Cloud: from ‘what’ to ‘how’

As cloud matures, motivation is shifting from the cost reduction impetus to business transformation

Tags: Cloud computing
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Cloud: from ‘what’ to ‘how’ Cloud has now become an indispensable component of every IT portfolio.
By  David Ndichu Published  March 13, 2018

How cloud has transformed businesses is a matter of extensive public discourse. Less discussed is just how much the cloud platform itself has evolved, and the dizzying pace in which that change has happened.  

Amazon Web Services (AWS) perfectly illustrates this revolution at work. In 2011, AWS released around 80 services and features; in 2012, nearly 160; in 2013, 280 were added and 516 in 2014, and in 2015, 722 services were launched. In 2016, AWS launched 1,017 new services and features, and an additional 1,430 new features and services in 2017. 

Today, AWS offers more than 90 services that range from compute, storage, networking, database, analytics, application services, deployment, management, developer, mobile, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), security, hybrid, and enterprise applications.

Best of all, customers can instantaneously benefit from this continual evolution, innovation and iteration, because they get the latest updates or enhancements promptly with no need to upgrade, deploy, or to migrate, observes Vinod Krishnan, head of the commercial business for MEA at Amazon Web Services.

“As cloud matures, the motivation is shifting from the initial cost optimisation impetus to business transformation,” Krishnan says. “While having a lower cost infrastructure is an enabler for transformation, it’s typically not the main driver.  The main drivers are agility and innovation, and the cloud enables these in a very significant way,” he adds. 

Krishnan lays out the difference between then and now, “In the old world, when you asked engineering teams how long it might take them to get a server to try and experiment, the answer was in the 10-18 weeks range. In this new world, not only can a company spin up thousands of servers in minutes and pay only for what they use, but they have access to a very robust, full-featured technology offering that lets them go from idea to launch in record time.”

Initially adopted in standalone, low-risk areas such as website hosting, application testing and CRM, with the primary aim of reducing costs, cloud has now become an indispensable component of every IT portfolio.

Forrester expects the global cloud computing market to grow to around $150bn by 2020 as it becomes key to many organisations' IT infrastructures, notes Necip Ozyucel, cloud & enterprise business solutions lead, Microsoft Gulf. "Cloud adoption is now a matter of ‘how', instead of ‘what'. Compared to previous years, companies are trying to find the best solutions to implement on their cloud journey,” Ozyucel explains.

And the momentum cuts across the entire computing stack, says Andy Froemmel, head of cloud business for Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen at SAP. At the infrastructure level, there’s need from large customers who want to get rid of their expensive on-premise hardware or those who are in no need to upgrade their hardware. Small and new customers are not even considering on-premise datacentres, says Froemmel. “They just want the services without the complexity of deploying hardware,” he adds.

Although PaaS is not a traditional offering, it's becoming increasingly important as businesses understand the importance of connecting their business locally, regionally and also globally. "For digital transformation, you require a cloud platform that gives you the connectivity, the flexibility and multiple deployment solutions to connect with new vendors." At the software layer, customers increasingly demand a simple plug and play SaaS solution that requires no hardware deployments, says Froemmel.

Microsoft Azure offers more than 100 services with end-to-end tools and allows users to create apps using powerful data and artificial intelligence services. Ozyucel says the standard objective for most large corporations in the midst of the cloud migration is to see more than 50% of workloads safely migrated to the cloud by 2025.  “It is estimated that spending on public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) hardware and software will reach $173B in 2026.  SaaS and PaaS portion of cloud hardware and infrastructure software spending is projected to reach $55B in 2026,” he adds.

The increase in cloud offerings has coincided with a general focus towards better customer experience.

The cloud gives organisations of all sizes access to storage, compute, database, and many other technologies on a pay-as-you-go basis, from anywhere in the world. Anyone with some basic knowledge of IT, an idea, and a credit card can get access to near infinite amounts of compute and storage on demand, observes Krishnan.

Froemmel says the simplicity of remote access to corporate resources anywhere over mobile is a great incentive towards adopting cloud. “Customers can have innovations consumed and delivered much faster with public cloud due to the ability to deliver any kind of updates and innovations to customers on a weekly or monthly basis,” he adds.


For a startup, the only choice they really have is cloud. Small businesses lack the financial and human resources to set up a datacentre, so their default option is cloud. Second, because startups need to scale very fast, gain market share and disrupt their industry, cloud becomes a perfect fit, observes SAP’s Froemmel.

A good regional example is ride-hailing app Careem. Careem runs fully on AWS and over the past few years has grown by 10 times every year thanks to the scalability of the cloud. This kind of growth would have been very difficult, if not impossible, without cloud computing technology, says Krishnan.

Larger enterprises, on the other hand, face different interests and challenges. AWS enterprise customers like Al Tayer Group, flydubai, MBC, and Union Insurance have adopted cloud to innovate and better serve their customers. flydubai is using cloud technology for their online check-in platform. Using AWS, they went from design to production in four months and thousands of passengers a day are now utilising the technology, notes Krishnan. This timeline would not have been possible without the cloud, he adds. “Given the seasonal fluctuations in demand for flights, flydubai also needs an IT platform that can cope with such spikes in demand. AWS allows them to do this and lead times for new infrastructure services have been reduced from up to 10 weeks to a matter of hours,” Krishnan says.

