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Offering Cloud Computing Services in KSA: Opportunities and Challenges

Some eight years ago, courtesy of my good friend Abdulaziz Aloraij, I was interviewed by Saudi TV2 on ‘Software as a Service (SaaS)’. The term Cloud computing was just about getting popular then. An amateur recording of the interview can still be found on YouTube in two parts.
Today, as I rewound the recording and heard it all over again, I couldn’t help feeling that much of what was discussed in the interview still holds true. Time has only vindicated that Cloud computing and SaaS, along with a host of other services that are offered on top of Cloud infrastructure have come to stay, for good.

“Time has vindicated that Cloud computing and SaaS, along with a host of other allied services that are offered on top of Cloud infrastructure have come to stay, for good.”

In fact, a large number of services like Google Maps, Translate, Netflix, and the like, would never have existed but for Cloud infrastructure. Your smartphone does not even have a fraction of the computing power to make, for example, Google Maps navigate you to your destination despite roadblocks, wrong turns and oversights. The smartphone only serves to display the results that are processed, simultaneously, by hundreds of powerful computers spread across different geographies. All these computers, so to speak, exist on the Cloud. By the way, most of the emerging technologies like AI, Blockchain, IOT cannot exist without the Cloud.

Cloud computing makes a lot of things possible, which were hitherto impossible, due to the instantaneous availability of a massive number of computers for any amount of time for a relatively small price. An old, but yet appropriate example of the capability of Cloud Computing is the following: in the early days of AWS, they were able to build a huge cluster to conduct a cancer drug simulation study for a drug company in 3 hours for about $13,000 which could have taken 36 months to do in the drug company’s data center costing them over $18 Million.

To go further into the virtues of Cloud computing here will not be needed since there is general consensus of its usefulness among almost everyone. Yet, it must be pointed out that companies which are still hesitant to move their computing and data to a Cloud service provider are risking going out of business due to the fact that a competitor, which has moved its computing and IT infrastructure management from an expensive and time-consuming in-house data centre to a Cloud-based solution, saves millions of dollars every year apart from now being able to focus on its core business, rather than waste time managing complex computing infrastructure and hard-to-get technical personnel.
Large public service organizations in the region have also been draining the government exchequer due to expenses incurred in setting up, staffing and running sub-optimally used data centers, buying expensive software licenses and paying for technical staff to keep the applications and infrastructure running. I have worked in three government organizations, over a 15-year period, two of which are very large and have a presence throughout the country. I have witnessed from close quarters the stupendous costs and efforts expended by these organizations to set up, run and maintain their data centers. Additionally, apart from the huge costs in licensing software, the time it takes for these organizations to install, configure and make available even standard applications sometimes obviates the need for the application due to better options being available in the market

Genuine Apprehensions

Incidentally, despite being cognizant of the huge savings in moving to the Cloud, many of these corporate and government agencies in the Gulf have some good reasons to remain still hesitant to move their computing, data and allied services to the Cloud.
The primary apprehension that all government organizations, and many local banks too, entertain is the loss of control of their data and its privacy if it is hosted in data centers located outside their region. Geo-politics being what it is in today’s world, these apprehensions are not misplaced. Unfortunately, the capital outlay and the complex skill-sets required to set up and run an efficient cloud computing center are simply beyond the capability of most government as well as private agencies, but for the few top players like Amazon, Microsoft, and, lately, Oracle..

Allaying the Fears

However, this fear can be allayed to a fair extent if the cloud data center in located in the region. This writer has just been made aware that Oracle will be setting up a data center in Saudi Arabia by the middle of 2019. Other players are also making similar plans it appears. Further, the customer’s demands to encrypt the data and make it inaccessible to anyone except those whom the client grants explicit authority must be strictly enforced. The law of the land must also make it binding on the Cloud service provider to enshrine this in the contract.

Coupled with this is the genuine shortage of local technology partners who can be trusted to guide the organizations to a smooth and seamless transition to the Cloud.

Wake-up Call for Local Tech Companies

This is a wake-up call for the big technology companies in the region to reorient their business priorities from mere box-movers to those offering state-of-the-art technology solutions. This will also mean that these companies will need to retool their skill-sets, invest in experienced Cloud consultants, change the culture of the workplace to one that rewards innovation, and think long-term benefits.
After all, the size of the Cloud computing market in the Gulf alone is estimated at over US$20 billion over the next 3 years. That’s a lot of money to be made; at the same time, help their country propel itself to greater heights.

Cloud Computing Services That Can Be Offered by Local IT Companies

Here are some services that you, as a technology services provider, can add to your company’s offerings

1. Cloud adoption, security and governance consulting which will provide a comprehensive Cloud migration plan for any organization (government or business) after a 6-8 week in-depth analysis of the business.

2. Cloud Implementation – Help the customer choose the right cloud provider, negotiate with the cloud provider and get them the best terms and pricing, set up cloud environments, connectivity, and implement security and governance best practices.

3. Cloud Migration – Migrate all existing application, data and other assets to the cloud and get the client out of their data centers.

4. Business continuity and Resilience- Ensure business as usual during and after the migration; monitor and fine tune application performance on an ongoing basis

5. Modernization – Provide advice, guidance and implementation help to modernize the application customers use by building serverless cloud native applications as needed, containerizing other applications and adopting SaaS where possible.

Technology majors in the region have a great opportunity to bridge the gulf between reluctant enterprises and emerging technologies. The 20-billion dollar question is: will they rise up to the challenge!

Post Script:

Incidentally large telecom companies like STC and Mobily have started offering Cloud computing services to local companies, and some of the medium and large organizations have begun using these services. However, the scale and complexity that is supported by the aforesaid giants is still unequaled by the local providers.

2019-02-04T13:00:34+03:00January 31st, 2019|Cloud|0 Comments

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