The MENA cloud: how big and where’s it going?

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According to the Cisco Global Cloud Index, the Middle East and Africa is expected to have the highest cloud traffic growth rate in the world between 2014 and 2019.

Gartner predicts that in 2018, total public cloud services spending in MENA region will rise to $1.5 billion up from an estimated $727 million in 2014.

According to Yahya Zakir, senior cloud architect at Gulf Infotech, a cloud provider based in UAE and Oman, between 2005 and 2011 the movement to the cloud for corporations was fairly slow. However, he said, necessity, awareness and the region’s growth had raised that demand in recent years.

“Since every company needs some form of cloud technology, cloud solutions cater to a highly lucrative market,” he said.

Enhancing the cloud infrastructure in the region reflected on the economy said Omid Mahboubi, cofounder of MENA Cloud Alliance (MENACA), a vendor-neutral forum dedicated to growing the cloud market in MENA.

“Cloud is a phenomenon tightly entangled with the economies of scale. The more traffic a region has to deliver to users, the more financial gains to be had in that market,” he said.

Zaid Farekh, founder of cloud provider Semantic Intelligent Technologies, said international vendors had shown interest in MENA due to its high spending on IT infrastructure, and providers such as Microsoft and Amazon had already penetrated the market.

Top cloud vendors include Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Sales Force, and Rack Space.

The major cloud stakeholders in MENA. (Image via MENA Cloud Alliance)

A recent example of the region’s collaboration with a foreign provider dates back to 2015, when Aliyun, Alibaba’s cloud computing unit formed a joint venture with Meraas Holdings in Dubai. The collaboration offers big data and cloud computing services to government and private enterprises in the region.

Governments and telcos

In addition to personal and corporate use, cloud computing is being used by governments and telecommunications companies. In 2014 the Jordanian government partnered with Microsoft to implement cloud services in the public sector.

“I believe that governments will pursue a cloud-first strategy to become more agile and responsive to their citizens,” predicted Mahboubi.

On the other hand, telcos such as Etisalat in the UAE and Mobily in Saudi Arabia are attempting to make their mark as cloud providers. In 2013 Mobily partnered with international Virtustream to create a cloud service in the country.  

Then there was the Telco Cloud Forum in May - a further sign of telecommunications companies’ increased interest.

Although telcos are approaching the sector as providers, Suleiman Jadoun, engineering manager at Friendi Mobile said applying cloud computing to the sector itself was less alluring than applying it to medium sized enterprises.

He questioned why big telcos, who'd already invested in secure on-premise data centers and servers, would give it up and go through the pain of migrating. Especially when the cloud’s main perk of data virtualization might backfire on them if it was hacked.

It's so nice up there in the clouds. (Image via Ook.co)

Challenges - why wouldn’t you migrate?

Although the cloud market in the region seems to be picking up momentum, challenges remain.

“The MEA region is slow in adopting cloud computing in comparison to the US,” said Walid Abu-Hadba, formerly corporate vice president of Microsoft. “But I believe that this will change with new players coming to the region and offering a more rich and secure cloud offerings”.

1.   Legality and data residency

The complex legality of cloud computing across MEA borders is an obstacle.

Governments in emerging markets do not allow the data to be hosted outside their borders. For example if you want to develop an app for the Saudi market you have to work with local data centers which, in comparison to Amazon’s centers, are outdated.

On the other hand, countries that allow the distribution of data outside their borders, face other challenges. The data should comply with the regulations of all those countries.

2.   Security threats

Even if cloud computing enhances the efficiency of many companies the ability for many people to access data could be a double edged sword. “When you have your customer’s data on your own physical service you don’t worry much about any possible breaches unlike when it’s stored in servers overseas,” said Jadoun.

As much as the cloud can pose cyber threats to companies, it is considered by many to be much safer than physical hardware which can be burnt or destroyed easily. Cyber security threats can also be solved at a user level with security enhancements like multi-factor authentication on all accounts.

3.  Pain of migration

This refers to the downtime caused by migration from legacy system architecture to the cloud

Similarly the migration process can become extremely painful and time consuming because it requires a change management strategy in order to streamline the adoption.   

Players

A cloud community is definitely present in the region; events, conferences and serious players are emerging to induce growth. Examples include Microsoft Cloud Roadshow which took place in Dubai last year, and the annual Cloud MENA. As for companies working in the field there is Jolicloud, Du, Cloud 4C, Cloud Hpt,STS, Mena IP, Go Cloudia, and Cloud 11.

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