SAP signed an MoU this year with Saudi Aramco to build a national marketplace based on SAP Ariba solution. “As you can imagine, Saudi Aramco has very specific security policies and even such customers see the benefits of moving in this direction,” says Froemmel. This adds to the more than 100 million current subscribers to SAP cloud-based services globally.

Microsoft continues to grow its regional cloud customer base. Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim Ventures adopted Microsoft Dynamics 365, Office 365 and a range of supporting apps, as a means of boosting customer engagement and optimising internal efficiencies across the group’s many business units. Similarly, Daman, the UAE-based health insurer, has implemented Microsoft Office 365, Power BI and Surface Hub as the company sought to improve mobility and collaboration. Another example is Mashreq bank, which is now using Microsoft Dynamics 365 to help employees engage customers more effectively. Recently Cazar, developer of Sniperhire, a widely used e-recruitment system, chose Microsoft Azure to enhance and future-proof its HR solution.

Public organisations in the region, with ambitious digital ambitions of their own, have found cloud computing crucial in engaging and serving citizens. Today, government sectors from education to social services are actively moving to the cloud to transform the way they deliver services and interact with citizens, Krishnan observes. “For government entities in the UAE, this translates into more opportunities to deliver secure, reliable, and scalable solutions that support the UAE Vision 2021 on digital transformation and smart city initiatives,” he adds.

The national transformation programs in the Middle East prove there’s a strong digital push from governments and a clear understanding that digitalisation is as important for a country as it is for businesses. This drive will help the countries in the region accelerate their shift into the digital age when it comes to smart cities, or new private and public partnerships, says Froemmel.

Increasingly, these cloud services are being delivered via locally-based datacentres.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently announced that it plans to open data centres in Bahrain by early 2019, its first dedicated data centres in the Middle East.

SAP is also establishing a local data centre expected to go live in the middle of next year. This will allow the company address local data sovereignty requirements, as well as bring services closer to its growing customer base in the region, says Froemmel.

“Saudi Arabia, and the larger Middle East region, is a strategic market for us and our local growth plan involves the establishment of a local data centre,” says Froemmel. For this reason, SAP signed a MoU with the KSA Government in early 2017, where the company would not only bring the data centre to the country but also help with localisation and build co-innovation centres.


A recent study reveals that majority of organisations export full responsibility for data protection, privacy and compliance onto cloud service providers.

Krishnan of AWS says data protection, privacy, security, and compliance are a shared responsibility model with the customer. A service provider such as AWS will manage and control the components of the host operating system and virtualisation layer down to the physical security of the facilities in which the services operate. Customers are responsible for building secure applications.

“AWS provide a variety of best practices documents, encryption tools, and other guidance our customers can leverage in delivering application-level security measures. In addition, AWS partners offer hundreds of tools and features to help customers to meet their security objectives, ranging from network security, configuration management, access control, and data encryption,” Krishnan explains.

To realize the benefits of the cloud, one must be able to trust the platform, asserts Microsoft’s Ozyucel. Azure meets a set of international and industry-specific compliance standards, such as ISO 27001, HIPAA, FedRAMP, SOC 1 and SOC 2, as well as country-specific standards like Australia IRAP, UK G-Cloud, and Singapore MTCS. Third-party audits, such as by the British Standards Institute, have verified Azure’s adherence to the strict security controls these standards mandate.

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most significant change to European Union (EU) privacy law in two decades. GDPR enforcement begins on May 25, 2018, and requires that organisations respect and protect personal data – no matter where it is sent, processed or stored. That means regional organisations will need to comply. "To simplify the organisational path to compliance for GDPR, Microsoft is committing to be GDPR compliant across its cloud services when enforcement begins," Ozyucel explains.

Office 365 has in-built mechanisms to support businesses meet GDPR compliance, Ozyucel explains. For example, if an organisation maintains a corporate policy that forbids employees to communicate passport numbers, this rule can be input into Office 365. If and when anyone in the organisation types passport, both they and the administrator receive a warning and the account gets locked. "Office 365's cloud-based email system allows businesses to get GDPR compliant faster and more cost-effectively because the cloud is simply more efficient,” he adds. 

The world is going through a shift in technology that is unlike any other in our lifetime, and it’s happening at a startling pace – much faster than anybody anticipated, Krishnan observes. “We continue to believe that in the fullness of time very few companies are going to own their own data centres, which means that the majority of applications are moving to the cloud.  It also seems pretty apparent at this point the cloud has become the new normal.”

Ultimately, it means that every industry will be able to innovate in new ways – from personalised medicine, to better understanding of our universe, to university education that is accessible to hundreds of thousands across the world, to new business models for traditional industries and the advent of the “connected world” – we are just in the beginning of what is possible with the cloud, Krishnan concludes.

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