Let's keep our heads in the cloud

From virtual obscurity to all-pervading, cloud computing has clearly come of age

Tags: Gulf Business Machines
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Let's keep our heads in the cloud Cloud computing is sweeping over enterprise IT (Khatuna Khutsishvili/ITP Images)
By  Cesare Cardone Published  April 8, 2011

From virtual obscurity to all-pervading, cloud computing has clearly come of age, particularly here in the Middle East. Last year's GITEX Technology Week in Dubai saw a virtual thunder storm of opinions and viewpoints on cloud computing and its future in the region.

It seems that there are two schools of thought on cloud computing in the region: on one hand you have the cloud evangelists who claim that it will have a dramatic impact on the industry and change computing in the Middle East in a very short time; on the other you have the naysayers who genuinely believe that it is simply a buzzword that will fade away and be replaced by something new.

From GBM's perspective, I would say that both points of view are extreme and do not reflect ground realities. Cloud computing is very much a disruptive innovation that has the power to make significant changes to the IT technology environment we currently operate in. But we have to be realistic and understand that these changes are not going to happen overnight.

One might even argue that potential cloud computing users would first have to go through the IT evolutionary cycle with large scale adoption of more mature technologies such as IT business/IT continuity, virtualisation and data centres.

Contrary to what its name might imply, cloud computing offers users a number of tangible benefits and these have been recognised across the world and, as is more recently the case, here in the Middle East.  

IBM defines cloud computing as "a style of computing whose foundation is the delivery of services, software and processing capacity using private or public networks." In essence, IBM says, it is an emerging approach to shared infrastructure in which large pools of systems are linked together in private or public networks to provide IT services.

The argument in favor of cloud computing is hard to find fault with: a dramatic surge in connected devices, an increasing need for real-time data and the adoption of service-orientated architectures and Web 2.0 applications have collectively fuelled demand for shared infrastructure ecosystems. Arguably, the Internet has fuelled and facilitated collaborative working environments, which in turn, also drives demand for cloud-based solutions.   

In a post-recessionary scenario, purse strings everywhere are being tightened and companies are seeking to streamline operations to maximise efficiencies and minimise costs. Here too, cloud computing offers significant benefits including lower cost of ownership, full scalability allowing for changes in the business environment and new efficiencies, without incurring capital expenses since services are provided for a fee that would be considered an operation cost. What's more is that cloud computing users are protected from technology obsolescence since the responsibility for keeping the systems up-to-date lies with the service provider.

Despite the obvious benefits, however, concerns remain and the concerns in the Middle East are not very different from those voiced in other markets. The biggest of these are security and privacy and the largest players in the cloud computing space are working to reassure potential customers. IBM, for example, brings state-of-the-art security tools to its cloud computing offering, providing customers security levels that are equivalent or perhaps even better than what they can expect in a traditional computing environment.   

Despite all of this, it remains to be seen how customers in the Middle East and across the world, will overcome their trepidation.  What is clear, however, is that the large scale adoption of cloud computing is unlikely to be instant, particularly amongst medium and large businesses, many of which will take a progressive stance, testing the waters before they take the plunge.

At GBM, we have already taken the plunge. We have also made significant investments, such as the recently-launched Network Operations Centre (NOC), that allow us to offer cloud-based services, while simultaneously also building on our traditional IT services, which still form the bulk of our customers' requirements. After all, as is the case with any IT business, we have to offer our customers the right products and solutions at the right time.

And we also practice what we preach. We are currently one of the region's largest users of Salesforce.com, one of the most established cloud computing business applications.

Our heads may be in the cloud but our feet remain firmly rooted to the ground.

Cesare Cardone is CEO of GBM.

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