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#ITDays: all Eyes on the Cloud

The first event of the year organized by IT One, the traditional IT Days session, took place on March 30th, 2021. Several local and international experts gathered phygitally at PwC’s Crystal Park to discuss the latest cloud trends: the agility it provides, how it can accelerate the transformation of business models and the latest advancement of the Gaia-X initiative.

Master of Ceremony of the day David Foy (Head of International Business Development - Digital Economy, Luxinnovation) officially launched this phygital edition of IT Days, and first welcomed Hauke Schaettiger (Partner, Cloud Consulting, PwC Germany). The expert shared a presentation entitled “Cloud Adoption: Putting the Cloud at the Heart of Business”. He started: “Cloud is not a hype but reality: cloud project to make up 14,2% of the total global enterprise IT spending in 2024, public cloud market sees 35% growth to a total $120 billion globally this year, hybrid cloud to take the front seat with expected reach pf $145 billion by 2026, etc. All studies show that the cloud business is huge and that it is growing fast. Moreover, the Covid crisis boosted its adoption with more and more IT infrastructures now running on cloud services”. As explained by Hauke Schaettiger, business as usual is not enough to cope with the challenges of the future, which is driven by many disruptive trends and more and more demands coming through IT: “cloud therefore allows companies to accelerate the pace of innovation”. He also discussed security and highlighted that it must also be dealt within the company as he notably shared the example of management access right privileges. The expert then shared the results of a survey led in Germany, with the participation of 100+ IT managers, on their perception of the cloud: 36% of non-public cloud users are moving towards the cloud in the midterm, 40% of respondents say it has some importance and only 61% added it is of high importance. 83% of them said that in 5 years, it will have high relevance for them. “Cloud is in the air, put it in the heart of your business”, finally commented Hauke Schaettiger.

 

“Promises and Challenges of Moving your data to the Cloud: Ensuring Data Agility, Security and Sovereignty” was the name of the presentation given by Olivier Tijou (Regional VP - France, Belgium, Luxembourg & Switzerland, Denodo). The expert started with a brief history of the data journey and data consumption. “Data used to be provided by IT, only to be consolidated in bigger databases. It was mainly about replicating the data in new storage. Consumers could access this reservoir to use the data. Then, the volume grew and so did complexity. We used new technology to consolidate the data in cheaper ways for heavy processing, which led to having datalakes. It resulted in additional silos of data and therefore only solved one part of the issues. Tech continued to evolve: all this data became too difficult to manage. The cloud brings more agility as well as new challenges for Chief Data Officer, IT Manager and the business: from governance and regulation to access, security and cost),” explained Olivier Tijou. According to him, if you asked CDOs and IT Managers, most of them will express their need for a unique way to access data through a single entry point, for a data self-service and for the necessity to ensure security. “Moving the cloud sounds magical: it is more flexible, can be accessed from anywhere and there are lost costs of operations. But in reality, it can create new data silos as well as security and latency issues. Therefore, there is a new for a logical infrastructure which would make it less risky and would finally deliver the promises of the cloud technology by addressing all these challenges,” explained Olivier Tijou before advocating the use of an additional virtual layer that sits on top of physical storage, which helps manage the latter in a totally transparency way. “You can manage the image of the data without actually replicating it,” concluded the expert.

 

Pascal Bouvry and Roger Lampach, the co-CEOs of LuxProvide, then took the digital stage to focus on data storage and data analytics. They notably shared the MeluXina use case and the bridge between the Cloud and HPC. Roger Lampach first went over the recent history of the MeluXina EuroHPC, which started back in 2019, with the aims of the European Union to build a huge and leading network of HPC centers. “MeluXina is located in the city of Bissen. The hardware has already been installed and we are currently running tests with the goal to be operational from May 1st. Our overall mission, along with several other partners, is to empower the data economy in Luxembourg, and to operate a super computer. The government of Luxembourg is actually taking part in this ambitious project”, said Roger Lampach. He also focused on the creation of a competence center, along with Luxinnovation and the University of Luxembourg, in order to provide adequate training and courses. “The project, entitled CASTIEL, aims at developing a Europe-wide competency map presenting both available resources and knowledge gaps across all EuroCC competence centers,” adds the expert, who briefly described MeluXina’s customer-oriented approach. “It implies being aware of industry-related constraints, bringing the highest security and certification standards, serve consumers on a pay per use basis, etc.” he comments. Pascal Bouvry then focused on the technical side, and on how to bridge the cloud technology and HPC. He concluded: “five years ago, big data and HPC toolset were opposed, there was a huge split. Today, at the level of MeluXina, we aim at bringing the best of both worlds: a software stack, with many tools as well as very advanced machine learning techniques”.

