Snowflake & VMware, cloud brightens Middle East developer zone

There’s an uprising in the Middle East, but this time it’s no Arab Spring… or if it is, it is a new beginning for the software application developers native to the region.

The Arabic-speaking coder fraternity and sorority has been left behind in many senses. In no small part this is related to the fact that the region has been plagued by software piracy for many decades.

Longstanding efforts made by bodies such as the Business Software Alliance have sought to counter the counterfeiters, but it was always just chipping at the iceberg.

A gulf across the Gulf

Arabian coders have also been left behind in the sense that not enough Arab language applications have ever been natively developed.

Although the tech user base across the Middle East speaks a high level of English, the gap in natively created native Arab language software and tools has always represented a gulf. It’s a gulf that stretches across the Gulf… and to across the rest of the Arab League’s 22 nations.

Cloud cometh

But could the rise of cloud computing change things? Could the fact that software is no longer ‘owned’ (and is now increasingly rented as-a-Service) mean that Arab developers, programmers and all flavours of software engineers are now given the chance for their ideas to shine without the risk of them being (almost) instantaneously ripped off?

Sameet Agarwal, VP of engineering at cloud data warehouse specialist Snowflake Computing thinks the opportunity here is real.

“Cloud computing represents the best deterrent to piracy we have yet seen. The pay-as-you-use model reduces the up-front investment in new software while new business models are emerging to pay for services like advertising through monetising data, which could prove more palatable and affordable than paying for software,” said Agarwal.

Dualistic channel of communication

Agarwal describes what he calls a ‘dualistic channel of communication’ created by the cloud model that exists between provider and user. This he says makes it easier and a lot more practical to customise software and monitor for pirated distributions when delivered as a service.

“The wide-reaching IT shift to the cloud offers an opportunity for companies in the Middle East to leapfrog the west, adopting the newer solutions without being hampered by legacy systems,”said Agarwal.

But there are of course pitfalls here. The more established cloud players have a leg-up in terms of scale. The winner-takes-all kind of business favours the early leader and the companies with more resources to build scale. Data sovereignty is a major issue here.

“When it comes to data sovereignty and cloud and who has control over what data (and what geographic restrictions are in place) this can all add up to make a big difference to the success of a cloud system. This works both ways and can lead to more locally-developed solutions in the Middle East winning the market share because of the same considerations,”said Agarwal.

A golden ticket?

These notions are not confined to the nice snowy people at Snowflake; the proposition here is stretching far and wide. Ahmed Auda is managing director for Middle East and North Africa region at VMware.

Auda says that cloud and virtualisation platforms could provide the golden ticket for Middle East youth job creation – but governments, multi-national organisations, local startups, and educational institutions need to partner on developing the digital skills needed for both Millennials and the more experienced workers.

“In Europe, Middle East and Africa, 71 percent of organisations say digital skills improve competitiveness, with 64 percent of employees (including 39 percent of 45-54-year-olds) willing to use their own time to learn new digital skills such as coding and building mobile apps. According to a recent survey by Vanson Bourne for VMware. However, half (48 percent) of EMEA employees cannot use their digital skills – particularly due to digital not integrated into personal objectives, lack of budget and lack of adequate support from IT,” said Auda.

Shift to LoB IT control

The VMware Arabia man also think that this need for all employees to have digital skills is further driven by technology management shifting from IT to Lines of Business, a trend seen in 68 percent of Middle East organisations, according to another report by Vanson Bourne for VMware.

“In the Middle East, the cloud is seeing strong take-up for enhanced business agility and optimising costs. However, the cloud is not more or less safe than desktop computing. One of the biggest challenges facing Middle East organisations is having the proper cloud-based cybersecurity tools and processes, as only 5 percent of EMEA leads consider security the highest corporate priority, according to “The Cyber-Chasm” report by The Economist Intelligence Unit. In the UAE, for example, 64 percent of organisations expect to be hit by a cyber-attack in the next 90 days,” heeds Auda.

VMware says it is supporting Middle East coders in developing their digital skills and is currently partnering with local universities, starting with Prince Sultan University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on integrating digital skills in the educational curriculum.

Clouds over the Middle East are good news then… for programmers, at least… and just maybe for anyone that needs some respite from the soaring desert heat.