Historically, using computer programs meant buying a physical software package, installing it manually onto the hard drive, and upgrading the programs intermittently at significant cost and at risk of incurring compatibility issues. Maintaining business software was an inefficient and costly process.
Then came the cloud.
The cloud removes the burden of manually upgrading hardware and managing data storage while providing employees with a global means of communicating with customers, and access to multiple cloud providers and key data from any location. The possibilities of such an IT infrastructure are endless. From improving business agility to driving down capital expenditure on hardware. The cloud enables businesses to be more efficient and strategic and facilitates global engagement with businesses and consumers.
Right now, one of the most exciting areas of cloud growth is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Gartner estimates that cloud spending in the region has increased by 22 percent in the last year. The total spend currently sits at $1.2 billion and is expected to reach $2 billion by 2020. The main growth drivers are Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS), which currently account for $1 billion between them.
Despite predicted growth, the cloud is still an emerging technology in the MENA region. For all the region’s potential, there is resistance and challenge in equal measure. For cloud providers to work strategically in the region, the following opportunities and challenges should be taken into account.
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The challenges: security and connectivity
Security represents perhaps the most pressing challenge to the future of cloud in the MENA region. Research from PwC indicates MENA businesses are several times more likely to fall victim to cybercrime due to shortcomings in the necessary security knowledge, skills, and processes to effectively identify and respond to threats. This evidence is supported by high-profile breaches in the region, including the hack in December 2016 on the Saudi Arabian government, and the 2012 attack on Saudi Aramco, which put roughly 10 percent of the world’s oil and gas at risk.
Ultimately, embracing the cloud’s additional connectivity will require MENA businesses to fortify their security measures. In meeting this challenge, providers should work with local businesses by supplying education on the cyber security landscape, and how best to secure a business operation. This includes information on necessary skills and the security solutions currently available to businesses.
The MENA region possesses an undeveloped technological infrastructure, which cannot provide local businesses with affordable bandwidth. Naturally, this has inhibited the growth of bandwidth-reliant technologies such as the cloud and has cultivated a business culture still largely reliant on more traditional hardware solutions.
The availability and quality of data pipes and data centres in the region is improving, but demand for bandwidth still greatly exceeds supply. This has caused regional bandwidth costs several times higher than anywhere else in the world. As such, businesses considering cloud deployment are also forced to assess whether they have the resources to sustain a cloud-centric business model.
Providers should facilitate an effective means for businesses to monitor their cloud application usage, in line with available resources and cloud deployment goals. This system will enable adopters to identify the areas of high-bandwidth usage and adjust their strategies accordingly.
Opportunities within the MENA market
The driving factor behind the move to cloud in the MENA region is not architectural but rather user-generated. Providers no longer need to convince organisations that the cloud is the next key business revolution. They already know. And they’re now demanding the same ‘anytime-anywhere-on-any-device’ service experienced by their counterparts in Europe, Asia, and North America.
User-generated demand indicates huge growth potential for regional providers in the coming years. To capitalise on this opportunity, providers should work to facilitate an environment wherein local businesses not only want to adopt the cloud but where they also feel ready to do so. They need to ensure businesses are ‘cloud-ready’.
In supporting regional cloud-readiness, providers should continue to educate prospective adopters on cloud services, because businesses should know what the cloud does and how it can benefit their goals before they can understand how it will fit into their business models.
Providers should also offer services to ensure businesses have the necessary skillsets to support cloud deployment. This may include introducing cloud training programmes that vary by context and difficulty, to ensure businesses and employees have the relevant practical experience for their needs.
The network architecture in the MENA region has traditionally been an issue. Due to regional regulatory and territorial complexities, it has made more sense for networks to send their local traffic all the way to Europe to exchange data before backhauling it to the Middle East. This system has both reduced cloud efficiency and increased network costs.
Cloud and network providers should view the regional infrastructure as both a challenge and opportunity. By working to build regional data centres and improve the abundance and quality of data pipes, cloud and network providers can ensure a more functional and efficient network architecture for local businesses.
Infrastructural improvement will not happen overnight; it will require a long-term commitment from providers and cooperation from local stakeholders. The same can be said for the all of the challenges and opportunities within the region. But providers should recognise that the move to the cloud is not just a fad. In fact, Cisco’s Global Cloud Index estimates that 95 percent of MENA workloads will be processed in the cloud by 2020.
Given the real prospect of a cloud-driven future, providers should be doing all they can today, to ensure they are in the best possible position for tomorrow. It may not be the providers with the biggest names or most resources that establish themselves as leaders in the region, but those most willing to address market needs.