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Virtualisation in the Middle East has gone beyond a shoddy virtual private network (VPN) installed on a desktop to more sophisticated cloud-based technologies that are enabling a more mobile, more agile workforce.
Spurred on by the increasing digitisation of business and the rise in bring your own device (BYOD), enterprises are investing in more technologies that take their work away from physical infrastructure to virtual networks and cloud computing.
According to Johnny Karam, Citrix regional vice-president for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, virtualisation helps “rethink the way you do business with the concept of mobile”.
“It is not about working from home – this is a perk,” he said. “What’s really important is it helps you become more competitive and serve customers better.”
Research from Gartner revealed that IT spending across the Middle East is expected to reach $212.9bn in 2016, a 3.7% increase since 2015. More than half of this is on communication services and devices, while datacentre systems and IT services account for the rest of overall spend. Public cloud computing services is expected to grow by more than 18% in 2016 to reach $862m.
Research from IDC suggests about 68% of CIOs in the region have adopted server virtualisation within their organisation.
“Enterprises in the region are truly ready for the next level of virtualisation adoption,” said IDC Middle East and Africa's research manager of enterprise infrastructure, Swapna Subramani. “Virtualisation initiatives are quickly being expanded.”
It is mainly “workplace virtualisation [that] is seeing rapid traction in the region”, she added. More than 25% of CIOs are expected to adopt client virtualisation by the end of 2016, 6% more than 2015.
This growth is being driven largely by the governments in the region, which are keen to become more efficient and diversify their economies away from oil. Outside the public sector, it is the oil and gas, banking, telecoms and retail enterprises, and their rising demand for applications, that is pushing the growth of virtualisation.
“There has been nice progress for the past five years,” said Karam. “It’s becoming a fact of life to the users and to IT decision-makers that cloud computing and mobile in our organisations is here to stay.”
Geographically, much of this growth is coming from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Citrix is one company that has identified the opportunities and is expanding its presence in these countries.
The appeal of virtualisation technology for many firms is the reduction in property costs where rent can be especially high. It also enables businesses to hire the best talent from around the world.
Dubai-based e-commerce company JadoPado set up its first international operation in October 2014 in Sri Lanka. This office now employs more than 25 people.
“Pretty much everything that we do sits in the cloud and has for a number of years,” said JadoPado chief executive Omar Kassim. “This includes accounting, collaborative editing, task management, and the one that we can’t live without: [group messaging app] Slack.”
The decision to adopt virtualisation was fuelled primarily by cost-saving, but “more recently it’s become about being able to give our employees more flexibility with their lives and finding a better work balance”, said Kassim.
Read more about virtualisation in the Middle East
- More and more IT leaders in the Middle East are considering adopting virtual desktop infrastructures, but user cases are needed to speed things up
- A fixation on datacentre ownership and mistrust of third-party services could impede enterprise IT in the Middle East
- Saudi Arabia could warm to cloud computing, so long as regulation and connectivity keep pace
It is a work ethic that resonates with the millennial generation. Desktop virtualisation and the ability to work from anywhere on a preferred device puts the emphasis on the quality of work, rather than the hours spent at the desk. It also caters to people’s most productive periods, where they can do their work when it suits them the most.
“You’re judged purely on your work and nothing else. It can eliminate a lot of biases that tend to creep into the workplace,” said Kassim.
But for many, face-to-face communication is still essential. While there are many video conferencing services available, and an opportunity for virtual reality to provide a more immersive and realistic experience, communicating with people from all around the world in different time zones can still be a struggle.
For the majority, however, the main drawback and concern of virtualisation is security and privacy. Employee devices need to be secured by the company, which can be time-consuming and still puts data at risk, since human error is the most common cause of privacy failures.
Stringent laws in the Middle East, and particularly in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, stipulate that data does not leave servers in the country. So if a service provider does not have datacentres within the country’s borders, they will be restricted in their offerings.
To tackle the majority of security and privacy concerns, some have opted to create their own private cloud and store everything in-house, an expensive solution to the problem.
Some companies have opted to virtualise only small aspects of their day-to-day activities as a means to increase efficiency but retain sensitive data within their own networks.
Warsha Joshi, Platinum VA
UAE-based Platinum VA, which launched in March 2010, offers businesses virtual assistance to take over administrative tasks. Its services include email management, invoice recording and agenda planning.
“We handle clients’ routine tasks, leaving them more time to focus on achieving goals and work on essentials that require their expertise,” said Platinum VA managing director Warsha Joshi. “Smart virtual solutions give businesses the freedom to pay only for what they need and avoid hassle with hiring additional full-time staff, buying additional software or investing in training.”
It is this level of efficiency and flexibility that will attract more enterprise to virtualisation, but there is still space to grow. Lack of skills plights the region and there is still a need to improve education and understanding where virtualisation and mobility are concerned.
“It took a great deal of client education in the initial years to show that technology has advanced enough for services like these to work,” said Joshi. “Over the years people are becoming more technologically savvy and the mindset is certainly shifting to being more open towards the concept.”