of scale) and energy efficiency benefits, among other reasons. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), data center electricity use accounts for around 1% of global electricity demand. Yet, despite that demand for data services is rising exponentially, energy demand remains flat owing to strong efficiency improvements and this shift to cloud and hyperscale data centers. With increased centralization comes increased concentration of power and influence, however, and less democratized authority over data and transparency.

What this amounts to is a potentially significant loss of control over one of the greatest assets Europe has. This is not just in reference to data governance and data protection, but also in terms of the social and environmental value that data centers and other parts of the digital infrastructure ecosystem provide along with the accountability that is necessary to ensure such infrastructure is sustainable and powered by renewable energy.

For instance, an analysis in Denmark revealed that approximately 30% of the surplus heat created by hyperscalers could be utilized annually by 2030, which equates to 2,500 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year. The EU’s Heating and Cooling Strategy makes clear the requirement to decarbonize Europe’s heating and cooling grids, which together make up half of the EU’s total energy consumption. Realizing this and other related strategies by integrating them into European infrastructure and making them a central tenet of its design is therefore both sensible and advantageous.

A European cloud that is sustainable, federated, open, and inclusive would ensure that the expansion of the digital economy does not result in an expansion of non-renewable sources for value creation. In the long run, the benefits of running on European digital infrastructure would also be felt globally, offering its experience and insights to other digital economies that are still developing while learning from them and adopting innovative approaches as well.

Exploring these benefits will also help companies, startups, and businesses to fully achieve innovation and development. Creating value will be the focal point of such digital infrastructure, which will not discriminate against any party, and will pioneer the next-gen of digital ecosystems on a regional, national, and European level.

A European cloud is possible. Let’s start building it – together.

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

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