Open Cloud Alliance Formed to Answer Germany's Data Privacy Concerns

IBM, Univention, Open-Xchange form alliance around secure OpenStack cloud tech for smaller players

Jason Verge

November 24, 2014

5 Min Read
Open Cloud Alliance Formed to Answer Germany's Data Privacy Concerns
President Barack Obama walking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Photo: White House Flickr feed)

A group of companies, including IBM, Univention, and Open-Xchange have launched the Open Cloud Alliance with the goal to make it easier for local cloud and hosting providers to offer diverse cloud services on the back of open source technology and to improve data portability. The alliance appears to be a way to address Germany's data privacy and data sovereignty concerns.

OCA provides a single open source platform which integrates with many open source enterprise software solutions, including a single identity management solution. The aim is to make users less dependent on the large providers, a message that resonates in the European market.

The software-side basis for the platform is formed by the Univention Corporate Server, the open source cloud management system OpenStack, and the Univention App Center, a repository, or marketplace, of enterprise open source apps.

Reference hardware for the Open Cloud Alliance are Intel-based IBM/Lenovo server systems with IBM Cloud Manager, the OpenStack implementation of IBM.

Peter Ganten, CEO of Univention, said OCA is currently working with a handful of cloud service providers focusing on a small initial phase to get up and running within the next quarter. “At the moment, we are not looking to start with thousands, because there’s also the need to gain a bit more experience,” he said.

Univention and Open-Xchange are headquartered in Germany, which is an important detail. The focus for OCA is centered in Germany, emanating out to the rest of Europe, and hopefully worldwide. While each European country is a unique market, data privacy and sovereignty concerns in Germany are especially acute.

Yes, Another Cloud Alliance

It can be hard to keep track of all the cloud alliances and consortia. They are rising as a result of the move away from proprietary systems as the IT book is rewritten for cloud. Another example is the Open Data Center Alliance, which focuses a lot on hypervisor interoperability. There’s also an Open Compute Alliance for fostering openness in the ICT space.

At the server level, there’s an OpenPOWER consortium, IBM a prominent founder member. There are also countless organizations and alliances formed around networking.

While a lot of work is being done on the Infrastructure-as-a-Service level, with projects like OpenStack, the OCA is focused on bringing the same open source philosophy to the software and services level. It is defining an open software stack.

Germans Care About Privacy More Than Others

The OCA reveals the mentality of the German market that all Internet infrastructure and service providers need to take into account. The view on data privacy and in-country needs has propelled local cloud providers to success.

“This idea was born in Europe, born with a European focus,” Ganten said. “We think that there is a good opportunity for smaller cloud service providers. Local initiatives are much more visible in Europe than the U.S. due to data privacy and awareness.”

The U.S. is catching up. A recent survey found only 5 percent of Americans are unaware of government surveillance. How much each country's populace ultimately cares might be where the disparity lies.

This German background has a lot to do with the OCA’s philosophy, said Rafael Laguna, CEO of Open-Xchange. Open-Xchange is an open source email, collaboration, and productivity app provider that has massive traction with many hosting providers worldwide.

“The European and US market is different,” said Laguna. “European companies are much more conscious and careful and more wary of big U.S. cloud providers. The big proprietary silos are very anti-competitive, very monolithic, and channel-unfriendly."

One example of how Germany and the U.S. view privacy differently is email. In Germany, it is considered extremely weird for an employer to have access to an employee’s email. In the U.S., sometimes you communicate with superiors by keeping a draft saved in your box.

Data privacy concerns are born out of a history that saw the Gestapo, and later the Ministry of State security Stasi, encouraging spying on neighbors when the country was split, explains Laguna. It has a profound effect. “That’s why we generally distrust governments,” said Laguna. “Because they’ve been doing bad things."

Market Favors Smaller Players

For this reason, the European cloud market on the whole is fragmented and not dominated by a single player. Colo provider Interxion notes that it has done well with local cloud providers because the market share is spread out.

As a result, there have been a lot of U.S.-based cloud providers opening up data centers in Germany to meet in-country data needs. Amazon Web Services recently opened a region in Frankfurt; VMware is opening two data centers in the country; then there’s two planned Oracle data centers, and a Salesforce one. However, even having a local data center might not be enough.

“[Opening a local data center is] a good step and will be enough of a move for many,” said Laguna. “The problem is with the legislation in the U.S., and AWS being a U.S. company. Even if data tips in Germany, the U.S. government can still force access to that data." Whether or not this actually happens, the issue is the possibility of it happening.

European confidence in the future of data privacy in the U.S. is not high. Consider the Microsoft meeting with a group of CIOs in Berlin regarding potential unilateral access to data, or Angela Merkel’s call for a separate European Internet.

Germany is a country that doesn’t have Street View updates in Google Maps.

Being born out of this mindset might be a very good thing. Open source has moved from alternative to prime time, so that part of the equation is a no-brainer. However, OCA’s Europe-centric take on data privacy is an interesting wrinkle. Will it be able to expand its influence beyond Germany? The question is answered by whether or not you think the world will move toward or away from current data concerns.

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