Features

Clearing the clouds

Middle East enterprises are slowly warming to the promise of cloud computing and are beginning to implement services in specific pockets of IT. While challenges abound, there is no doubt that the only way to go for cloud technologies is up.

Nothing can be as confusing as cloud technologies and services at this point in time.
Every vendor in the market seems to have a special definition for it and everybody claims to have been there before everybody else.

Ayman Dwidar
Ayman Dwidar, sales manager, ESS Blade System and Proliant SW at HP MEA

“The cloud delivers highly scalable, global-class services that can be easily consumed over the Internet on an as-needed basis. The cloud introduces two fundamental dynamics that together make possible new kinds of services, connections, and business value. In the cloud, everything is a service. With cloud, users can access the services they require without needing to be concerned with understanding or managing the underlying technology infrastructure that delivers that service. Every layer of the technology stack—including infrastructure, data, applications, and information—is available as a service,” says Ayman Dwidar, sales manager, ESS Blade System and Proliant SW at HP MEA.

“Cloud computing delivers services dynamically over networks from an abstract set of resources. The resources are somewhere in the cloud and available on demand. The types of resources and their location are transparent to end users. End users primarily care whether their applications, data and content are secure and available, with a desired level of quality,” says Tarek Abbas, systems engineering director at Juniper Networks MEA.

He continues, “From the infrastructure perspective, cloud computing heavily leverages resource pools in a variety of technologies—computer, storage and network—for dynamic allocation in an automated, orchestrated and logically diversified environment, accommodating a variety of applications. Using orchestration, resources can be pooled within and across multiple data centres to provide an environment that responds dynamically to user needs.”

Tarek Abbas
Tarek Abbas, systems engineering director at Juniper Networks MEA

Guru Prasad, GM for strategic alliances and channel development at FVC says, “Cloud is different to different people. Essentially I believe it is all about massively scaleable, cost effective public infrastructure that allows companies to own private infrastructure more efficiently. Organisations should use part of the public cloud to build a private world, and they could do it in a very cost effective manner. Technology definitions might change every month but economically, cloud remains a convincing and effective IT strategy.”

As multiple as the definitions might be, end-user interest in cloud computing is piqued in the region, and quietly some large enterprises are starting to experiment with technologies and services associated with the cloud.

“Symantec has a number of users across the Middle East using our MessageLabs hosted service where we run email antivirus and anti-spam technologies in the cloud. Instead of having to invest in on-site resources and technologies, and paying for the bandwidth to receive significant amounts of spam emails, many customers run their inbound and outbound email traffic via our Symantec hosted services,” says Anthony Harrison, senior principal solutions specialist, storage and server management at Symantec.

“We’re seeing increased interest in both our SaaS-based contact centre offering and our notification services. The migration to voice over IP and server virtualisation has fueled growth in our new communications as a service (CaaS) offerings. By extending an MPLS link from the customer site to our data centre, along with deploying VoIP gateways and IP phones at the customer location, we can deliver sophisticated contact centre functionality such as IVR, multi-channel routing, call recording and outbound dialing to any number of locations, as well as to work-at-home employees,” says Shaheen Haque, territory manager for the Middle East and Turkey at Interactive Intelligence.

Anthony Harrison
Anthony Harrison, senior principal solutions specialist, storage and server management at Symantec

He continues, “Another driver for cloud computing is the economy. Customers are limiting capital expenditures, focusing on their core competencies, and looking for creative ways to deliver new technology without having to hire additional staff to manage these systems.”

FVC’s Prasad says that the Barracuda cloud backup offering that goes along with the basic solution is becoming popular in the region.

“The offline backup storage replaces tape in an organisation and is an alternate to over the wire transfer in a data centre. Organisational data is backed up with cloud infrastructure and gets moved around multiple data centres via the cloud. We are seeing a lot of traction for this offering from SMEs and the mid-market who don’t think twice about it when educated about availability, the aspect of disaster hitting them and mitigation. The price factor is also so affordable,” says Prasad.

“I can see a relatively big momentum among customers not only to understand cloud computing but also on how to implement the new trend starting with telecos and service providers that sees cloud computing as an opportunity to extend and enlarge their revenue stream to the enterprise customers in specific industries, like banking, to enable them to optimise costs and IT as a service, and focus on their core business to support the company’s objectives,” says Dwidar.

Counting challenges
Despite the initial interest shown by most enterprises – large and small – in what the cloud can offer them, there remain multiple challenges that could potentially delay adoption in the Middle East.

Paul Gullett, VP EMEA of NComputing says, “Cloud computing is still in an emerging phase over here. This is partly a matter of training and partly one of businesses holding back and waiting to learn from any mistakes that early adopters make. However, I think the long-term prospects for cloud computing in this region are very very good.”

Paul Gullett
Paul Gullett, VP EMEA of NComputing

“The market in the Middle East for wider types of cloud computing is still in its early stages compared to other regions in the world. The readiness of the market and the compelling reasons to move to cloud are still low. The global view of cloud (at least from the US and Western Europe perspective) is looking at public, private and hybrid models, whereas in the Middle East, any cloud-based activity seems to be limited to the private cloud, i.e. moving to a flexible, agile, shared infrastructure that allows chargeback and ‘utility-like’ pricing according to how much resource is used,” says Harrison.

