As a Europe-wide initiative Gaia-X attracts a lot of attention. However, the structure of Gaia-X, its aspects and associated sub-projects often pose a challenge for interested parties. With the format “Inside Gaia-X”, the Platform Industry 4.0 and the Gaia-X Hub Austria help Austrian companies and organisations to obtain or maintain an overview.
At the 3rd Inside Gaia-X event, the focus was on the “Gaia-X Federation Services” (GXFS). In order to convey what they are and how to use the GXFS, Andreas Weiss and Vivien Witt from the German eco Association of the Internet Industry were guests in Vienna and in the virtual space.
GXF… Excuse me?
Gaia-X is a European idea initiated from Germany and France in 2019. Central to Gaia-X is its technical architecture. This is constantly being worked on in the Gaia-X AISBL; in April 2022, the sixth and currently current version of the architecture was published. The Gaia-X architecture also describes the “Gaia-X Federation Services”, abbreviated to GXFS.
The GXFS are jointly defined software building blocks that are required for cooperation in line with the Gaia-X idea. In a first step, the GXFS are to ensure four functionalities, which in total are to enable Gaia-X-compliant data exchange:
- Identity & Trust: The GXFS are designed to ensure the identity of cooperating organisations and companies.
- Federated Catalogue: The GXFS are intended to make the offerings of cooperation partners (within a “federation”, see below) discoverable and interoperable.
- Sovereign Data Exchange: Control over data exchange and the implementation of rules in the event of cooperation are to be ensured via the GXFS.
- Compliance: The GXFS should ensure access and rights in data exchange as well as compliance with commonly agreed rules and regulatory requirements
The Gaia-X AISBL working groups define the basic specifications and the rules of cooperation in federated ecosystems. Thus, the AISBL influences the functionalities and requirements that the individual software building blocks must adhere to.
Software development in the context of Gaia-X
Financial and human resources are needed for software development. Part of the GXFS is developed directly in the Gaia-X AISBL (e.g. compliance). Another part of the GXFS has been developed since 2020 through funding in Germany and France.
In Germany (GXFS-DE), the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) has commissioned the eco association to coordinate the development of specifications and open source code. Within the framework of this commissioning, a basic set of software building blocks was developed that are required for the commissioning of a Gaia-X federation (i.e. for Gaia-X-compliant data exchange).
Current status of the development of the GXFS-DE
The various project partners have been developing the required software modules since January 2021. The current state of development can be accessed via the GitLab platform. Companies and organisations can now use the already developed GXFS software building blocks to pilot a Gaia-X-compliant data exchange. A description of the available software building blocks can be found in the “GXFS Toolbox“.
Among others, the following software modules were developed within the framework of the German GXFS project:
- an authentication & authorisation service: this service enables the request of credentials and identity attributes as well as the control of data sharing within a cooperating group of organisations (“federation”)
- a credential manager for individuals and for organisations: this “wallet” for individuals or companies in a federation enables the deposit and management of credentials and their issuers.
- Tools for the creation, visualisation and validation of service self-descriptions: these can be searched, selected and observed via a “federated catalogue”.
- Services for the exchange of data: for obtaining consent for the respective data exchange as well as for the conclusion of the contract, and for logging the use and transmission of data
- Compliance tools within a federation: these include validation and documentation of enrolment and accreditation of participants, resources and services, as well as continuous automated monitoring (ENISA EUCS Cloud Services Scheme, verification level “High“) and a notarisation service
- Austrian companies can also use the software developed so far to set up a Gaia-X federation. The software components described can be implemented via Kubernetes at different cloud computing providers. The portal and the orchestration service are particularly noteworthy. These are provided to give participants in a federation user- friendly access to the potential software offerings within a federation with the help of a web client.
Further development and future
The development of the GXFS software building blocks is not yet complete. Gitlab allows interested parties to stay informed and to participate in the development themselves. Subsequently, it is planned to transfer the code to the Eclipse Foundation. In addition, the eco association and its project partners offer various ways to stay informed about the progress of the project: the GXFS website, the GXFS blog or the GXFS newsletter help with this.
The GXFS YouTube channel provides further information. The “Deep Dives” in particular provide very detailed insights into the GXFS work packages:
A general overview of the various components of the entire Gaia-X project has recently been provided by the “Gaia-X Framework“. This shows all relevant documents and their relationship to each other. The GXFS toolbox is also depicted in it. The Gaia-X Framework can also be used to call up when individual components of the project were published or which working groups were or are involved.