The French Cloud – It’s the cloud, but French.

May 4, 2012
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It looks like Project Andromède is finally about to get under way (barring no objections from the EU).  Andromède is an effort led by the French government and funded via “le grand emprunt” (a French government borrowing initiative to support infrastructure improvement and the creation of innovation oriented employment) at a cost of 75€million to create a French cloud computing solution.  The initial rationale for the project was rooted in national security issues, namely that under French law certain types of information must be held within France – this rationale has since evolved.

After months of back and forth over which development partners the government would work with, two primary partners have emerged, Orange/France Telecom and Thales (with other partners potentially in the works).  The French government is also touting the project as a real benefit for France and Europe (although there are others in the works) as it demonstrates France’s seriousness about new technologies and its focus on job creation, which is estimated to reach 1000 for this initiative.

One could debate, of course, whether or not it’s a good idea for the state to actively sponsor the development of this type of project rather than, for example, supporting French firms already focusing on building out solutions in this space.  However, what I think will be most interesting to understand is a) how this solution would ‘win’ vs larger, more established global competitors and b) how this type of initiative could and should benefit startups.

Other than serving as a repository for French governmental information, the French government and their partners obviously want Andromède to be the preferred cloud solution for French and, ultimately, European firms.  Currently, their principal rationale as to why it makes sense for an established French firm to store their information in  Andromède centers around privacy issues arising from the fact that the US Patriot Act apparently gives the US government the right to access data housed on servers of US based companies (under certain circumstances).  While this is obviously a concern, companies would likely be more concerned about having a reliable, efficient, cost-effective solution as these factors would have a greater impact on their day-to-day operations.  Having seen how the building of complex, technical solutions can sometimes be a real challenge to get right, I would think there would be some initial scepticism from potential customers around the reliability of this solution.   In addition, it’s important to remember that switching costs and other associated risks can be substantial when moving from one technological solution of this scale to another.  Thus, it’s probably a stretch to assume that  security concerns alone would motivate a firm to bear these considerable costs.  So, although the French government, Orange and Thales are planning to position this as an European alternative to companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com, VMWare, etc., as with any new entrant, they need to create confidence around Andromède’s reliability and efficiency (e.g. solid arguments around improved latency for example) and provide compelling rationale as to why companies should switch to their solution.

As for the startup community, it would be good to understand how this solution will be structured and how startups can benefit.  So, for example, one of the great success stories in the cloud computing space is obviously Salesforce.com.  One thing they’ve done a nice job at in recent years is creating an ecosystem whereby startups (as well as more established firms) can develop and commercialize their apps on Salesfoce’s platform via tools such as Developer Force and AppExchange.  Salesforce’s competitors currently offer or are in the process of developing similar solutions.  Although I’m sure that Salesforce’s platform is not perfect, what they’re striving to create is very smart.  First, it benefits Salesforce as it enables them to offer their customers a wider array of cloud-based services and, as a result, a more complete cloud solution. Second, it provides B-to-B oriented startups with a more effective way to access larger customers who can often be difficult to work with due to their long sales cycles and general apprehensions about working with startups.  Hopefully offering value-added services beyond just information storage has been incorporated into the design of Andromède.  This could potentially provide a great opportunity for French startups developing cloud solutions to reach Andromède’s future customer base.

What do you think the advantages would be of a French cloud solution? If you’re a startup developing cloud solutions, how do you think Andromède might be beneficial for you?