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Middle East CIOs face numerous data challenges as the regional market matures

Enterprise IT experts reveal to Computer Weekly the issues local technology leaders face when trying to use, back up and protect their valuable data

As IT environments in the Middle East become more advanced, so the job of protecting and retrieving data increases in complexity, with the data backup and protection market growing at an exponential rate.

The rise of big data, and the enterprise requirements to both manage access and ensure secure storage, are now pressing issues for today’s CTOs and CIOs.

In the Middle East, IT leaders must keep abreast of their options in what is still a very young market. Data professionals need to understand suppliers are in a race to capitalise on demand, while integrating backup and data protection with other IT disciplines.

Evidence of the scale of demand for protecting data was recently revealed by the Cybersecurity Market Report, which expects the Middle East and Africa cyber security market to be worth US$13.4bn by 2019, representing an annual increase of 13.7% during the previous five years.

By 2019, the region will represent almost 9% of the global market.

Sébastien Pavie, regional sales director, identity and data protection at digital security specialist Gemalto, said organisations are looking for security that is both user-friendly and seamless.

Boardroom concerns prompt investment

“Given the frequency and magnitude of data breaches in the Middle East and North Africa during 2015, in 2016 we will continue to see companies investing further in data protection technology,” he said. “This includes encryption and crypto management services, combined with user access control and strong authentication.”

Pavie said high-profile breaches in key sectors in the region, such as oil and gas, will keep backup and protection high on the boardroom agenda for the next few years.

This focus is not restricted to large enterprises, according to Shams Hasan, enterprise product manager at Dell Middle East. He said as mid-market companies develop their IT infrastructures in real time, moving apps and processes to the cloud, data protection and recoverability have become serious challenges.

“Several organisations are deploying the internet of things (IoT), which in turn is expected to boost the growth of the big data, business intelligence and analytics markets,” said Hasan.

“Enterprises realise big data and analytics are of critical importance to business innovation and society at large. Simultaneously, organisations of all sizes are tasked with protecting an ever-growing volume of data in a faster, safer and more efficient manner,” he said.

Omar Akhtar, Middle East channel manager at Veeam Software, agreed and adding that many organisations in the region are still struggling to manage larger and larger amounts of backup data.

He said in particularly bad cases they don’t actually have any guarantee that the backup technologies in which they’ve invested can restore mission-critical applications, and this can result in costly business downtime.

Legacy systems simply not good enough

According to Akhtar, the pressure on businesses to operate 24-hour infrastructures is one of the main influences on their decisions to adopt comprehensive backup and data protection.

“Legacy backup technologies are simply not enough to meet new challenges,” he said. “The ‘always-on’ enterprise cannot afford the setbacks that legacy systems are prone to, which is why the modern datacentre has evolved.”

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However, the greatest influence on the backup software market’s evolution in the Middle East could be compliance and regulation requirements, touching almost every aspect of data security.

Fadi Kanafani, regional director Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan at NetApp, cited the introduction of the UAE Data Law during GITEX 2015 as a case in point.

“As more and more commercial and government organisations view security as a core consideration, we will see a steady investment in, and adoption of, various security technologies and are confident that our technologies will help mitigate data loss within the region,” he said.

So, the increased regulation and the consolidation of international data protection laws mean organisations in the Middle East need strategies in place.

Possible outsourcers beware

Shaik Abdulkhader, chief technology security officer at Vodafone Qatar, said: “Backup is a challenge for companies of all sizes because of its complexity to build, operate and manage.”

This complexity makes the prospect of outsourcing to specialist service providers more attractive. However, this is balanced by the sensitive issue of data location, added Abdulkhader.

“Suppliers planning to enter the regional market need to look at investing in geo-located hosting options in the region,” he said. “Even partnerships with local existing datacentres would be a great start.”

On-demand encryption services might also be a way ahead. “With a growing amount of personal data, organisations expect privacy and confidentiality for their backed-up data to be at the same level as for production data,” he said.

Evangelising the business benefits

According to Wael Mustafa, director at data protection platform provider Commvault, supplies need to continue evangelising the business benefits of backup and data protection technology.

“They need to continue using independent reports and analysis to help explain how customers can improve business operations and save time,” he said.

“For example, IDC validated efficiency gains in a recent survey of more than 700 Commvault customers, reporting that users were able to improve IT, employee and organisational productivity by accelerating recovery, reducing downtime and streamlining data management,” he said.

According to Savitha Bhaskar, COO at data security and storage specialist Condo Protego, the biggest challenge facing Middle East suppliers is the increasing number of point solutions, which offer backup solutions for only certain workloads.

“Point solutions are tempting because they have low initial costs, but do not provide the holistic solutions that organisations need,” said Bhaskar.

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