 

What if you could store your data in a forest? This question was raised by Monika Seyfried and Cyrus Clarke, co-founders of Grow Your Own Cloud. Monika Seyfried started her presentation by discussing the origins of GYOC and asked: “what will it take for Human Beings to see themselves as part of nature once again? How can we rethink the cloud? What are the repercussions of keeping data in the cloud? Moreover, systems are growing exponentially as machine learning is taking over many systems”. As explained by Cyrus Clarke, the experts started their investigations, as experts and designers, in order to find new ways to store information. “The oldest storage in the world is DNA. It seems miraculous and we aim at using nature as a tech. We worked with plant geneticists to develop several techniques to embed plants with data. There are three ways of doing it: foliage injection, floral dip, ballistic impact”, he commented. The two experts went from research to a tech and created Grow Your Own Cloud, and turned it into a winning research lab: they combine biotech and data science to promote a new way to store data. Monika Seyfried and Cyrus Clarke then explained how they were able to open a data flower shop in Copenhagen to store data in organisms. After one year of research focusing on how to retrieve data from DNA, GYOC presented its Data Garden at the SXSW Tech conference in Austin, Texas, which allowed them to showcase the ability to put data in plants and extract them. “You can take care of your own data, instead of letting the big corporations do it. It will also reduce carbon emission as plants actually absorb CO2,” added Cyrus Clarke. The two experts concluded their presentation by discussing the next steps for GYOC: “after developing a PoC in 2020, we now focus on developing the research as well as a commercial pipeline. In Q1 2022, we should be able to offer GYOC as a service. We are moving from conventional ways to store data to the data storage of the future which uses organisms and focuses on having a greener way to store data”.

 

After a well-deserved Coffee Break, the participants were invited to participate in several series of workshops, presented by local and international experts. First, PwC gave the floor to Kevin Lloyd (Chief Technology Officer, Luxembourg Stock Exchange) who shared a presentation entitled “From CI to DevSecOps: how our cloud migration is helping us improve software delivery”. In parallel, Julien Varela (Cloud Architect, Nutanix Luxembourg) and Fabrizio Heitzmann (Senior Sales Manager, Nutanix Luxembourg) explained how to build the foundation of a Successful Enterprise Cloud.

Then, during the second session, Emily Sergent (Sales Engineer, Denodo) focused on “Data Virtualization as the Keystone of your Cloud Data Strategy”, while Loïc Mulder, Technical Director & Partner, ITS4U, asked the following question: “Why and how deploy Red Hat OpenShift on Azure?”.

 

"How could cloud adoption transform the enterprise business model?" was the question asked during a round-table moderated by Stéphane Zema (Director, IT Infrastructure and Cloud, PwC Luxembourg). The discussion brought together Julian Schmücker (Senior Policy Adviser - Digital Innovation, European Banking Federation), Kevin Lloyd (Chief Technology Officer, Luxembourg Stock Exchange), Olivier Vansteelandt? (CIO, AXA Luxembourg & AXA Wealth Europe) and Christophe Gaspard (Head of ABBL Cloud working group, ABBL). Julian Schmücker first explained that the top priority of EBF was to enable the use of technologies for the financial institutions so that they can deliver innovative solutions for the benefit of customers and organizations. “In Europe, in 2018, 25% of enterprises were using the cloud and 36% expected to use it by 2020. Nowadays, the cloud is not a sideline innovation: banking will move ahead with it and follow a gradual and strategy approach,” he added, before focusing on Luxembourg. “In 2019, 15% of the financial services industry players were using the cloud, but 55% want to use it in the future. We are definitely moving toward cloud adoption, with the advent of a multicloud environment,” commented the expert. Christophe Gaspard confirmed: “a lot of banks in Luxembourg are now using cloud applications for training and to collaborate. Moreover, we see that business models are changing as banks are using more and more data and therefore need to be more agile. Cloud is therefore an enabler as it allows banks to rapidly increase their capacity should they provide new products and services to their clients”. The CTO of LuxSE and CIO of AXA Luxembourg then discussed their latest and current transformation projects which leverage the power of the cloud. Kevin Lloyd also insisted on the need to train users and have cloud ambassadors within the company: “it is a cultural transformation for many employees as the cloud is bringing more agility and it allows us to move forward in our digital journey and modification of applications”. According to the CIO of AXA Luxembourg, “at the group level, 45% of applications are already running in the cloud. Our ambition is to have all of them in it by 2025, based on our hybrid cloud strategy. Some legacy applications will be transferred to a private cloud and others on the public cloud to accelerate the development of new projects”. He added that the cloud provides a better time-to-market and it allows us to build security by design within the new applications. The four experts then briefly discussed the regulatory side and its inherent challenges, as well as the time it usually takes to file new requests to the CSSF. Kevin Lloyd then stated: “the next step is actually using what we have. It takes time to implement new services. We are moving forward with an enhanced capacity allowing us to deliver faster and better solutions for our customers”. Olivier Vansteelandt explained that it was now time to accelerate the transformation using these new technologies, and to provide new services to clients and agents, around the Salesforce ecosystem.

