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European cloud: beyond the hyperscalers

Cloud market dynamics can help smaller operators who want to play at the European level. But how much are national strategic cloud plans influencing the market? The debate is open.


When it comes to cloud, many companies think that bigger is better. You can’t go wrong with one of the top hyperscalers. They have more services to offer, gain more customers, get more money, can invest said money in new and emerging technologies, which lead to new services. And so on. Smaller cloud providers can’t do this, or at least not at the same scale.

What private companies choose, it’s their business. Literally. But governments? If the cloud strategy of a whole country depends too much on any hyperscaler, is it still a good strategy for the local market? Recently, the Italian Government has been accused to have exactly these… positive feelings towards hyperscalers. Michele Zunino, President of Consorzio Italia Cloud, said that Vittorio Colao’s (Italian Minister for Digital Transformation) ideas “go in the opposite direction of where the whole market is going”.

We already know Colao’s passion for big global operators like Google and Microsoft”, Zunino added, “but he cannot still pretend that in Italy we do not have other innovative cloud providers, able to satisfy the needs of local PAs and companies. Even better than big hyperscalers”.

Zunino got so incensed because Colao said that in Italy “very often we have small data centers that aren’t safe, modern, efficient and sustainable. And, therefore, have no reason to exist”. A bit rude, yes. But Colao’s rudeness is not the point here. The real question is: when a country defines its cloud plan, does (and should) it consider also its impact on local cloud providers?

The Italian cloud strategy makes clear that some cloud services (and providers) can be trusted to manage the most private and sensitive public data and services, while other cannot. There are different trust levels, each with specific requisites. Bigger providers can (very likely) be trusted at the top level, but any cloud provider able to meet the right requisites can play with the big guys.

At the core of the Italian cloud strategy lies the Polo Strategico Nazionale, the national cloud infrastructure that will provide the most sensitive services to central and local PAs. The PSN tender, Zunino implies, could have been organized differently, involving also smaller Italian cloud providers. And Zunino has some reasonable ideas on why it could have been a good choice. First, with the emergence of edge computing, the “big central cloud” concept seems more and more limited. Also, many Italian companies want their data to stay close and private: data sovereignty is now a crucial topic for anyone.

The idea of a national strategic cloud tender that favors “by design” smaller local operators is not entirely convincing. It raises many doubts, honestly. But Zunino is right when he says that local cloud providers should be supported in their growth: it’s true in Italy and it’s true in any other European country. Above all because cloud is less and less a “one (big) size fits all” model and more a continuum where big and small providers can find their place.

In Europe, market dynamics – more that tenders – will help smaller operators, if they can seize their opportunities. What EU is doing with European Data Spaces, the Gaia-X initiative, new regulations about data privacy and sovereign clouds… the European cloud scenario is getting more and more interesting for any cloud player aiming for a bigger role. Most of the small companies will still operate at local or national level. But, if they can get more investments and a clear multinational strategy, this is the right time to think big.

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Francesco Pignatelli

Francesco Pignatelli began his love story with computers and technology at the age of 14, with his ZX81. This led to a career in software development and then in IT and tech journalism. He has spent more than 25 years covering a wide range of IT and tech topics - telecommunications, cyber security, software development, enterprise software, knowledge management - for many of the most important Italian business tech magazines. He is always looking for new digital stuff and still writes unreliable software.

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