How GÉANT Cloud Frameworks outline the cloudscape* of European R&E – A panoramic view

Study of Clouds over the Sea by Eckersberg, C.W. - 1826 - National Gallery of Denmark, Denmark - CC0.

This article is part of a section on commercial cloud procurement, published in the March 2024 issue of the GÉANT CONNECT Magazine (CONNECT45). We also suggest reading “From the OCRE project to EOSC Future – lessons learned in commercial cloud procurement.

In the rapidly evolving global landscape of Research and Education, cloud-based services have become a driving force for innovation, tapping into every digitised field and in all areas. The increasing adoption of commercial cloud services in parallel with community cloud is helping to advance research globally, fostering the digitisation of education, and transforming the way institutions access resources and utilise them.

In this context, the GÉANT cloud frameworks – the 2016 IaaS and 2020 IaaS+ (aka OCRE) frameworks, supported by the GN4-2, GN4-3 and GN5-1 projects – were and continue to be a fundamental propelling and shaping force for this digital transformation in European Research and Education. Now at their second iteration and actively procuring the third one, these ground-breaking frameworks have enabled easy, agile, and compliant consumption of a wide portfolio of cloud services across European R&E, while reducing costs and bureaucratic burdens.

The impact of these initiatives continues to make ripples and expand across the skies of European R&E. As of February 2024, nearly 900 institutions in 28 countries were reported to be actively consuming commercial cloud services via the frameworks, with a 30% increase in yearly consumption in 2023 alone – a trend only expected to grow.

The aggregating potential of GÉANT and NRENs in action on European R&E clouds

The impressive accomplishments of the GÉANT cloud frameworks would hardly be possible without the aggregating power, profound knowledge of R&E communities, collaborative approach, and broad expertise of GÉANT and of the European NRENs, and without the efforts and continuous support of GÉANT projects.

Due to their nature and mission, GÉANT and the NRENs are uniquely positioned to collectively procure and distribute commercial cloud services towards the pan-European R&E community. Through its frameworks, GÉANT consolidates the requirements and demand of R&E into unified public procurements, bridging the demand and supply sides and thus making it easier for commercial suppliers to deliver their services and for the Research and Education institutions to procure them.

Additionally, the added value of the frameworks extends way beyond the bridging role. Through the pan-European procurements, GÉANT and the NRENs represent and advance the interests of Research and Education communities, leveraging their collective market aggregation to procure at scale and advocate for favourable conditions from cloud service providers, significant discounts, and offerings tailored to the specific needs and requirements of R&E.

While commercial cloud services have now become an important part of the researcher’s toolkit and are being progressively embraced by research and education institutions, often their usage takes place without due consideration of terms and conditions. GÉANT Cloud Frameworks address this issue by implementing a gated process, in which GÉANT and the NRENs act as intermediaries between the R&E communities they serve and the cloud service providers, ensuring that the procured cloud services are compliant with relevant rules and regulations and aligned with the community’s needs and values. In this sense, particular attention is given to standards and certifications, public procurement regulations, identity management requirements (including support to eduGAIN), peering with the GÉANT network, minimised ingress/egress charges, cost control, and to the aspects of data security, sustainability, interoperability, data autonomy and privacy.

Finally, the coordinated work of GÉANT, the NRENs and the “Above-the-Net Services” Work Package in GÉANT projects (GN4-2, GN4-3, and currently GN5-1), provides continuous support to the frameworks and enables the service delivery chain, both facing suppliers and users. In particular, a dedicated contract management team within the Work Package is responsible for handling the extensive number of framework contracts, working closely with suppliers and consuming institutes and collecting quarterly data for reporting purposes, while a separate user-facing team takes care of engaging NRENs and institutions, organising bi-weekly forums with NRENs Cloud Service Delivery Managers (CSDMs), trainings and workshops, collecting requirements, and managing communications. With the GN5-1 project, the Work Package now expanded its activities around the frameworks, re-introducing cloud procurement activities under the umbrella of GÉANT projects and introducing a new strategic function in the form of a Cloud Strategy Forum.

On the horizon – Towards OCRE 2024

Currently being re-procured via the GN5-1 project and expected to be in place by December 2024, the upcoming OCRE 2024 framework is set to extend the scope and ambition of previous GÉANT Cloud frameworks. The aim is to procure a broad and varied portfolio of services, expanding beyond Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) into Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), while achieving the best terms and conditions and costs for the R&E community, increasing compliance, and further easing service consumption.

Preparations towards the tendering phase for OCRE 2024 took place throughout all the first year of the GN5-1 project and included both market consultation and user engagement in collaboration with the GÉANT Partner Relations Team. In this regard, GÉANT published in August 2023 a Prior Information Notice (PIN) to consult economic operators on the proposed tender requirements and criteria and then to inform – based on the market’s response – the development of the procurement. NRENs were also extensively consulted, in particular to seek case-by-case solutions to the complex legal issues that up to this point were hindering the active participation in the framework of GÉANT consortium partners outside the EU. This engagement led to the successful onboarding of 39 NRENs into the next framework, with their signature of a Declaration of Participation in OCRE 2024.

Following the tender, an intensive phase of evaluation, bidding and scoring of all the received responses will commence, with the support of a team of procurement experts and subject matter experts from European NRENs. Promising to broaden and further define the horizon of cloud services for European R&E, the OCRE 2024 framework is expected to launch by the end of 2024 and to run for a period of 5 years.

GÉANT CONNECT Magazine - CONNECT 45. Spotlighting the heroines behind the scenesThis article is featured on CONNECT 45, the latest issue of the GÉANT CONNECT Magazine!

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*In art, a cloudscape is the depiction of a view of clouds or the sky.

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