For the last few years, cloud adoption has seen an upward trajectory in the Middle East, with many organisations moving data to the cloud. The region is undergoing an economic transformation, with many nations implementing smart city initiatives and updating their national visions while improving their digital economies. National visions in countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait encourage governments to use emerging technologies in order to achieve their transformation objectives.
For instance, the digital transformation of government operations is a key component of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. A cloud-first strategy aids lowering total cost of ownership, and strengthening cybersecurity.
Meanwhile, Bahrain’s cloud-first policy is also devoted to modernising government ICT and setting the bar high for employing cloud computing services in order to cut costs, boost security and efficiency and create first-rate citizen services.
Accelerating cloud adoption
Public and private sectors in the region are investing in cloud computing to improve their infrastructure and services and leverage this technology to organise and streamline their processes.
Going by the numbers, Gartner forecasts end-user spending on public cloud services in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to grow 19 per cent this year. “A renewed focus on technology growth post-Covid-19 in the region is leading to continued growth in public cloud spending,” said Colleen Graham, senior research director at Gartner, in a statement. “Various MENA governments’ policies on telemedicine, usage of autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and a rapid move towards the next phase of the fourth industrial revolution are opening new growth avenues for public cloud in the region. Additionally, the attention given to building and nurturing talent will turn a new leaf in the region’s shift towards becoming a digital economy.”
Gartner also stated that in 2022, MENA chief information officers will spend the most on cloud application services, which include business intelligence applications, email and authoring, content services, customer experience and relationship management and supply chain. This segment will total $2.3bn, an increase of 16 per cent from 2021, and will account for 40 per cent of the total investment made in public cloud services.
The second largest segment will be cloud application and infrastructure services, which is forecast to total $1.1bn in 2022, an increase of 25.8 per cent from 2021. Cloud system infrastructure services will record the highest growth. This segment will grow 36.8 per cent to a total $895m in 2022. Dario Sarmiento, manager – Service Delivery at Kyndryl – Gulf and Levant, believes that disruptive technologies have been at the centre of the IT industry for decades. However, their adoption has recently increased at an accelerated pace, forcing businesses to work in and keep up with a very competitive environment.
“In the last five years, we have seen how the convergence of cheaper network access, coupling with the development of better mobile and wireless technologies (peaking, for example, at the current promise of 5G speed for wireless communications) and improvements in the underlying virtualisation technologies, has created multiple options for enterprises to enhance their competitiveness. On the flip side, with all that’s available today, some businesses are finding it challenging to prioritise IT initiatives based on their own strategic objectives. Cloud Computing is part of any of those relevant options, so a decision to move there cannot be disregarded,” notes Sarmiento.
Are some companies reluctant to move to the cloud?
As the world becomes technology-driven, cloud computing has become an integral part of daily life, especially for regional businesses. The cloud helps companies organise their data and keep a backup of every single piece of information used for product development and customer experience enhancement. However, many organisations are still putting off migrating their infrastructure to the cloud. Reason – while some may lack IT personnel, others fear the loss of accessibility. Furthermore, the decision-makers focus on the cost. Meanwhile Fayez Eweidat, senior director – META at Juniper Networks, observes security as one of the biggest concerns surrounding public cloud adoption. “As more companies empower a work-from-anywhere workforce, access to cloud-based applications provides a seamless experience from home to office. However, some companies are hesitant to walk down this path due to concerns about how to transition their existing security, policies and frameworks and continue to meet their compliance commitments,” he adds.
However, Sarmiento says it could be one or a combination of various reasons. “We have seen organisations wanting to move to the cloud but are held back by the rigidity of their legacy systems. The reality is that the larger the organisations, the longer the legacy systems have been in place. Another stumbling block is the shortage of cloud skills, which can easily impede cloud transformation projects.”
The ‘risks’ of not moving to the cloud
So, what risks are associated with an organisation not moving to the cloud? With the cloud at the centre of all digital transformation journey’s, businesses may not be able to capture more extensive opportunities, and they could face limitations on scalability, where the cost would be too high for them to grow because of traditional IT spending that utilises funds that the business could instead use for growth initiatives or innovation.
“Not being part of the cloud community also reduces the intelligence of a business. By that, I mean that in today’s corporate world, startups and SMEs need to have a smart approach to data. Business intelligence and data analytics need a good understanding of data collection and storage. Not having a robust cloud storage system supporting your business can, therefore, leave a negative impact on having to dig into your data, making your business less efficient,” explains Candid Wuest, vice president – Cyber Protection and Research at Acronis.
However, before investing in the cloud, organisations should consider how it aligns with their overall business strategy and understand which workloads are best suited to run on the cloud. In short, investing in the cloud must be aligned with developing strategic initiatives. “Primarily, an organisation should consider security, compliance, hidden costs, networking, complexities and performance before investing in a cloud environment. Additionally, the preparedness of the team to manage not only the technical aspects of migration and ongoing operations but also the business considerations of optimising costs and assuring compliance are critical factors. Lastly, organisations must assess the technical readiness of any application before moving it to the cloud,” comments Eweidat.
Cloud security – Tools and best practices
Although the cloud is constantly evolving, some best practices have remained firm for ensuring the security of cloud environments. Experts suggest that organisations with existing cloud solutions in place or looking to implement them should consider the advice below to ensure data security.
Emad Haffar, head of Technical Experts at Kaspersky, explains that basic antivirus and anti-malware protection are not enough to protect a cloud infrastructure. “Industry best practices dictate that every operating system in the infrastructure needs comprehensive, multi-layered protection that safeguards various types of workloads running on different platforms. Understanding the difference between the cybersecurity responsibility of a cloud host and a cloud tenant is vital as well. In a private cloud setup, protecting the underlying virtualisation and storage as well as network connectivity, must be considered. And while this responsibility is on the shoulders of the provider in a public cloud setup, workload security is still needed, and it is on the tenant side.” He adds that having a comprehensive security solution that can cater to all these different scenarios can make the task more manageable.
Meanwhile, Eweidat puts focus on zero trust on how security teams should redesign networks into secure micro perimeters, strengthen data security using obfuscation techniques, limit the risks associated with excessive user privileges and access, and dramatically improve security detection and response with analytics and automation. “Organisations investing in security tools and architectures should ensure their investment focuses on managing and monitoring of cloud environments, actionable insights for faster threat detection, security behaviour and event-driven capabilities for real-time alerts.”
Moving forward, the cloud will drive technological innovation and serve as the foundation for business innovation. Thanks to the rising user demand, evolving needs of the organisations and the massive quantity of data, the future of cloud computing in the Middle East is on a steady path to proliferate in the coming years.