 

Rim Doukha (Chairwoman of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38 national study committee - Cloud Computing and Distributed Platforms, ANEC GIE) then took the stage and participated to a fireside chat session, presented by David Foy. The experts first described the mission of both ILNAS and ANEC, whose main goals, through standardization, is to improve the competitiveness of companies in Luxembourg, especially in the ICT sector – with discussions around the topics of AI, Blockchain, IoT, etc. –, one of the most relevant sectors along with construction and aerospace. The ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38 technical committee focuses on standards and good practices in the field of cloud computing. As the president of the national committee, she is in charge of managing and coordinating delegates of the companies, defending the position of Luxembourg at the international level. Moreover, she ensures that the national market enforces these standards and that companies use it. “Several times a year, we meet with experts from all over the world to discuss projects, results and recommendations. We then communicate with the local ecosystem in order to transfer these messages,” added Rim Doukha, who then encouraged players active in Luxembourg to join the committee and participate in the setting of new ICT standards. She concluded: “there are a lot of benefits: they will notably be able to access all drafts of standards and to participate in international meetings to contribute to the development of innovative projects. Standards are everywhere: they facilitate interaction. Experts who participate can therefore have a global influence”.

 

The event ended with a round table moderated by David Foy. It revolved around the topic of “Gaia-X, the European Cloud” and featured Fabrice Aresu (Board Member of Cloud Community Europe Luxembourg), Witte Wijsmuller (Policy Officer, Cloud & Software unit, European Commission?, DG Connect) and François Thill (Director Cybersecurity, Ministry of the Economy). David Foy reminded the audience that Luxinnovation inaugurated the local Gaia-X hub less than a week ago and then asked the experts to share their definition of Gaia-X. “The European Commission is not linked to Gaia-X, yet, we converge towards the game goal that is building European native cloud and edge computing to reach that next frontier and answer to news needs. Gaia-X is actually the flesh on the bone of this new paradigm. Working together with industry, it could enable businesses to interconnect and invest in this new frontier, while being compliant with regulations and rules,” first commented Witte Wijsmuller. According to Fabrice Aresu, the main interest of Gaia-x is the deployment of a cloud focusing on the security and trust aspects: “its purpose is to bring complete interoperability between countries to secure digital transactions. The initiative finds its origins in the worrying observation that our data become products that are being sold, and it creates a kind of social dilemma. Gaia-X aims at putting the citizens back at the heart of the digital world”. François Thill also mentioned the interoperability and transparent aspect. According to him, joining the hub will allow companies and especially SMEs to join larger markets: “they will therefore deal with data for their own benefits and for the benefit of the European economy, which is turning into a data-driven economy. For instance, the Government of Luxembourg is providing a national data exchange platform to understand how to protect and make them available without selling it. We are talking about controlled access”. “It goes further than data protection: it’s about the relationship between users, business and tech providers. Interoperability is the key”, added Witte Wijsmuller. The experts discussed the recent launch of the Gaia-X Luxembourg hub. “Within our working group, we focus on finance, identity, and authentication, in order to ensure who is doing the transaction and to make sure data is not used in an abusive manner. These use-cases are extremely concrete as they deal with daily issues. Realistic: means + experts + user case-driven,” explained Fabrice Aresu. Finally, they focused on the participation of non-European companies: “they are here to listen. The purpose of Gaia-X is not to exclude, on the contrary, but rather to welcome them to later enforce new standards and rules in order to protect the citizens. Foreign service providers will therefore have to adapt their solutions to be compliant. Inclusion is the key to a good relationship”.

 

Alexandre Keilmann

Photos: Sabino Parente