Exclusive: Here’s how AWS is supporting MENA’s cloud journey
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Exclusive: Jonathan Allen on how AWS is supporting MENA’s cloud journey

Exclusive: Jonathan Allen on how AWS is supporting MENA’s cloud journey

AWS’ director of enterprise strategy tells Gulf Business that the company has three data centres in the UAE and Bahrain, giving customers access to key cloud computing services

How AWS is supporting MENA’s cloud journey

In your opinion, which tech trends are accelerating cloud adoption in the region? How is AWS positioned to win big with the focus that GCC governments have on the digital economy and economic diversification?

Many tech trends are accelerating cloud adoption in the Middle East region, including:

  • Generative AI: Amazon Web Services (AWS) makes it easy, practical, secure, and cost-effective for customers to use generative AI in their business across all three layers of the machine learning (ML) stack, including infrastructure, ML tools, and purpose-built artificial intelligence (AI) services
  • ML and AI: Although many companies have started leveraging ML, it’s still being invented and reinvented. AWS has the most comprehensive set of AI and ML services for all skill levels
  • Internet of Things: We bring ML and the Internet of Things (IoT) together to make devices more intelligent. Most of the big IoT applications that have been built over the last few years have been built using AWS to supplement them.
  • Hybrid cloud: Our hybrid cloud services deliver a consistent experience wherever customers need it – from the cloud to on-premises, and at the edge. Through these services, customers in the region can accelerate their digital transformation, improve IT and developer productivity, and deliver differentiated services and experiences

The company has a lot more functionality, the largest and most vibrant community of customers and partners, the most proven operational and security expertise, and the business is innovating at a faster clip – especially in new areas such as ML and AI, the IoT, serverless computing, and custom-designed processors and chips.

How would you describe AWS’s strategy in the GCC and in addition to UAE and Bahrain regions, are there plans to expand the company’s cloud footprint?

The Middle East holds a lot of opportunities where cloud technology can be a key enabler: economies that today are diversifying from dependency on oil and gas; a large, digitally native and predominantly young population; a budding startup community; and several industries that are looking to digitally transform.

We see robust demand for our services in the Middle East as customers are accelerating their journeys to the cloud. Over the last few years, we have seen dramatic change as businesses and governments across the region have started to leverage the cloud in meaningful ways.

As a result, have been making investments in the region to get even closer to our customers and serve our rapidly growing customer base. In 2019, we launched the first Middle East Region in Bahrain. We now have offices in Bahrain, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, and we will continue to grow.

We are hiring teams of account managers, solutions architects, partner managers, professional services consultants, support staff, and various other functions to support customers in their cloud journeys. We will also continue to expand our network services across the region.

Today we have three Amazon Edge locations in the UAE and Bahrain, giving customers access to key services to improve end-user experience, including faster content delivery and cybersecurity protection solutions. We also have AWS Direct Connect locations in UAE and Bahrain.

We also released data highlighting the economic impact of the new region. AWS estimates that the new AWS Middle East (UAE) Region will support nearly 6,000 full-time jobs annually at external vendors through investment of Dhs20.1bn ($5.47bn) with an estimated economic impact on the UAE’s GDP of Dhs41bn ($11.16bn) over the next 15 years.

This investment includes all cash expenses directly attributable to the project, such as imports of highly specialised and proprietary equipment and software, and in-country spending on construction and operations.

Lastly, we are constantly getting feedback from customers on where they would like the next AWS Region and are always re-evaluating and reprioritising that list based on customer needs.

GCC countries are investing significant amounts of capital to foster innovation. Tell us about the role AWS is playing in advancing the region’s digital transformation.

Organisations of all sizes in the GCC are using the AWS cloud to innovate faster and grow. Millions of active customers are using our cloud services each month in over 190 countries around the world, including tens of thousands of customers in the Middle East and North Africa.

In addition to the infrastructure investment in GCC countries such as the UAE, we are investing in education initiatives, training, and start-up enablement programs to support the country’s digital transformation and economic development plans.

To foster entrepreneurship and the growth of new businesses in the UAE, the company plans to further expand the AWS Activate program to support the UAE’s startups and SMBs.

Through the AWS Training and Certification programs, we will also work with government entities to support the up-skilling and re-training of the workforce with the latest cloud computing training curriculum. For students and educators, we will provide higher education institutions and their educators with cloud computing courses to prepare students to pursue industry-recognised certifications and careers in cloud computing.

Furthermore, a key part of supporting cloud adoption in the Middle East is our partners. AWS has a vibrant and growing partner network in the Middle East and Africa, offering customers cloud expertise, and business and technical support.

Our consulting partners have in-depth experience working with both public and private sector organisations, and our technology partners cover a variety of solutions, including security, ERP, databases, and business intelligence, and SaaS applications.

To further enable our partner community in the Middle East, in 2020, we launched the AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange in the UAE and Bahrain. Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), data providers, and consulting partners based in the UAE and Bahrain can now transact in AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange, empowering them to access and market to AWS’s millions of customers worldwide.

