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The virtual promise

The explosive growth of cloud computing has fuelled the need to integrate Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications with each other and with ERP applications that continue to reside on premises, including CRM, accounting, marketing, billing, and inventory systems.


So how are solution providers, managed services providers, VARs and systems integrators in the Middle East region capitalising on the emerging opportunities in the cloud and virtualisation space in the region?


Guru Prasad, GM, Strategic Alliances and Channel Development at FVC says while virtualisation is a big growth area and initiative among partners, uptake on cloud services has not been as rapid as expected in the Middle East region. With Telco’s and MSPs in the region being early adopters, partners can expect this market to grow. “Cloud services bring annuity business opportunities hence offers special rewards in assured business year-on-year for partners engaged in this exciting arena,” he says. “That is why the cloud business has the best CAGR potential among various emerging technologies in the region.”


Bashar Bashaireh, regional director, Fortinet Middle East, concurs and says as virtualisation becomes more real and a truly viable option, so do the options of virtualised security. Bashaireh says while there are not a lot of options as yet, Fortinet has been securing virtual architectures since the introduction of Virtual Domain (VDOM) technology in 2004. “Fortinet strengthened its virtualisation capabilities in 2006 after it acquired the intellectual property and technology of CoSine Communications, one of the early players in the virtual appliance industry,” he recalls. “The technology enables service providers to differentiate their on-demand platforms with a full range of value-add virtualised network security services.” Bashaireh says large enterprises rely as well on Fortinet technology to protect the data within their private and hybrid clouds.


Aziz Ala’ali, regional director, Middle East and Africa, Extreme Networks, adds that currently, the channel readiness for virtualisation in the region is weak due to the lack of implementation of virtualisation projects in the Middle East. Ala’ali says Extreme continues updating its channel partners in the region by hosting partner events in conjunction with its distributors focused on virtualisation and moving into cloud computing. “We have already delivered four such events in the last two months,” he says.


Emerging opportunities


FVC’s Prasad says key to solution providers successfully capitalising on emerging opportunities in the adoption of virtualisation and cloud computing is providing the services that are vital to delivering and deploying these technologies. “Typical opportunities are around offering migration services, integration and cloud application mashup development,” he says. “These are highly profitable and have lesser barriers to entry for partners looking to enter this exciting opportunity.”


Prasad points out that at FVC, the company encourages its partners to build competencies in mashups, migration services, as well as integration of hybrid models to benefit from this great need. “We host regular workshops, seminars and Webinars for our partners across the region to ensure that they have the opportunities to develop the right skill sets to deliver,” he says.


Extreme Networks’ Ala’ali says channel partners will have to build their skill sets within the virtualisation/cloud experience to become trusted partners to their current customer base as they are aware of their needs and requirements. “Channel partners in the Middle East will have to establish presences in services and consultancy,” he says. “The old ‘services are free with products’ mantra will not work with virtualisation solutions, as design and consultancy will be a major part of the solution.”


Bashaireh says it’s not all hype in the region, there are viable solutions available in the market. He explains that a large percentage of CIOs are seriously contemplating the benefits of cloud computing and research shows that the virtualised security market is expected to grow to be US$1.6 billion industry worldwide by 2014. “Our channel partners need to adapt their skill sets and knowledge to be able to ensure that they are able to assist CIOs with problems of coping with new areas of exposure to threats as well as deal with the challenges emerging technologies create. With virtualisation, one of the key areas is security,” he notes. “I think security was perhaps one of the key reasons why enterprises held back from committing any application to the virtual space but this is no longer the case.”


Bashaireh says as technologies evolve to provide all the infrastructure that is needed to move into the cloud, CIOs are getting more familiar with the long term benefits of using it, and with familiarity comes adoption.


Prasad adds that there virtualisation opportunities in server, storage, network, security and computing arena generally. “Clearly, there is a great need of specialised services from our partners to enable customers adopt these technologies,” he says. “Some of the key areas of opportunities include storage virtualisation, scaling-on-demand, disaster recovery solutions, data obfuscation and security.”

Prasad says virtualisation gives enterprises the opportunity to do more with less and scale up as needs demand it.


Cloud computing


Prasad points out that Cloud Backup and Cloud Archival services are foremost among the early adopters. He explains that it is a cost effective and simple way of meeting compliance and security regulations as well as ensuring a cost effective disaster recovery model for SMEs and mid market companies. “With partnerships such as Barracuda and Google we are driving demand for storage backup and archival solutions,” he says. “Key business drivers for cloud security focuses on email, Web security and search.”


Fortinet’s Bashaireh says in the Middle East, it’s a question of comfort with the technology that is available in the region. “Depending on the sensitivity of their business and the mandated compliance with regulations, I can see the hospitality and logistics sectors adopting these technologies,” he says. He also cites the education sector as another industry that could benefit hugely from cloud computing as would the SMB sector. “As IT departments need to do more with less, the channel can leverage cloud computing benefits to drive its adoption in the region,” he observes.


Bashaireh says in the area of virtualisation, Fortinet has been a true innovator. “We were one of the first to introduce four new virtual appliances that deliver security across virtualised and cloud environments,” he claims. “The technology enables service providers to differentiate their on-demand platforms with a full range of value-add virtualised network security services. Large enterprises rely as well on Fortinet technology to protect the data within their private and hybrid clouds.”


Bashaireh explains that one of the most common mistakes is not considering the link between the virtual network and the real network and ensuring that each has its own level of security. He says CIOs need to consider the needs of both the network infrastructure as well as the content that travels between the physical and virtual spaces. “The channel can play a key role in educating and sharing key service skills to help with implementation of adequate security,” he says.


Bashaireh says through the FortiGate, FortiManager, FortiAnalyzer and FortiMail virtual appliances, the company is able to combine with physical appliances to provide customers with a choice of physical and virtual form factors, working together to mitigate security blind spots and increase security controls within virtualised infrastructure environments. “The combined solution provides a deeper integration into the virtual environments many customers have adopted, enabling them to expand the reach of its consolidated security further within the virtual movement,” he says.


Bashaireh reiterates that these new virtual appliance models from Fortinet open up new opportunities to channel partners in providing security solution to wider range of customers. “Fortinet is ready to work hand-in-hand with partners to introduce this technology to those end-users,” he says.


Virtualisation is becoming a huge area of opportunity for solution providers using the technology to help customers consolidate their server infrastructures, cut power usage and heat generation, and ease data centre management.

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