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The Persian Gulf's March to the Cloud Presents Global Opportunities

Loosening attitudes about cloud security are expected to create a nearly $10 billion public cloud market in the Middle East by 2027.

3 Min Read
Dubai skyline with cloud cover
Source: Dominic Byrne via Alamy Stock Photo

COMMENTARY

As the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC)'s digital infrastructure continues to expand at breakneck speed, hyperscale data centers — and lots of them — will be key to its success.

Traditionally, though, the Persian Gulf states have been shy to place confidential data outside sovereign soils — a preference rooted in cultural and regulatory concerns.

Cloud Culture

Culture-wise, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) historically have held cautionary, if not downright protectionist, attitudes toward state information and state bodies. It's important to note, also, that the state still underpins much of the region's enterprise landscape.

However, since the pandemic, attitudes about public cloud storage among government powers-that-be and business heads have begun to loosen. According to Manish Ranjan, cloud expert at tech consultant IDC, "those three years of forced online commerce accelerated the Gulf's digitization path and exposed businesses to the power of the public cloud — its flexibility, scalability, and security."

Business leaders have also been cautious about storing data due to the region's plethora of personal data and privacy laws. However, with a growing assortment of local cloud options coming to market, including layered, co-location, and hyperscale, that mindset is changing too.

Mass Migration

Today, huge swaths of Gulf industry are migrating to the cloud. The mass-scale regional adoption of new technologies — particularly artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, and cybersecurity — demands it. The region's rapidly digitizing banking and transport sectors in particular are seeing strong demand for modernized customer service solutions.

As such, the value of the Middle East public cloud market is expected to reach $9.9 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 20.7% during this period, according to Blue Weave Consulting.

The region's exposure to global hyperscale data centers is relatively new but growing. The tiny island nation of Bahrain was the first Gulf state to clinch a deal with AWS back in 2019, shored up by strong government backing. The UAE has since signed deals with Microsoft Azure, AWS, Oracle, and China's Alibaba.

Saudi Arabia launched its first Google Cloud center in mid-November, adding to the kingdom's data center lineup comprised of Oracle, SAP, and a co-hosted data center between Saudi Telecom Company and Alibaba. Qatar has also shown cloud ambition and willingness, hosting global cloud centers from Microsoft and Google.

IDC's Ranjan is especially excited about the Saudi market, which he says is growing on the back of the kingdom's hundreds of mega projects.

Regional Settlements

However, while many regional organizations are aware of the exponential business benefits of the public cloud, they remain concerned by potential vulnerabilities in terms of data privacy, general security, and regulatory compliance.

With this regional sentiment in mind, the introduction of solutions that allow businesses to avail of global hyperscale benefits while keeping data in the region have been critical to the growth of the region's public cloud market.

Increasingly, sovereign data centers, such as Abu Dhabi's Core42, are teaming up with global hyperscalers like AWS to maintain restricted offshore data sharing, while also leveraging the advantages of superior agility, scalability, and security afforded by global public cloud innovators.A growing community of locally based cloud data service partners, including Snowflake UAE and the recently launched Genesys Cloud CX UAE, are enabling local businesses — which face regulatory compliance and data residency obligations in the UAE and the GCC — to keep their sensitive customer data located in the region while moving their contact centers to the cloud. The region's growing preference for the public cloud — whether through co-location or partnership — is stoking a growing market for associated cybersecurity services.

While many global security players already operate in the UAE, either through regional offices or distribution agreements, local players are also angling for the market. A recent case in point is Dubai Water and Electricity (DEWA)'s digital arm Moro Hub, which announced on Nov. 17 a cloud security partnership with French defense firm Thales.

As regional companies continue their march to the public cloud — co-hosted or otherwise — the opportunities for cloud security companies are sizable and growing.

About the Author(s)

Alicia Buller, Contributing Writer

Contributing Writer

Alicia Buller is a London-based business and technology journalist with several years' experience working in Dubai. She specialises in cybersecurity and Middle Eastern affairs.

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