[Emmanuel M]: Hello Michaël and thank you for accepting to answer these few questions. Could you give us a quick overview of your background?
[Michaël Ferrec]: Hello Emmanuel, thank you for this invitation. I have been an entrepreneur since 1998, notably in IT services companies. A first long experience with Einden, editor of photo library management tools for professionals. I sold my shares in this company in 2017. In the meantime, with this same team we were able to lead another project like e-administration.fr, which was not successful unlike the first one. So in 2017, I sold my shares and met my new partner Olivier, who has been a researcher in computer science for over 20 years. And from this meeting, Inspeere was born, which keeps us and a few other people busy full time.
[EM]: Inspeere, what exactly is it?
[MF]: Inspeere, our business is data backup. We rely on the mutualist dimension of this backup as opposed to standard solutions that rely heavily on what is called the cloud. Our solution will be based on a system of machines that will embed a software solution in the client company and that will connect with each other to provide the backup service in a mutualized manner. We are on a revisited peer-to-peer network logic, with a lot of steering and control, which was missing in peer-to-peer. We have added a blockchain dimension, which makes it easy to create smart contracts between users and which also makes it possible to measure the bandwidth and storage capacity of each of these “peers”.
This makes it possible to guarantee a quality of service.
[EM]: What are the strong and differentiating elements of your offer?
[MF]: There are several. First of all, the protection and the security of the data. A data on our system, will be automatically compressed, before being encrypted, to be then fragmented and then distributed to the various users of the Inspeere solution. We end up with an externalized backup, but in the form of digital mush that cannot be used by anyone. This secures the data and gives it an extra-confidential dimension. Paradoxically, although it is everywhere, it is unusable. The image I like to use is, imagine that you have written the Bible, if you give a letter of this work to so many people, nobody will know if you have written the Bible or the 3 little pigs… By the same token we have a sovereign aspect by construction. Last but not least, our solution is more eco-responsible than all the other solutions on the market. This is demonstrated by a life cycle study.
[EM]: So your solution is the software with a NAS?
[MF]: That’s exactly what it is. We have designed a dedicated NAS, but more often than not we use a third-party server or NAS. Most of the time we use Dell hardware, mainly for warranty reasons. Our system is quite agnostic, in the sense that it can rely on just about any type of machine.
[EM]: It could work with Synology?
[MF]: Not as is, because it is a very proprietary system …
[EM]: Can you give us some key figures of Inspeere?
[MF]: I don’t have many, we are a start-up. We are currently in the phase of recruiting partner-distributors, while of course taking care of our existing customers. We are really oriented towards indirect sales. Today, we have about fifteen distributors, and we still have many to reach. And it’s for more than a dozen customers now. We have really been marketing our solution since the second quarter of this year.
[EM]: Could Inspeere be a solution for backups of collaborative cloud solutions and their client?
[MF]: For these players, it is often easier to deploy cloud solutions and administer them globally. Nevertheless, it may be relevant for customers to repatriate part of their data and thus use our solution. This will be done through APIs that are well suited.
[EM]: For the next 5 years, how do you see the evolution of Inspeere, new projects, services?
[MF]: For us, the challenge is to be a key player in professional data backup. We really think that we have something to contribute, given that our solution is sufficiently unique and different from what is available on the market.
Our objective is to be one of the 3-4 reference players in this field, first of all in France.
[EM]: 2020 and 2021 were pivotal years, the pandemic made us aware of our deindustrialization. What is your vision?
[MF]: Very good question, which I often ask myself. We operate in an environment or a tropism for these issues. And so, we are immersed in these issues of sovereignty and more particularly digital sovereignty, the question I ask myself is whether the impression that these themes are increasingly present in everyone’s mind is a good one. And I am not sure about that. I want to believe, however, that our fellow citizens are beginning to wake up to these issues and acquire a culture, particularly on issues of digital sovereignty.
[EM]: Despite the displays of the government on sovereignty and digital sovereignty, we see that the decisions do not follow the words (Data Hub Health at Microsoft, the pge at BPI at AWS, the Olympics-2024 at Alibaba, The cloud of “trust”, the alliance Thales-Google, etc. …) What is your feeling?
[MF]: You put your finger on the problems that we frequently raise within the PlayFrance collective, and which, it must be said, revolts everyone within this circle of insiders.
These public and industrial actors who advocate the “trusted cloud”, just a short time ago were promoting digital sovereignty, like Bruno Le Maire… What is a bit irritating is that in reality, we see that they do a lot of acrobatics to finally avoid the problem? And above all to bring answers that question many people… The emblematic example is the concept of trusted cloud. Already affixing trust to cloud, one wonders if there is not a problem… And going through American solutions by betting that there is no backdoor (which is not sure), suggests that things are not taken seriously enough. Especially in relation to the official display, we are really in politics, and we can only note the gap between this display and the acts, which are then dressed up with names such as “cloud of trust”…
[EM]: What do you think of the 5 criteria mentioned in particular with Yann Léchelle (Scaleway) that allow the definition of a trusted cloud?
