There is little doubt that cloud computing in the Middle East is set for an exponential boom. A combination of steadily growing economies, increased investment by governments in large projects and a widening mobile subscriber base is expected to foster its growth in the region.
According to a recent report from research firm Gartner, Middle East and North Africa region’s (MENA) cloud market is set to total $4.7 billion from 2014 to 2018, with business products as a service growing by 8.1 per cent through 2018.
Furthermore, the firm said that the public cloud services market in the MeNa is on pace to grow 23 per cent in 2014 to total $629 million, up from $511 million in 2013.
Cisco, the networking solutions provider also predicted recently that the Middle East and Africa will post the world’s highest cloud traffic growth rate in the years to come, growing more than eight fold from 2013 to 2018.
The region’s cloud traffic will grow from 31 exabytes in 2013 to 262 exabytes in 2018, at a rate of 54 per cent, boosted by the region having the highest number of mobile devices per user, at more than seven, according to the cisco Global cloud index 2013-18.
The region will also rank second in the asia Pacific region in the growth rates of total data centre workloads (24 per cent), cloud data centre workloads (39 per cent), and traditional data center workloads (five per cent) from 2013 to 2018.
But these are predictions. In the field, technology professionals active in the region say that they are coming up against serious questions from clients and customers surrounding security, delaying and sometimes putting off their transition to the cloud.
A yeAr of breAches
over the past year, serious breaches in private and public clouds, some within the biggest corporations, have seriously hamstrung the efforts of the networking industry to spark a higher adoption rate for cloud computing.
In August, US-based bank JPMorgan Chase revealed that it was the target of a vicious cyber attack that compromised the accounts of 76 million households and seven million small businesses.
Even more recently, home improvement chain retailer Home Depot revealed that a cyber attack saw hackers gain access to over 56 million credit cards as well as more than 53 million email addresses.
Home Depot was the second such corporation to have come forward, after American retailer Target revealed that a cyber attack in December 2013 had compromised the information of 40 million cardholders.
If one thought that this problem was seemingly affecting only traditional businesses that perhaps were struggling with new technology, a cyber attack on online retailer eBay quickly put that to rest.
In May, the consumer technology giant came forward to reveal that between February and March this year, hackers had managed to steal personal records of 233 million users, which included usernames, passwords, phone numbers and physical addresses.
It does not help that arguably the biggest technology company of our times has also been unable to lock down the cloud properly.
In September, it was reported that hackers used brute-force tactics and third- party applications to access the Apple iCloud accounts of various celebrities, pictures of whom (many of them explicit) were then leaked online.
These breaches, coupled with perception problems relating to revelations about corporations being complicit in releasing data to surveillance agencies, have made IT departments across regions, including the Middle East, skeptical of the cloud.
THE BIG QUESTION
“It is a concern for our clients,” admitted Brad Brooks, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Juniper Networks, the US-based networking solutions giant.
Speaking at an analyst and media summit in November in London, Brooks said that the firm has had to actively work in educating clients about the cloud and the kind of security offered with its cloud products and solutions.
“It [the security issue] is definitely something we are hearing a lot about in our interactions [with clients],” he said, admitting that the recent cyber attacks and breaches have not helped.
Juniper has been operational in both the public and private sector in the Middle East, where a chunk of its revenues come from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The firm, which recently saw a leadership change with the incumbent Shaygan Kheradpir being replaced by Rami Rahim, pivoted a year ago to restructure its businesses.
The new strategy was to focus on key areas such as cable, telecom, Web 2.0, and government on the bedrock of building high IQ networks and the cloud. As such, questions about security have had a direct influence on its operations.
Gerard Allison, vice president for EMEA Enterprise Sales at Juniper, remarked that the issue of security is weighing heavily on the industry at large. “The security challenges never go away,” he said.
Asked whether government departments or companies in the Middle East have slowed their march towards the cloud in the wake of the recent cyber attacks, Allison said that there has been an impact.
“While we are not seeing a cut [in IT/ cloud spending], there have been more questions about security around the cloud…there have been questions about whether a company or a department builds its own cloud or goes for shared infrastructure,” he noted.
Allison also remarked that in some cases, nations are saying that they would want a local cloud, where the information resides in the country.
“It will be interesting to see how that unravels. Many European countries are already talking about country clouds,” he said, indicating that the same could be expected in the Middle East.
Worryingly for both providers and customers, the coming years will be anything but sedate when it comes to cyber security.
In a response to the Pew Research Centre’s study into predictions about cyber attacks going forward, Jeremy Epstein, a senior scientist at SRI International, said that cyber attacks would cause damages in the billions to manufacturing and/or utilities.
“But because it ramps up slowly, it will be accepted as just another cost, and there will be little motivation for the private sector to defend itself,” he said.
Juniper’s Allison noted that cyber attacks will never really go away and that they might become more sophisticated.
“What we are also seeing now are attacks that are not only more malicious… but they are carrier grade attacks,” he said, adding that Juniper has evolved its portfolio to protect the data centre, where customer information or data sits.
“We need to do that with our strategic partners. We don’t have all the answers ourselves but we are making sure that we partner with people [and firms] who can give us that intelligence.”
Everyone understands that we need more security, but what is more important is how one protects themselves going forward and understand who is attacking you.”