How to take advantage of the rise of cloud computing in the GCC

Posted on June 3rd, 2020

Fuelled by plans to diversify sources of income and improve the quality of life for its citizens, the GCC is seeing a boom in the uptake of cloud computing.

Gartner expect spending on public cloud services in MENA to reach $2bn by 2020, with over 90% of enterprise workloads processed in the cloud.

The growth in platform as a service (PaaS) and software a service (SaaS) prove that companies are now moving workloads from on-premise datacentres to the cloud, and are developing new, cloud-ready, applications.

The recognised benefits of cloud computing — cost reduction, flexible capacity, scalability and so on — are no less important in the GCC, but it has its own, regional specific, considerations.

Oil price pressures, population growth, the demand from citizens for improved technologies and the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, a global initiative being championed by the United Nations, means each of the GCC countries have developed their own programmes for digital transformation.

Smart Tourism, Classroom of the Future, Next Generation Care and the use of cloud first policies in the public sector are examples. Private sector companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of these initiatives and putting cloud computing at the centre of their business development plans.

But despite the attraction, moving to cloud computing isn’t without difficulties.

Not having access to the right knowledge, skills and experience is an obvious constraint on cloud adoption. Although there have been big improvements in teaching ICT basics as part of the school curriculum, there’s a leap from there to a skilled DevOps practitioner.

And it’s not just technology skills. Leadership is needed to help turn technology into valuable use cases, and commercial awareness is a must have for managing vendors. Defining, agreeing and managing service agreements common for cloud services isn’t straightforward.

There have been several well publicised cyberattacks in the GCC that have pushed security considerations to front of mind for business and IT execs. Worries about loss of service or data theft always figure in user surveys and is the biggest practical concern for running workloads in the cloud.

Each country in the region has relatively new cybercrime laws that attract penalties for non-compliance, so companies need to have a well-constructed approach to compliance.

Fortunately, cybersecurity tools are well advanced for cloud computing and will avoid any issues if correctly applied.

There’s a lot of good examples of successful cloud adoption in the GCC. Look no further than cloud-based businesses like Careem, the region’s first Unicorn, Fetchr, also growing at an explosive rate and FlyDubai, who implemented a new AWS based online check-in platform in only four months.

There’s also examples of good, well run businesses, that could benefit from a shift to cloud computing but don’t have the practical know-how to make it happen. They might have tried basic activities but haven’t tried large or technically complex projects. For many, moving legacy apps and data to the cloud can seem like a big hurdle to jump.

As the use of cloud computing increases, so too does the concern for data privacy. Current laws and regulations apply to some extent but there are so many they are difficult to interpret. They need to be easily understood to give certainty to tech companies by removing any ambiguity on interpretation or enforcement.

Fortunately, the region now recognises this. Bahrain is introducing a law on data privacy protection in early 2018, and KSA has recently completed a public consultation on the use and operation of cloud computing.

There are also industry specific rules. Dubai International Financial Centre has its own data protection regulations that are closely aligned with the GDPR being introduced in the European Union in 2018.

Affordability of basic infrastructure and vendor solutions has been questioned, but that’s now being fixed.

Many of the leading global tech vendors are increasing their investment in the GCC. Amazon are opening their first middle east data centres, in Bahrain, early next year and the number of local, home-grown, tech companies is increasing year on year as more start-ups appear.

Core infrastructure — data pipes and data centres — are critical for fast, cost effective, cloud operation, and the region has responded with a rolling investment programme in submarine cables for international traffic, national data network backbones and last mile infrastructure.

GCC countries are in different states of readiness for dealing with these challenges — Qatar, UAE and Bahrain are the top 3 cloud ready nations — and companies, apprehensive about making the first move, can help themselves by taking some straightforward actions.

Good vendors have varied experience which means they get things done fast, know the common pitfalls to avoid and will pay close attention to concerns like security.

They also have a pool of well-trained engineers who can work closely with the in-house team to cover any resource gaps, share some of their knowledge and deliver technically complex or high-risk activities.

Apps that need hefty re-writing or an architecture overhaul should be avoided, at least to begin with. Find some “manageable but meaningful” applications that will test the team but not break the company.

Hybrid cloud adoption might be the answer. Business critical apps can be left with the in-house team and the more straightforward utility apps — data backup and email are examples — can be moved.

Pick the right time based on usage cycles and interdependencies. Finance apps, for example, are typically heavily used at month/quarter end and the head of finance won’t count you as a friend if you mix up their financial reporting.

Small volumes of simple data can be moved using a one-and-done approach, large volumes — petabytes or exabytes — take a lot more planning and work.

Plan for any business downtime and make sure business continuity plans are up to date. With good planning, serious issues can be avoided but it’s best to be prepared.

Once the first workload has been moved, use standard regression, performance and operational assurance test sets to check everything works ok and to confirm the integrity of data in its new location.

Use the first implementations as an opportunity to learn and improve the next time. Rigorous planning and well managed execution are the characteristics of continued success, so taking the time to embed this approach across the team will make a real difference.

At drie we aim to be your end-to-end partner on your journey to the cloud. From deciding what your cloud strategy should look like, to migrating your processes, to helping you pick the right cloud-based products that will help you scale your business. Please get in touch and we’ll arrange a chat about your cloud needs and see if we can help.