Exclusive: Oracle’s global cloud leader on why he is betting big on the Middle East

The move to the cloud is no longer a matter for debate. But how secure is the cloud and what comes next?



When you mention the word ‘cloud’ these days, people rarely look up at the sky. And for obvious reasons. Cloud computing has become a ubiquitous term – not only for those in the IT/tech industry, but also for governments, corporates (and consumers), who are all embarking on digital transformation journeys.

The numbers add up. The worldwide public cloud services market is forecast to grow 17 per cent in 2020 to total $266.4bn, up from $227.8bn in 2019, according to estimates from tech research firm Gartner. “At this point, cloud adoption is mainstream,” Sid Nag, research vice president at Gartner stated in the report.

“The expectations of the outcomes associated with cloud investments therefore are also higher. Adoption of next-generation solutions are almost always ‘cloud-enhanced’ solutions, meaning they build on the strengths of a cloud platform to deliver digital business capabilities.”

Regionally as well, cloud adoption is happening on a zealous pace, as businesses look to innovate their operations and seek better returns.

Public cloud spending in the Middle East and Africa region is expected to grow from $2.7bn in 2020 to $5.3bn by 2023, according to IDC. Looking at the UAE alone, spending on the public cloud is anticipated to reach over $827.57m by 2023.

“Changes in economic, political and trading conditions are forcing businesses to move much more quickly, while knowing the margin for error is tiny,” explains Steve Daheb, senior vice president of Oracle Cloud.

“Businesses realise that using cloud can help them drive higher ROI, save costs, find new revenue streams, deliver exceptional customer experience, retain the best talent, and stay ahead of the competition. Most importantly, the cloud provides an unprecedented platform for innovation while also delivering robust security,” he adds.

Daheb should know well. Oracle has been investing heavily in its cloud solutions in the region and also opened its first data centre in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi in early 2019.

“The UAE is a priority market for Oracle and we have made significant investments to enhance our infrastructure, physical presence, human resources and other support capabilities in the country,” explains Daheb.

“The Abu Dhabi cloud data centre went live in early 2019, and has already become a major catalyst in driving cloud-led digital transformation in the UAE. By locating a data centre in the UAE, we are better able to manage service levels and respond to local customers who, for a variety of reasons including data governance requirements, need their data to be in close geographic proximity.”

In September last year, during OpenWorld, Oracle’s annual user conference in San Francisco, the company further announced that it would open two cloud data centres in the UAE and two in Saudi Arabia as part of a wider plan to open 20 new cloud data centres worldwide by the end of 2020.

“The new cloud data centres in the UAE and Saudi Arabia will facilitate in-country or in-jurisdiction disaster recovery capabilities. Oracle’s Gen 2 Cloud Infrastructure makes this possible through highly-optimised region deployment technologies, which can implement an entire software defined data centre and deploy customer-facing cloud services in days,” explains Daheb.  

The security question

With the large-scale migration of data to the cloud, the question of securing that information is of paramount importance.
Every year, data breaches are becoming more expensive for enterprises. In 2019, this cost rose to $1.41m, up from $1.23m the previous year, a recent report by cyber security firm Kaspersky found.

Breaches in the Middle East are both “widespread and frequently undetected”, another report by UAE-based DarkMatter found. “As cyber criminals keep abreast of emerging developments in technology, they are striking in ever more sophisticated ways and aiming their weapons where they are likely to cause the most damage,” the report said. Specifically in the UAE, it said attacks were focussed on the UAE’s critical infrastructure sectors including oil and gas, financial, transportation, and electricity and water.

“There is no doubt that securing data is now a business leader’s or a policy maker’s top priority,” says Daheb. “I see the IT security practices of many organisations that manage their own systems. Unfortunately, they’re just not sufficient, on their own, to resist complex threats from malware, phishing schemes, and advanced persistent threats unleashed by malicious users, cybercriminal organisations, and state actors.

“The perimetre-based security controls typically implemented by organisations who manage their own security—from firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and antivirus software packages—are no longer sufficient to prevent these threats. Added to that are the concerns caused by internal employee threats or human error… again, perimeter-based security is useless if the problem starts inside the wall,” he explains.

According to him, moving to the cloud offers businesses better protection and stronger insulation against threats. A survey conducted by Oracle in the US last year found that up to 66 per cent of C-level executives of large organisations cited security as the biggest benefit of moving to the cloud.

“Cyberattacks in the UAE and Middle East are on the rise, and we now see a similar sentiment being echoed by business leaders in the Middle East about the importance of using cloud for safeguarding their organisation against cyber threats,” opines Daheb.

“At Oracle, security has been a priority from day one. We are countering the cyber security challenge with the world’s first autonomous database. Self-driving, self-securing and self-repairing, the Oracle Autonomous Database eliminates complexity, manual management, and human error,” he adds.

The autonomous factor

Oracle’s Autonomous Database cloud revenues grew by more than 100 per cent in the second quarter of its 2019-2020 fiscal year, it announced in December.

“The Autonomous Database is proving to be a revolutionary technology that addresses key security concerns of enterprises and we are witnessing terrific adoption,” states Daheb.

“Where autonomous is concerned, the most important thing businesses are starting to realise is, as crucial as data is becoming to the economy, they need to be better at handling and securing their data if they want to really capitalise on it and execute on AI (artificial intelligence) or IoT (internet of things) investments.”

Gartner predicts that within two years, 90 per cent of corporate strategies will explicitly mention information as a critical enterprise asset, with analytics becoming an essential competency.

“We believe automation will start to permeate throughout business, with 70 per cent of IT functions being completely automated. This will enable companies to have their teams focus on innovation and business development rather than spending billions of work hours performing routine and even mundane tasks,” adds Daheb.

What next?

Along with the rise in autonomous platforms, other technologies such as AI, blockchain, and Internet of Things (IoT) are already changing the way businesses operate and governments deliver citizen services.

“In 2020, embedded AI will be key – but only if companies understand how to apply it within the confines of their business,” explains Daheb. “We expect a lot more companies to look for practical ways to bring AI into the business – and a key path will be through having AI embedded into their applications.”

Blockchain will also start to become more commonplace in business in 2020, mainly on the back on factors such as transparency and trust. “This comes from the realisation that it can be used to do far more than validate monetary transactions,” Daheb elaborates.

“We are seeing blockchain technology being used to certify the ethical production of extra virgin olive oil, for tracking solar energy usage, and to bring a single source of truth into the documentation processes underpinning the global shipping industry.”

With new technologies revolutionising decision-making, CEOs, CFOs and their teams must look for opportunities to forge new strategic partnerships across the enterprise.

“Three key goals for today’s businesses are to be more innovative, to deliver superior customer experiences, and to be able to attract and retain talent. These are important objectives for enterprises globally. By putting into place data management capabilities operating in cloud platforms, organisations can make sense of exponentially growing volumes of business and customer data,” Daheb advices.

Looking ahead regionally, he remains bullish about continued expansion for Oracle.

“Our commitment to the Middle East region is strong. We have been in the region for a long time and have gained deep experience across major sectors such as government, finance, banking, healthcare, construction, energy, retail and many more. Our investments in the region have only grown and the impact of these investments can be seen in our size, revenue, customer base, products and partners,” he states.

Some of the company’s customers in the region currently include Dubai developer Emaar Group, the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance – General Administration of Customs, Landmark Group and Dubai lender Emirates NBD.

“With the rapid rate of cloud adoption in the Middle East and our ability to offer completely integrated solutions across all layers of the cloud (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS), Oracle will become even better positioned to serve our customers locally and globally as they grow,” adds Daheb.