This expansion also means that AWS’s global customers can purchase directly from UAE and Bahrain-based software and data providers through AWS Marketplace and AWS Data Exchange, selecting from over 7,000 software listings and data products from more than 1,500 sellers.

Generative AI is set to fuel $23.5bn in economic growth across the GCC by 2030. Which sectors/ industries do you expect to experience the fastest growth?

We are now going to see the next wave of widespread adoption of ML, with the opportunity for every customer experience and application to be reinvented with generative AI.

AWS will help drive this next wave by making it easy, practical, secure, and cost-effective for customers to use generative AI in their business across all three layers of the ML stack, including infrastructure, ML tools, and purpose-built AI services.

Our approach to generative AI is to invest and innovate across three layers of the generative AI stack to take this technology out of the realm of research and make it available to customers of any size and developers of all skill levels.

AWS remains committed to making ML accessible to customers of all sizes and across industries. We have helped more than 100,000 customers of all sizes and across industries to innovate using ML and AI with industry-leading capabilities. In June 2023, we announced the AWS Global Fintech Accelerator, selecting 150 fintech startups harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology from across the world including the Middle East.

With regards to sectors in particular, generative AI has a profound impact across industries, and in particular healthcare and life sciences, media & entertainment, education, and financial services.

How are cloud computing providers such as AWS dealing with data privacy concerns?

Customer trust is our top priority. we continually monitor the evolving privacy regulatory and legislative landscape to identify changes and determine what tools our customers might need to meet their compliance needs. Maintaining customer trust is an ongoing commitment. We strive to inform customers of the privacy and data security policies, practices, and technologies we’ve put in place.

Regardless of where a request for customer content comes from, we are vigilant about our customers’ privacy and have implemented sophisticated technical and physical measures to prevent unauthorised access.

We have a world-class team of security experts monitoring our systems 24/7 to protect customer content. We will not disclose customer content in response to requests unless required to do so to comply with a legally valid and binding order, such as a subpoena or a court order.

Furthermore, we would notify the customer before disclosing their content so they could seek protection from disclosure unless prohibited by law. It’s also important to point out that customers can choose to encrypt their content as part of a standard security process for highly sensitive content.

We provide tools customers can use to encrypt their data at rest or in motion, or customers can choose from several supported 3rd party security solutions. Content that has been encrypted is rendered useless without the applicable decryption keys.

Why is the hybrid cloud getting increased acceptance in the Middle East region? What are the top hybrid cloud security challenges and how can customers overcome them?

The definition of the term hybrid, and the solutions themselves, are being innovative and being reinvented quickly. Our hybrid infrastructure includes the cloud along with other edge nodes, on-premises data centres being one of them.

Customers have told us they want to consume our hybrid offering with the same APIs, the same control plane, the same tools, and the same hardware that they’re used to using in AWS Regions such as the local ones in the region here. So, we started to build solutions that picked off the biggest use cases for customers for a truly consistent hybrid experience.

With cloud security as our top priority, we have numerous tools and solutions that our customers can utilise to overcome any challenges they might face by adopting a hybrid infrastructure. Leveraging Security Lake, customers can automatically collect and combine security data from AWS and a broad range of enterprise security data sources.

Similarly, AWS Identity and Access Management helps customers securely manage identities and permissions to AWS resources for their applications and infrastructure running across hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Can you highlight the importance of data sovereignty for organisations in the region looking at migrating to the cloud?

The AWS Digital Sovereignty Pledge is our commitment to offering all AWS customers the most advanced set of sovereignty controls and features available in the cloud.

AWS already offers a range of data protection features, accreditations, and contractual commitments that give customers control over where they locate their data, who can access it, and how it is used.

We recently pledged to expand on these capabilities to allow customers around the world to meet their digital sovereignty requirements without compromising on the capabilities, performance, innovation, and scale of the AWS Cloud.

At the same time, we will continue to work to deeply understand the evolving needs and requirements of both customers and regulators and rapidly adapt and innovate to meet them.

Our approach to digital sovereignty is to continue to make the AWS Cloud sovereign by design—as it has been from day one. We will continue to architect and build AWS and deliver features and controls so that customers can use AWS services while meeting their regulatory requirements.

This includes control over the location of their data, verifiable control over data access, and the ability to encrypt everything everywhere all on the resilience of AWS cloud.

Why is sustainability an important element for tech companies? How are you helping your customers drastically reduce their environmental footprint?

In 2019, Amazon and Global Optimism co-founded The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement. The Climate Pledge is joined by a cross-sector community of companies and organizations working together to address the climate crisis and solve the challenge of decarbonizing our economy.

To date, over 420 companies across 38 countries have joined The Climate Pledge. As the first signatory, Amazon is on a path to power its operations with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025—five years ahead of its original target of 2030.

Amazon is currently the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy, and in 2022 we reached 90 per cent renewable energy across our business, with more than 20 gigawatts of renewable energy production capacity across our global portfolio.

AWS also provides customers with several tools to help them meet their sustainability goals.

Read: Sheikh Hamdan unveils Dubai Digital Clouds project

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