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Understanding the hybrid future of computing

It undoubtedly represents the transforming future of IT investment opportunities

Gulf News

The digital transformation aspirations of enterprises in the Gulf region is increasingly driving demand for enhanced compute power that is highly responsive, scalable, manageable, and agile.

This has created a ‘best-of-breed’ environment within many enterprise IT frameworks, where legacy systems are retained for standard applications, new IT infrastructure is introduced to support 3rd Platform applications, and non-mission critical applications are migrated to the cloud.

While private and public clouds are slowly gaining traction in the region, hybrid clouds represent the future for enterprise datacenters, given their ability to combine the security and agility of private clouds with the ease-of-use and flexibility of public clouds.

About 41 per cent of Middle East chief information officers plan to implement private clouds over the 2016-2017 period, with 31 per cent planning to invest in public cloud services over the same period.

And the percentage of infrastructure dedicated to cloud buildouts is steadily increasing. In 2016, 12.5 per cent of the region’s infrastructure spend was dedicated to cloud buildouts, a figure that is expected to top 25 per cent within the next five years.

The enterprises of the Middle East region are relatively lagging their North American and Western European counterparts when it comes to their adoption of public cloud service. As such, there has been a dedicated push from vendors encouraging them to build their applications on public cloud platforms.

Indeed, initiatives aimed at boosting the adoption of public cloud are underway across the region, with a variety of global and local vendors looking to secure first-mover advantage in terms of enabling enterprises to move their infrastructure to the cloud.

And while software-as-a-service (SaaS) is the most widely used from of public cloud service, it is the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) part of the public cloud offering that vendors are looking to capitalise on.

The lack availability of local cloud datacentres has been one of the major factors inhibiting the large-scale use of public cloud platforms in the region. And to combat this concern, a number of service providers have already developed — or are in the process of developing — cloud offerings where the data remains local to the region.

Global vendors like Oracle and SAP have announced datacentres in the UAE that will cater to the wider Gulf region. And among the system integrators, Alpha Data launched its Alpha Cloud towards the end of 2015 to provide UAE customers with a multi-tenant scalable architecture, while Emircom has set up a new datacenter for colocation, with plans to offer cloud services in a few years’ time.

Of the local public cloud providers, eHDF has launched its portfolio of cloud services, while Injazat is expanding its cloud offerings. Some of the big Chinese players are also getting involved, with Alibaba setting up a datacentre in Dubai and Huawei planning to formally launch its end-to-end cloud portfolio soon.

Despite the plentiful initiatives aimed at driving the transition to public cloud in the Middle East, hybrid environments are likely to remain the mainstay of computing over the coming years, with the scales of private vs. public cloud tipping in the favour of private cloud adoption.

The reason for this is the complex regulatory and compliance frameworks required for the public cloud space to truly flourish. The hosting of enterprise data and applications off-premise demands an elaborate industry-specific governing fabric to be put in place that protects the interests of both enterprises and their customers.

Definite standards are necessary to ensure privacy and security, while maintaining scalability and flexibility. But there is a dearth of industry-specific regulatory and compliance standards in the region that can effectively govern the secure transfer of data and applications from on-premise environments to off-premise environments.

There are some exceptions, however. For example, the banking sector in Saudi Arabia and various government departments across the region have put some standards in place for facilitating public cloud usage, but these are very much in the minority as things currently stand.

The dominance of private cloud over public cloud in the region is a mixed result of the absence of a stringent regulatory fabric and a continuation of the cultural mindset that perceives on-premise control over IT assets to be safer and easier to manage.

For enterprises looking for a cost-effective approach to driving operational efficiencies, cloud computing undoubtedly represents the transforming future of IT investment opportunities, and the offerings landscape is wide open with both private and public cloud options.

But the ambiguity around cloud regulations will continue to inhibit a large-scale transition to public cloud. For that reason, enterprises in the region will continue to host their critical applications and data on-premise, while utilising public cloud services only for peripheral business processes.

And although the balance of private to public cloud adoption may well begin to even out over the coming years, the region’s cloud outlook will remain undeniably hybrid in nature.

The columnist is group vice-president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC) He can be contacted via Twitter @JyotiIDC