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The State of Public Cloud Adoption in the Middle East Entering 2017

[Meta description: Experts have long predicted that public cloud computing will explode in the Middle East? But has it really? And will it ever? 

Will the public cloud gain much greater acceptance in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other parts of the Middle East? The situation remains cloudy (so to speak). But many, including Amazon, Microsoft, and Alibaba are betting that it will.

It’s long been recognized in the US that public cloud computing offers numerous benefits to various individuals and small businesses that don’t need the infrastructure and security of private clouds. It offers amazing scalability, cost effectiveness, reliability, flexibility, and location independence.

It’s because of all these reasons that by 2103 the North American market was already nearing saturation point, despite the fact that public computing hasn’t been unanimously accepted at the same levels elsewhere. Pundits looked to other markets for growth, and decided that the Middle East and Africa region (MEA) was ripe for a sudden boom in public cloud adoption. However, it hasn’t happened yet.

Why Did Experts Think that the Public Cloud Will Be Big in the Middle East?

Many experts in the industry were interested in an article that appeared in the Saudi Gazette. The report stated that while businesses in Saudi Arabia traditionally choose to internally manage their IT, there was a growing interest in outsourcing services. This was supposed to be the initial step towards full adoption of the public cloud model.

Another supposed sign of that indicated the inevitable rise in public computing popularity in the region was the entry of new public computing services for the country. Virtustream forged a partnership with Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) to provide cloud services. This was a major announcement, since Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) is the largest telecomm operator in the entire MEA region.

Other entries to the public cloud industry in the region included NEC from Japan, Huawei from China, Siemensor from Germany, and noted companies like Hewlett Packard and Cisco Systems.

Discouraging Growth

Despite the lofty expectations, however, the growth hasn’t quite been as great. The adaptation towards the public cloud model has been lukewarm, to say the least. Yes, there has been an increase in the use of public SaaS based applications, which include HR apps, travel apps, and mail chat. But that’s it. Beyond that, public cloud use has been lethargic in the Middle East.

The problem, according to most people in Saudi Arabia, is that the people there have a cultural tradition of being guarded about internal affairs. This is true of the Saudi government, and that attitude has been passed on in how people manage their data and IT systems. They’re simply no comfortable having their data move elsewhere, and especially out of the country. They want to own their applications.

There is also the perception of unreliable Internet connections in Saudi Arabia. The regulations in the country don’t allow for offshore data hosting, so local customers have to rely on the local hosting community. But these local providers are notorious for being unable to follow service-level agreements, and the local connectivity industry is only loosely regulated.

To be fair for local providers, their lack of efficiency in adhering to service-level agreements is partly due to the lack of enough skilled workers. They just don’t have HR resources with the proper training and experience. That’s especially true for the cloud, which is very recent and quite advanced.

It’s for all these reasons why the country invested only $50.4 million in 2014. That’s a very small percentage in the $56.6 billion public cloud computing industry.

Encouraging Signs

To be sure, there have been signs of growth for public cloud computing. They may indicate the first steps toward a more rapid acceleration of its acceptance.

  • GGICO in the UAE has just set up Microsoft Dynamics in the Azure cloud.
  • Gulf Air deployed a hybrid cloud architecture.
  • Amazon Web Services is opening offices in Bahrain and Dubai next year.
  • Abu Dhabi airline Etihad Airways struck a deal with IBM, and part of that deal is to set up a new cloud data center in Abu Dhabi.
  • Equinix has partnered with the Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du) which involves a data center in Dubai which can be a colocation site for cloud providers.
  • UAE telco Etisalat has partnered with IT firm Pacific Controls so that it can offer cloud services to companies in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

What Happens Next?

Many prognosticators have their own ideas about how public cloud computing will grow on the Middle East in the near future. But Cisco is extremely optimistic.

Here are their projections for up to 2020:

  • Cloud traffic will have an astonishing increase. By 2020, the cloud traffic will reach 451 exabytes per year. (An exabyte is roughly a million terabytes.). In 2015, the traffic was just 105 exabytes per year in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Consumer data center traffic will represent 74% of the total data center traffic.
  • Consumer workloads will account for 28% of the total data center workloads. This represents 134.5 million. In contrast, in 2015 the percentage was just at 21% or 38.6 million.
  • Video streaming workloads will increase. They will make up 34% of the total consumer workloads.
  • Of course it’s also not all purely business, since social networking workloads will also be huge. They will make up 24% of the total consumer workload for 2020.

Cisco firmly believes that the movement to the cloud is inevitable in the area. The signs, they say, are there. Digitization has increased in the region. Multiple devices and connections have been widely adopted. Mobile growth has been great. Also, cloud computing is leaving its status as an emerging technology, and it’s fast becoming a standard networking solution that’s both scalable and flexible.

Of course, the problems of the very few (if any) local data centers hosting cloud services must be addressed. Too many businesses in the Middle East object to having their data stored abroad, and for Saudi government organizations it is illegal.

So will public cloud computing every truly take off in the Middle East? That’s a question everyone’s asking, and no one has the answer quite yet

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