Companies across the Middle East/Africa are discovering hybrid solutions can solve many digital transformation challenges

Moving to the cloud is not unlike relocating your business to a prime piece of real estate. The benefits are many, but the transition can be tricky. As governments and businesses race to take advantage of cloud computing, they are navigating current and future data regulations, as well as how to make the most of existing IT infrastructure.

Across the Middle East and Africa (MEA), businesses are prioritising cloud adoption. Research shows most organisations in the Middle East are either using cloud computing services or plan to do so in the next two years. African businesses are following closely, with cloud adoption becoming near pervasive.

With its improved security and cost savings, the cloud has become key for businesses looking to compete in the digital era. But there are sometimes obstacles on the road to digitisation, and this is where the hybrid cloud is playing an invaluable role in helping businesses digitally transform.

Hybrid cloud enables businesses to store and process data in their on-premises private clouds and take advantage of a public cloud provider. Hybrid cloud computing is a “best of all possible worlds” platform, delivering all the benefits of cloud computing—flexibility, scalability, and cost efficiencies.

Data regulations and the cloud

One particularly important consideration when it comes to cloud adoption is regulatory compliance, and many of these policies are still being created across MEA.

Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council have begun addressing issues around data privacy at a national level, but as it stands there is no overarching law that deals with data protection in the region. The African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection has also recently made an appeal for countries to start adopting stricter legal frameworks for data protection purposes.

In Kenya, for example, The Data Protection Bill, 2019, was recently enacted and will regulate the processing of personal data and information governed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Those violating this law face a penalty notice of up to five million shillings, or in the case of an undertaking, up to two per centum of an organization’s annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.

Future-proofing your IT strategy

Hybrid cloud is helping organisations future-proof their digital strategies, allowing them to explore the benefits of the cloud for data storage and applications, while using their existing on-premises servers for information, other applications and data with data residency implications.

It was for this exact reason that Oman Data Park (ODP), a leading IT managed services provider, deployed Microsoft Azure Stack, a hybrid cloud solution. ODP offers hosting, security and cloud services as well as virtual data centre services, leveraging its own data centres in Oman. But when it came to delivering on its digital transformation promises to clients through the provision of Azure services, ODP needed to navigate the Sultanate’s regulatory requirement to store data locally.

So ODP looked to Microsoft to build and deploy hybrid applications, while still meeting local data sovereignty and regulatory requirements. ODP now serves as a digital enabler for other organisations in Oman.

Utilising existing technology investments

Hybrid cloud is particularly important for companies like banks, which have significant existing IT infrastructure investments. With hybrid cloud computing, banks can maintain their mainframe systems while simultaneously adopting new cloud technologies. Banks are using Azure Stack to link their current systems while building an intelligent layer of digital services on top. The Microsoft Azure cloud platform then supports scalable hybrid environments for moving between on-premises and cloud computing environments seamlessly.

Sterling Bank is aimed at improving the time-to-market and improving the service quality to its customers.  The bank prioritized cloud services, the cloud-first approach was the rationale behind the selection of Microsoft Azure – for building, testing, deploying, and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed datacenters. So far, the bank has already deployed several products including Fare Pay which is addressing transportation; Specta – a community lending solution that gives out loans in 5 minutes; i-invest which is now a popular product in the market that allows anybody to buy or trade a treasury bill. Another consumer proposition that the bank introduced is OnePay – all which were deployed via Microsoft Cloud.

Is the future hybrid?

Innovations to cloud computing are also making it easier to manage hybrid cloud environments. Microsoft recently launched Azure Arc, enabling businesses to use Azure cloud tools across different cloud and computing services. As most organisations have IT infrastructure spread across multiple datacentres, clouds and edge locations, the ability to run on-premise and multi-cloud environments from one central space is a game-changer.

Not surprisingly, hybrid cloud adoption is expected to accelerate at a rapid pace – confirming that the future of cloud computing may well be hybrid. This is particularly the case in the Middle East which is already outpacing the average global adoption rate.

When deploying from the hybrid cloud, businesses have more control over their IT, improving the latency and reliability of their services. This would make hybrid cloud a particularly attractive option for businesses operating in the Middle East and North Africa, which is one of the most under-represented areas in the world when it comes to per capita Internet connectivity.

As businesses set out on their hybrid cloud journeys, it is important they begin with specific business objectives in mind, considering company needs and priorities. This will help them determine which workloads should be shifted to the cloud. Achieving the right balance between public and private cloud usage involves several different considerations, such as IT budget, regulatory requirements, as well as the nature of different applications and where they are best deployed.

Partnering with a service provider that can manage and integrate your company’s different IT environments can help ensure your business optimises its hybrid cloud investment and that, ultimately, the move to becoming a digitally empowered business is much smoother.

Wale Olokodana is Business Group Lead for cloud and enterprise at Microsoft Middle East and Africa.


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