[MF]: I don’t hide from you having discovered this via LinkedIn, but in fact I agree that this definition is the only one that dares to define the minimum requirements. And all these 5 points seem to me to be very relevant.
[EM]: The Health Data Hub affair was emblematic of the beginning of 2020 and saw the birth of the PlayFranceDigital collective, how do you see yourself and what do you think of the initiative?
[MF]: The contribution is difficult to evaluate, but I joined this movement after the call of April 9. Our approach to digital within Inspeere could only find us in the movement. This collective allowed me to put words on something I felt in a diffuse way. It allowed me to point out multiple problems and this with experts in the field who all say the same thing. The virtue of this movement is that it has all the legitimacy to bring the questions to the debate.
[EM]: For you, what are the 3 to 5 major issues of our digital sovereignty?
[MF]: An issue that concerns our ability to lead our national destiny, not in the nationalist sense, which I am not. But in the sense that my family, my friends live in France, and I want them to have a future, and a future as good as it is. I think that the question of digital sovereignty is important because it is part of what allows the people to dispose of themselves. There is of course a cultural dimension, because our approach to data is completely different between the two sides of the Atlantic, notably.
[EM]: Is the global hegemony of American social networks a threat to our culture and democracy?
[MF]: Yes, of course. On democracy more probably through Facebook and twitter, due to the orientation that the algorithms provoke, which lead us to be in spheres… It is however important to cultivate doubts and, in these spheres, created by the social networks the risk to be carried away by cognitive biases is important. But there are subjects that touch more directly on the economy, and we can see that. Actors like Google, Microsoft and Amazon will, through a kind of dumping, because they are in an ultra-dominant position, be a barrier to entry for many actors, including the French, but not only. That’s where we are, and that’s where politicians need to ask themselves how they can put the church back in the middle of the village. It could be that the action comes from the United States, the regulator is indeed starting to ask itself the question to make their anti-trust laws work…
[EM]: How environmental responsibility is integrated into digital?
[MF]: Vast question. There are many ways to answer it, but I can’t recommend enough the book “Journey to the end of a click” by Mr. Pitron, a journalist who did a big investigation on the digital hell. He illustrates very well that all this digital technology, which we associate with the virtual, is in fact very material (data center, computer, networks, etc.) with very large infrastructures. Moreover, digital technology means that humanity is in the process of creating the biggest infrastructure in the world… All this implies a lot of CO2 emissions, and the need to use scarce resources… Our current all-cloud vision means that we have only one tool. It’s like having only one hammer and therefore seeing all the issues addressed as nails. This is not at all the vision we have at Inspeere. The other angle is that of security, concentrating and centralizing everything is not necessarily the right solution to protect ourselves.
[EM]: Doesn’t the arrival and development of fiber allow us to consider more decentralized solutions, for example Inspeere could not be one of these solutions?
[MF]: This was in fact the initial idea, we were oriented towards B to C, but for capital reasons, we turned instead to B to B. Each person with an Internet box has in fact a “private NAS” so that there can be associated storage. Operators could very well offer our solution as part of the users’ subscription. This is one of our topics.
[EM]: In your opinion, what are the two or three major technological trends of the next 2 to 3 years?
[MF]: The three trends that I see are that whatever people say, thanks to this crisis, the major players have become stronger. During this crisis, there has been a more massive and rapid recourse to digital technology, and the ready-to-use solutions with compressor roll marketing are the ones that people think of first, even if they are not the best. Unfortunately, this trend will continue and put our digital sovereignty at risk. Alongside this, there will be resistance, such as the PlayFrance Digital collective, which will persist. And, I can see initiatives like Gaia-X will end up in the wall. Because these initiatives planned to defend our sovereignty, have been infiltrated by the GAFAM. On the other hand, there is another trend, driven by the cybersecurity aspects, which questions the concept of the all cloud, which has mostly advantages for those who promote it. And we can feel a stirring in trade shows, notably.
[EM]: France and Europe, which have fallen behind on the cloud, risk missing out on this new trend, even though they have relevant players?
[MF]: I completely agree with you, and that’s what we’re working on. If the government tells us that we can’t do better than the Americans in the cloud, let’s address the issues differently. And that’s the approach we propose at Inspeere. Behind these marketing words cloud, AI in which we are constantly immersed, there is a moment when we can also reason a little, and coldly analyze that no, this is not the answer to everything.
[EM]: We are coming to the end of our interview; I thank you for this exchange. What would be your conclusion?
[MF]: Thank you very much, my conclusion is that we are entering an important election period in France. We must therefore invite all those who are listening to us, and even if they are not completely aware of the issues of digital sovereignty, to be attentive to the way in which this will be treated. It is a fundamental subject for society, so we must be vigilant.