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[Guest Post] Edge Computing and Open Source in Europe: A New Hope

Monday, July 19, 2021 - 09:31 by Frédéric Desbiens

This is a guest post by Alberto P. Martí, VP of Open Source Community Relations at OpenNebula.

For everyone in the European cloud market with a passion for open source, these are exciting times. For years, tech journalists and market analysts have been predicting that edge computing was going to bring a paradigm shift to the cloud, and now we are starting to see the form that this disruption is going to take—at least in Europe. Technically speaking, there is little doubt that deploying applications and processing data at the edge comes with a number of benefits, and not only in terms of reducing latency and improving user experience. We are talking about expanding service availability to better deal with infrastructure incidents, reducing data transfers and the energy consumption and security risks associated with them, as well as minimizing vendor dependency by expanding the number of available providers.

It comes as no surprise that the European Union has identified edge computing as a key technology, with a number of strategic forums being held recently in order to articulate a common approach. From an EU perspective, edge computing offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring some balance to a market in which the positioning and relative weight of European technological vendors is quite marginal. The need to invest heavily in the next generation of European cloud and edge capabilities has been emphasized by a number of EU institutions on several occasions during the past few years, such as in the European Strategy for Data, in the “Scale up” flagship area of the multibillion-euro Recovery and Resilience Facility, and also by EU Member States in their Joint Declaration on Building the Next Generation Cloud in Europe in October 2020.

In March 2021, the European Commission went a step further and presented its 2030 Digital Compass, acknowledging Europe’s structural vulnerabilities, its increased dependency on critical, often non-EU based, technologies, and its reliance on a few big tech companies, with less than 4% of the top online platforms being European. One of the targets that the European Commission has identified as crucial for achieving Europe’s radical digital transformation involves “10,000 climate neutral highly secure edge nodes” being deployed across Europe by 2030. This massive deployment will require not only a serious commitment by 5G/telecom operators and existing cloud providers, but also the emergence of a new, European ecosystem of edge infrastructure providers, offering local resources throughout the continent.

We might very well expect an explosive growth of the edge provider market in Europe over the next few years, with one of the first consequences of that process being the consolidation of the current heterogeneity at the edge. From an EU perspective—in itself a complex political and social endeavor characterized by the diversity of stakeholders working together around a common vision—having to deal with a heterogeneous edge is not necessarily a major problem, especially if a multi-cloud model helps European vendors to compete against hyperscalers on more equal terms. As declared by President Ursula von der Leyen back in 2019 as part of her Political Guidelines for the Next European Commission, “it may be too late to replicate hyperscalers, but it is not too late to achieve technological sovereignty in some critical technology areas”.

In that sense, the fact that the Eclipse Foundation decided last year to become a European-based organization couldn’t have been more timely. Open source is going to play a key role in Europe’s next generation edge cloud, and not just from a technological perspective.The open source model can contribute to significantly speeding up the change of mindset that many European organizations will have to go through. For a sustainable approach towards edge computing to succeed, commercial competitors will have to quickly learn to collaborate and develop together the open platforms and edge computing technologies that Europe needs—and not just experimental proofs of concept, but also solutions in high technology readiness levels such as ONEedge. This is something that all European open source companies already know first-hand, yet it will probably require an ambitious exercise in pedagogy for the rest of the EU industry to fully embrace this model.

An encouraging sign comes from the fact that the European Commission is becoming increasingly explicit in its support for open source. Its Open Source Software Strategy 2020-2023 confirmed this tendency by declaring that “open source impacts the digital autonomy of Europe. Against the hyperscalers in the cloud, it is likely that open source can give Europe a chance to create and maintain its own, independent digital approach and stay in control of its processes, its information and its technology”. In May this year, as part of its review of the 2020 EU New Industrial Strategy, the European Commission acknowledged that “a competitive European alternative for a multi-cloud solution would be needed, building on an open source and governance by an independent organisation”.

But that’s not all. Both in GAIA-X and in the so-called Important Project of Common European Interest on Cloud Infrastructure and Services (IPCEI-CIS), on which several EU Member States and companies are collaborating, open source is expected to become a key enabler. All these initiatives certainly look promising for the development of a stronger European open source ecosystem, but also pose a collective challenge. They will require many industry actors and governments in Europe to transition from mere consumers of technologies developed by others to active maintainers of the open source platforms on which their future business and public services will depend. Organizations like the Eclipse Foundation, with their expertise in the processes and the culture of transparency and collaboration that vendor-neutral open source projects require, are an incredibly valuable asset for Europe at these times of exciting, but demanding, digital transformation.

It will take a diverse community co-developing a uniform set of building blocks based on open source and open standards to drive the broad industry adoption of IoT and edge technologies. If you’re interested in participating in an industry-scale collaboration focused on open source IoT and edge technologies, please visit Eclipse IoT and the Edge Native Working Group to get involved.