Can the Middle East keep pace with the IT trends of Silicon Valley?

by  — 7 June 2015

Technology adoption in running a business is no longer an option – it is a necessity and one that has become indispensable for survival. Historically, while most information technology (IT) initiatives start with Silicon Valley, where does the Middle East rank in terms of technology adoption and what is the way forward on data safety in the context of large-scale usage of cloud and big data infrastructure? by Aparajita Mukherjee

A session at Redefine Next, EMC Corporation’s 2015 gala for its vendors, clients and partners held at the upscale hotel, The Venetian, located in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada, the United States in early May. (Image EMC/Flickr)

Digital services are witnessing a surge in demand in the Middle East, in tandem with a broader adoption of cloud computing. The latter has seen an increasing use in the number of data centres in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. This is reflected in the value of the data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) sector in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region that is expected to reach USD397.1 million (QAR1.4 billion) in 2017 – up from USD41.6 million (QAR151.4 million) in 2012 – at a compound annual growth rate of 57 percent, according to a recent report released by MicroMarketMonitor.

With these projected investment volumes, the demand for data storage and management will also see an increase. Revealing the demand of the data storage market in the region, The EMC Digital Universe, a study for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) states that the digital universe is expected to see an increase an increase of more than 600 percent, over the current levels, by 2020.

“Markets such as Qatar have the advantage of being younger, more ambitious, not hindered by the existence of legacy systems, and driven by the surge in economic growth.” – Mohammed Amin, EMC Corporation


Bridging the investment potential of QAR1.4 billion in 2017 and the data platforms that companies such as EMC Corporation bring to consumers are technologies such as cloud, mobile data, social and big data or what International Data Corporation (IDC) refers to as the third platform of technology. These are designed to help enterprises achieve increasing staff mobility and reduce capital and operational expenditure on technology. 

Commenting on what prospects these global trends translate into the Middle Eastern markets for companies such as EMC which is a major player in the data storage market, Mohammed Amin, senior vice president and regional manager, Turkey, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Middle East, EMC Corporation, tells The Edge, “This means that the patch of the digital universe that enterprises and their chief information officers now need to manage isn’t just growing in volume. It is also growing in terms of complexity. This means that enterprises are turning their focus to deploy specialised, agile and more scalable IT infrastructure to cope and effectively leverage this massive surge in information to power distinct business advantage, and fuel optimisation.”

Amin also adds that EMC Corporation has a market share of 60 percent in the data storage infrastructure in Qatar (and ranges from 40 percent to 60 percent in the entire Gulf Cooperation Council). Amin mentions that across this region, players are increasingly seeing a convergence of three powerful drivers for the surge in data. These are: heavy adoption bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives across large enterprises; increasing government regulations surrounding physical security; and finally, countries across the region are swiftly adopting the path to creating the ‘smart cities’ of the future – intelligent towns that will focus on using existing resources and infrastructure, to make them better, faster and more effective. 

The Middle East (ME) region, says Chad Dunn, senior director, VSPEX  (which stands for the virtual systems specifications and is a set of 14 IT blueprints created by EMC) Emerging Technology Product Division, EMC Corporation, is growing surprisingly well. “The ME region is adapting more quickly than many of the countries in Europe. So, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar have all been very fast adopters of converged infrastructure both from the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE Company, the privately-held American computer integration company formed in 2009 by Cisco Systems and EMC Corporation), as well as VSPEX reference architecture (that provides a template solution and a common vocabulary for architecture for a particular domain),” says Dunn, adding, “In fact, right now, we’re working with some of our channel partners in the Gulf region to expand our footprint with VSPEX BLUE for our hybrid-converged solutions.”

Qatar, for EMC Corporation, is an important market and the company ensures that it introduces its latest technology offering firsthand to the Qatari market.  Commenting on the Qatari market’s place in EMC’s overall corporate planning, Amin, in charge of the region for EMC, says, “This is a time, where markets, such as Qatar have the advantage of being younger, more ambitious markets, not hindered by the existence of legacy systems and driven by the surge in economic growth. We look forward to working with our customers and partners in the region to enable both their IT and business transformation goals to create a sound platform for the future.”

EMC Corporation, in Amin’s opinion, is able to deliver the triple play in the region at large: to gain market share, reinvest in the future, and deliver leverage. Amin emphasises, “We are especially excited about our prospects in the Middle East, especially in countries such as Qatar where ambitious government plans and forward-looking industry professionals are investing heavily in solutions that can help attain sustainable growth, drive strategic insight,  and enhance competitive efficiencies.”

Smart city offerings

As part of its regional initiatives, in the Arab Future Cities Summit (held in Doha in April 2015), EMC participated with its hybrid cloud offering. This was part of EMC Corporation’s efforts to work with customers and partners in Qatar to establish smart service infrastructures as part of Qatar’s National Development Strategy 2011-16. Through its participation, EMC Corporation highlighted the role of third platform technologies such as cloud, social, mobile and big data to boost information sharing, drive security, and enhance service delivery to improve the lives of citizens and expatriates across the nation.

