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Cloud solutions

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As cloud strategies become increasingly vital and complex, CIOs can help organisations avoid risk and ensure a successful, cost-effective transition to the cloud. Industry experts share with Intelligent CIO Middle East on how to ensure success with cloud solutions.

Cloud-based solutions refer to on-demand services, computer networks, storage, applications or resources accessed via the Internet and through another provider’s shared cloud computing infrastructure. The benefits of cloud solutions to end-users and businesses include increased capacity, scalability, functionality and reduced maintenance and cost for computer infrastructure or in-house staff. Additionally, cloud-based solutions can enable companies to focus on revenue driving initiatives rather than time-consuming, non-core business tasks.

According to research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), the wider Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) region, will see public cloud spending increase to US$2.8 billion by the end of 2020, a figure which will rise to US$6.5 billion by 2024. IDC stated that the need for agile cloud-based platforms, secure remote access and seamless collaboration tools are all key influences over cloud spending, as businesses seek to not only aid recovery, but also steady growth.

Osama Al-Zoubi, CTO, Cisco Middle East and Africa (MEA), said businesses across the Middle East are increasingly recognising the potential of cloud to streamline processes and are investing in cloud solutions to help properly structure and store their data. “This is something we are witnessing across both the public and private sector, as businesses of all sizes focus on cloud deployment within their personal digitisation agendas,” he said. “The ultimate catalyst for accelerated cloud adoption has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused decisionmakers to implement more robust digital solutions in today’s world of remote and agile working. Companies are fast realising the benefits of cloud solutions to improve performance – and this is happening on a large scale in the Middle East, as businesses focus on technology-led transformation, creating smart workplaces and enhancing customer experience.”

Hamilton Ratshefola, Country General Manager, IBM Southern Africa, said hybrid cloud is swiftly becoming the dominant force driving change in the region.

Ratshefola added that with remote work now becoming a norm, the value of cloud computing has never been greater. “And to date, we’ve seen many companies move to all-encompassing work from home without much interruption – thanks in large part to cloud. Dozens of business-oriented applications are now connecting homebound workers to collaborative tools that enable Business Continuity,” he said. “The cloud-based support of video conferencing, file-sharing services, communications platforms, chat bots and a host of data analytics, graphic design, accounting, HR and sales management programmes has allowed remote employees to continue work as if they never left their company offices. Similarly, remote developers continue writing code and building applications in cloud-supported containerised environments, while AI-backed internal and customer-facing applications keep humming along because they are built and managed in the cloud.”

He noted that quantum computing will be key as it aims to solve complex problems even the world’s most powerful supercomputers cannot solve. “The need for data privacy is becoming even more critical and IBM now offers the most holistic quantum-safe approach to securing data available today and to help enterprises protect existing data and help protect against future threats.

Ratshefola added that hybrid cloud and AI are the two dominant forces driving Digital Transformation. “These technologies are promising to meet the needs of clients wherever they may be on their transformation journey. Companies rarely start from scratch and they often have complex workloads, apps, messaging, data and transactional systems to consider as they build for the future. Hybrid cloud and AI are the basis for competitive advantage in this environment – they determine how quickly one can pivot to new market opportunities, how well you serve your clients, how much you can scale and how fast you can respond to a crisis like the one we are facing today,” he said.

Laurent Garcia, EMEA Cloud Business Leader, Cohesity, said the current global situation and the weak economy just gave cloud adoption a boost – including the Middle East. “One of the things that we are seeing is that enterprises are looking at all of their spending and that includes IT, so they want to ensure that technology spending is driving the most business value,” he said. “One thing that’s come out of the current crisis and into the post-COVID world is a renewed emphasis on Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery. We cannot have those discussions without service providers and cloud infrastructure because it enables those things to happen.”

Drivers of cloud adoption

Al-Zoubi explained that there are a few major drivers of cloud adoption in the region: scalability, agility and security. He added that cloud-based solutions are working to enhance overall productivity and visibility for organisations across industries.

“IT teams can automate management and provisioning of cloud-based services to simplify operations, save time and help reduce costs. High scalability eliminates the time needed for purchasing and deploying additional infrastructure.

“Enterprises that need to innovate and pivot quickly often turn to cloud services. At the same time, some companies have data centre assets and applications which cannot be easily migrated. Other data may be subject to regulatory requirements that prevent that data from residing in public clouds,” he said.

