Gaia-X Summit 2021: “Launched, Most of Construction to Happen in Orbit”

Author photo: Valentijn de Leeuw
By Valentijn de Leeuw
Technology Trends

The second Gaia-X summit was held on 18-19 November. It was implemented as a hybrid, mainly virtual event, drawing around 4,000 on-line attendees. Presentations on a wide variety of subjects reflected the complexity of the undertaking. “We are building a spaceship,” said Gaia-X CEO Francesco Bonfiglio in the concluding press conversation. Recent Gaia-X statistics confirm that statement, with the organization growing from 22 to over 300 members in just the past year. The two participating countries increased to twenty-five, with fifteen local hubs inside and outside Europe. 

Where the Gaia-X association provides specifications, policy rules and “labeling,” the local hubs specify use cases grounded in country or region-specific initiatives and priorities. In total, forty-five use cases have been defined based on ten data spaces. Five lighthouse projects have also been started. Among the most prominent of these is Catena-X, which will facilitate business process automation and data exchange along “long” value chains in the automotive industry. The setup activities from this first Gaia-X year, will lead to early implementations in the second year, where Gaia-X compliant services will start operating in the market.

Gaia-X Federation Services and Portal

Gaia-X is based on the idea that both small and large players should have similar chances to make a living from their services -- that individuals and organizations want full control of their data. This drove Gaia to adopt a distributed and federated approach, where smaller and larger players can make their contributions based on requirements for compliance with interoperability and portability, to create a level playing field without vendor lock-in, with trust built on security, verifiable identities and qualities of services, transparency, and openness. 

What is Gaia-X?

At ARC, we believe the simplest description of Gaia-X is a software framework on top of existing cloud infrastructure, data, or services to ensure trust in the transparency, controllability, and interoperability of services and data supplied and consumed. Gaia-X aims to provide this framework for free and give everybody the possibility to create and offer trusted services enabling the creation of data spaces that are necessary for a new generation of digital economy based on data exchanges. Gaia-X is convinced that the targeted trust levels will revolutionize the digital world that we know, from business via public services to civil society.

Gaia-X is therefore not a cloud platform, nor does it compete with cloud offerings. Cloud, data, and infrastructure providers can offer their services if they decide to adopt the Gaia-X framework and apply its rules. Gaia-X users and providers of data and technologies will be able to create trusted federations amongst themselves. Federation of secure, transparent, controllable, and interoperable data and services has the potential to create the critical mass of data or technology necessary to compete in the global market with value-adding services based on massive use of data that is currently untapped. The currently available non-transparent, non-controllable and non-interoperable technologies that prevent and slow down the digital data and services economy.

Through the Gaia-X framework, many different types of ecosystems can be created, which can be national, regional, global, industry-focused, or domain focused. Examples include sharing data across healthcare systems, research institutions, or industries. Catena-X is an example of such an ecosystem, creating a seamless data integration across the automotive value chains to build the next generation of smart and sustainable vehicles. 

Gaia-X federation services are providing the necessary mechanisms to create a federation. Five key subsystems can be identified:

  • Identity and trust: covering authentication, authorization, credential management and decentralized identity management.
  • Federated catalogue: a central repository of self-descriptions for the discovery and selection of providers and their service offerings based on labels or verifiable credentials.
  • Data sovereignty services: enforcing data usage agreements.
  • Compliance: ensuring Participants adhere to Gaia-X principles and rules.
  • Portal and API: serving as integration layer for federation services.

How Gaia-X is Different

It is not possible to go into detail within the scope of this article, but to provide an example of how different Gaia-X is. Identities will be managed by Participants using existing identities, and not by Gaia-X. To use a metaphor: Participants hold their own ID card or passport, not the service provider where the Participant goes shopping. The consequence is that Participants do not have to open accounts with all service providers and manage credentials for each, but managing one set of credentials suffices. In addition, the Participant can freely determine the information they want to provide as an individual or organization, depending on the level of trust they want to provide to the ecosystem. 

The Gaia-X architecture has characteristics in common with International Data Spaces Reference Model, which is not a surprise as IDSA is a member of Gaia-X. In addition, BDVA, FIWARE, Gaia-X and IDSA recently launched an alliance to promote data spaces based on a common basis. Details of the Gaia-X architecture are provided in this document. A reference implementation of Gaia-X Federation Services (GXFS) is currently being implemented thanks to the funding by the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. 


Oliver Ganser, head of the Data Driven value Chain program at BMW and head of the Catena-X Automotive Network, presented the program as “A fitness program for the automotive industry,” with the purpose to build a use case enabling long data chains. It will be a business-oriented solution that supports users in their daily work. COVID, the semi-conductor shortage, and increasingly complex regulatory requirements made the industry realize that requirements cannot be satisfied using peer-to-peer collaboration. Catena-X needs Gaia-X according to Mr. Ganser. “Without Gaia-X it will not work.” Gaia-X is providing specifications and enabling Federation Services, where Catena-X provides a data space, services, and applications, that is, it delivers code for the moment, with the goal to realize the business solutions. 

High-profile applications concern the circular economy. Today, 5-7 percent of car products are recycled. This will dramatically increase in the future. To prepare for this, one of the Catena-X use cases concerns collaboration between OEMs, tier-n providers, and recyclers. The organization is growing fast inside and outside Europe. It is based on three pillars: a development consortium, the so called “Workbench,” which is a registered association that acts as standardization and governance body, and finally a decentralized operating company ecosystem of currently thirty-three partners, including majors such as BASF, BMW, Bosch, Henkel, Mercedes-Benz, SAP, Siemens, Valeo, and Volkswagen. To exchange information efficiently among partners, the Workbench must create common data models and semantics, which is a substantial task.

There were many other interesting presentations that you can watch on the Gaia-X Summit site. ARC Advisory Group believes that Gaia-X is a valuable and sustainable initiative, it is very well supported by the European Commission and the member states and industry ecosystems. It is complex but promising, and it is on track and on speed. There will be hurdles to overcome and ensure the adherence of provider and user ecosystems. Some skepticism may be heard, but that can also be a sound form of feedback that can be addressed, if Gaia-X pays attention to it, which we believe it does. 

ARC’s recommendation would be for industrial automation and IT providers and users to follow Gaia-X developments, to check out local or industry-oriented initiatives such as Catena-X and observe or participate at a level consistent with your company’s strategy, to be able to jump on the bandwagon when the time is right. 

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