Commenting on EMC Corporation’s smart city offerings, Amin says, “Modern countries such as Qatar are fuelled by the need to secure intelligent insights from the mass of powerful and rich data that is being collected from multiple sources.” Among the sources Amin mentions are weather channels, street security cameras, social networks, sensor networks, in-car devices, location-based smartphone apps, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and others, adding, “Each of these adds deep insight into the life and choices of the citizens and residents of a city.”

EMC Corporation also offers disaster avoidance solutions as well as intelligence-based security solutions that enable the government to not only protect citizens’ data but can also detect any abnormal behaviour in its network and control any threats linked to disrupted services or, fraud or access to citizens’ private data.  “These solutions,” says Amin, “aim to ensure that the community remains secure as it engages in day-to-day communication, both on the ground and in virtual life to create a holistic environment based on trust.”

Trusted infrastructure

The issue of trust is highly linked to the use of IT, especially with the increasing adoption of cloud, big data and the like. Addressing the concerns around safety, IDC, in its white paper entitled, Impact of Cybersecurity Attacks and New-Age Security Strategies, lists the top 10 challenges for information security in the GCC. The document mentions that 60 percent of threats come from employees’ lack of adherence to IT security policies, 59 percent due to increasing sophistication of attacks and 39 percent due to shortage of IT security personnel, among others.

“Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar have all been very fast adopters of converged infrastructure.” – Chad Dunn, EMC Corporation.


Commenting on EMC’s guarantee on data protection and privacy in today’s climate, Dunn of EMC says, “You need protection of the data not through encryption alone but also through access. This is where RSA (the Security Division of EMC which is the provider of intelligence-driven security solutions) plays a very big role for us but it’s also intrusion detection and stopping bad actors in real time.”

Citing an example of any company that has had a data breach, Dunn adds that the companies’ conversations with EMC from a security perspective hinges on not just authentication and encryption but also on factors such as mobile device management, “because users want to bring their own devices and we can’t stop it.  We need to have security- and access-controlled technologies that don’t feel as intrusive to the end user but still are going to protect the data. So technologies that we have, such as AirWatch (that targets mobile data management) and RSA for authentication or the encryption when we place data on a public cloud, are useful for our customers across segments.” 

In this context, Dunn mentions CloudArray which allows to share data up on a public storage cloud, whether it is Amazon, Google or any other search engine, “but the key is the encryption that takes place on the site and very importantly, the customer always retains those keys and the service provider does not”.

Nicolai Solling, director of technology services at Help AG (a strategic information security consulting company, founded in Germany in 1995 and has been present in the Middle East since 2004) says, “There are a number of things that can be done. We specifically utilise Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) which we integrate into storage and cloud environments, allowing full encryption and even more importantly, crypto key ownership of the data. This means that even if data was taken out of the cloud or data centre by any third party, it would be useless to them as they would have to break the encryption before they are able to see the data in clear-text.”

Solling adds, “As one of the cryptographers said recently at the RSA conference in San Francisco: Encryption will not be broken, but bypassed in closing.”

In the context of bypassing security, Dunn mentions that no matter how tight the security is, “no technology will 100 percent protect all data. There has to be behaviour changes, there has to be organisation changes. Human beings are the most irrational piece of the equation and the battle is to discipline the human mind”.

Products for SMEs

EMC Corporation’s offerings for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) come in the form of its VSPEX solutions make up a complete portfolio of solutions and products that give the client total choice when it comes to deploying the IT Infrastructure.

Explaining the spread of products for the SMEs, Chad Dunn, senior director, VSPEX says that there are separate components to that: one is EMC’s reference architecture programme which are solutions that are built to achieve business outcomes rather than just selling EMC products.

Elaborating further, Dunn continues, “They include components from other alliance partners such as Cisco, HP, Brocade, Dell, but they’re all targeted towards a range of different sizes and solutions delivered by our partners. They can be customised by our partners and we build them, test them, validate them, and then we give the partners those blueprints that they can customise to get to the right price-point for these SMEs.”

And how much of tailor making can really be done for this segment? Dunn says that “there’s quite a lot of tailor making for SMEs”, illustrating that when EMC Corporation publishes a reference architecture for VSPEX, “we will publish something, for example, to support 100 virtual machines, but within the reference architecture, we tell you what the building blocks are so if it needs to be 50 or 25, you know what components need to be optional, exactly.”

Commenting on the business prospects that Brocade foresees in the SME segment, the company’s senior vice president, Switching, Routing and Analytics, Jason Nolet, says that for a SME business, which do not have a big IT staff, large budgets,  or expertise, what is crucial is the ability to deploy a network with the same plug-and-play ease with simple technologies such as hypervisors (or virtual machine monitor  – VMM –  a piece of computer software, firmware or hardware that creates and runs virtual machines)  and servers. Nolet reveals, “This is an ambition that we’ve had for some time. Brocade helps reduce the operational overhead costs and this is really an area that we focus heavily on.”

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