He also warns, “Anyone who follows technology on a regular basis will be familiar with the concept of a handful of early adopters acting as pioneers to iron out the teething problems with a technology before it moves to mainstream adoption. Cloud has a more rocky journey than most technologies because it involves so many more moving parts; technical, commercial and political. If there are brave CIOs who are prepared to embark on a two or three year transformational journey for their organisations to take them to the cloud, they will need to have the faith and vision to face many parties, both internal and external, who find it easier to stick with their current models.”

“Customers usually don’t know what is cloud and how, and where to start. Some customers really want to start very big meaning they need it all which makes the business case not possible economically. Usually requirements are not defined as most customers are in the learning phase. For example, the majority of them don’t have a specific service they want to launch or a specific revenue streams i.e. a defined well-crafted business plan. Usually you will find a huge gap between the sales and marketing team that wants to launch services and the IT organisation that comes out with the requirement. Changes in organisational structure and culture are needed to support moving to the cloud and transitioning to cloud services from siloed solutions,” says Dwidar.

Haque says, “There are several challenges. One is related to the security and ownership of data. The party responsible for securing the data may not be the same party that owns the data. Then there is multi-tenancy and the act of keeping authorised users from seeing one another’s data. A multi-tenancy deployment (or analogous architecture, such as our CaaS multi-processor server with virtualisation approach) can be necessary to optimise a limited set of system resources. Besides this there is an application’s ability to service requests without response lag time. Given that SaaS applications are typically delivered via the Internet or an MPLS network, the amount of bandwidth greatly affects performance and costs. Applications delivered via a Web browser are typically plagued with slow response time. And finally there is integration issues. Integrating SaaS applications with back-office systems is often challenging due to previously mentioned security and networking issues,” says Haque.

Projects in the region
Yes, there are challenges aplenty facing cloud adoption in the region. However, most industry stakeholders believe that as basic issues get ironed out over time, projects will pick up in the Middle East.

“Cloud encompasses several variations of service models (i.e., IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) and deployment models (i.e., private, public, hybrid, and community clouds). It is most likely that SMEs will be the biggest adopters of public cloud services. Through cloud, SMEs gain access to new applications that help them manage their business more effectively. These applications are easy to use and don’t require the SME to deploy, manage, or maintain IT systems. Furthermore, SMEs can purchase these cloud services via a subscription model, paying only for what they need as their business changes,” says Paulo Pereira, systems engineering manager at Cisco.

Paulo Pereira
Paulo Pereira, systems engineering manager at Cisco

He adds, “While large enterprises also see tangible benefits in using public clouds, we expect private and hybrid cloud models to be more common. Large enterprises may use public clouds for burst or peak capacity and for select services. However, these organisations often require a higher degree of control over their data, applications, and systems than current public clouds allow. At scale, a private cloud offers the efficiency and agility of a public cloud without the loss of control. Still, the IT services a pure private cloud can offer are limited to what internal IT can develop or deploy. Hybrid clouds will come in many flavours, including the virtual private cloud model in which an organisation has access to dedicated resources in a public cloud. An increasing percentage of total IT spend will move to hybrid clouds as technology matures and corporate cultures and governance adapt.”

Haque sayd, “More vendors are launching SaaS solutions. However, we don’t believe that premises-based solutions are dying out. The majority of our business is, and will likely remain, premises-based. Given customers’ diverse business models and requirements, there will continue to be both a market for SaaS and premises-based solutions. The technology uptake will increase as awareness and usage increases. Once organisations see that their competitors are realising the benefits and advertising the fact, companies will switch or put their toes in – in an attempt not to be left behind or lose out!”

He continues, “I believe non-secure/less risk intensive applications will be hosted in the cloud initially. Security and the strength of encryption still needs to be proven to many customers and this is one of the key reasons delaying adoption. Thus customers with sensitive data are reluctant to see their data purely to be hosted, and look to supplement cloud computing with premise based back-up/disaster recovery processes. There is also the thought that regional customers would rather see the cloud architecture actually residing within the Middle East, rather than Europe, Asia or even the US!”

Dwidar adds, “Cloud computing will get a more defined shape in the few months to come where there will be an eco-system of supplier of IT services to consumers of cloud services. Everything will start from the less critical more generic services that will be build and consumed globally; then the next evolution will be emergence of specific application cloud service providers that provide unique applications for unique industry or customer segments. We will see a huge push for standardisation in how we build and consume services. The role of an IT organisation will change to a services broker.”

“The role of suppliers will change into how they bundle and price specific services to specific customers and how they develop not only cloud application but end to end optimised IT systems that can deliver cloud solutions from business supplication to infrastructure components. We see even a new set of talent requirements in customer site staff that has the ability to buy services and negotiate SLAs with global services providers while evaluating options like building their own IT services. I call them business architects,” continues Dwidar.

As more cloud technologies and services are adopted in the region, enterprises get more familiar with the concept and vendors standardise their offerings, the Middle East is likely to see an interesting change in IT investment, adoption and usage in the next few years – a change that is going to be worth watching.

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