As a result, noted Al-Zoub, companies often pursue a hybrid cloud architecture, where some data and applications reside in companies’ own data centres and some data and apps reside in public clouds.

“Sectors such as oil and gas are seeing increasing prevalence of cloud solutions, to remotely observe and maintain fields and production units. Data in the cloud can be leveraged to identify potential areas requiring maintenance ahead of time, to limit outages and keep production at a steady pace,” he said.

Al-Zoubi added that in healthcare, cloud adoption is helping to future-proof hospital infrastructures, where the rapid uptake of bandwidth-rich clinical applications, such as telehealth, digital imaging and remote monitoring require agile digital systems to enable secure sharing and storage of data, as well as greater operational efficiencies.

“In education, cloud services are empowering educators to create connected classrooms, quickly deploy virtual learning applications that enhance engagement and enable teachers to individualise learning, based on performance data and each student’s personal learning style,” he said. “Cloud security is helping IT staff reduce risk, via more scalable and up-to-date threat intelligence solutions, while cloud-based collaboration technologies are creating more interactive learning environments – irrespective of where the user may be.”

IBM’s Ratshefola emphasised that CIOs are looking to improve efficiencies in the midst of ever-increasing complexities. “We believe that we have introduced solutions and services to help them navigate this and the next year will really be about expanding on this and helping them navigate new challenges and changing requirements. One of the most consequential cloud projects introduced is the financial services-ready public cloud. Banks operate in a complex environment and have a myriad of challenges to tackle as their workloads move more to the cloud,” he said. “To address these issues, we launched the financial services-ready cloud. And to reinforce this, IBM has unveiled a programme for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and Software- As-a-Service (SaaS) providers. The programme helps them demonstrate that they have met the stringent security, resiliency and compliance requirements of IBM’s financial services-ready public cloud.”

Second, added Ratshefola, IBM is offering IBM Cloud Satellite which extends IBM Cloud services anywhere a client needs them, delivered As-a-Service on-premises or at the Edge. “Clients can increase their business agility by automating deployment and management of cloud-native services across all of their computing environments-for both development and operations. This means that with IBM Cloud Satellite our clients can run workloads where it makes the most sense,” he explained.

Cloud integration

Al-Zoubi reiterated that prior to enacting cloud migration, CIOs must first determine their level of cloud integration – whether this involves ‘shallow’ or ‘deep’ cloud integration and a single cloud provider or multi-cloud environment, depending on the needs of the business.

“It is always essential to set KPIs and metrics which can measure how well the newly implemented solutions are performing against expectations. Often the easiest way to measure the success of cloud solutions is in the on-going experience of discovering far greater visibility over processes and areas for improvement,” he said. “Crucially, CIOs must also ensure that they make the right decision when it comes to the speed of cloud migration. For some, it makes sense to migrate entire applications at once – for others, it may be more sustainable to migrate to the cloud component by component. This is especially important if you have one service or component inherently reliant on the operational ability of another.”

Cohesity’s Garcia explained that whether large or small, enterprises have travelled a long journey to move to cloud technology to manage their resources in a better way. At present, cloud technology is dominating the landscape across development and infrastructure. “While the traditional life cycle was still a massive challenge for the organisations to deal with, and the critical business drivers for every industry may vary, different organisations’ business criteria are also other. In such circumstances, modern cloud technologies can be the best because the continuum of cases is broad, ranging from data-intensive. The use of virtual machines, containers or serverless as a default system can be the right choice,” he said. “As one of the most important things is being used for customer services currently is the use of SaaS-based systems. SaaS models have proven themselves with salesforce in the enterprises. The chief point of the SaaS model is the need to get and run infrastructure at scales that can divert the core business purpose for an enterprise, and this provides such portability and fidelity across different environments.

With 2021 expected to witness massive cloud solutions adoption in the Middle East, pundits believe this will also see the acceleration their Digital Transformation strategies.

According to Al-Zoubi, there is no doubt that cloud adoption has been on the increase and will continue to grow in the year ahead – as organisations accelerate their Digital Transformation strategies and recognise cloud as a key enabler of businesses continuity and growth.

“In October 2020, Cisco introduced a new Wide Area Networking (WAN) Edge platform to deliver secure and automated access to applications. Cisco Catalyst 8000 Edge Platform accelerates cloud adoption by providing businesses with flexible options for secure connectivity and visibility to applications across cloud, data centre and edge,” he said.

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