Interview: Rashid Fahad Al Naimi
Given the unique and advancing role of cloud services in the market, how has the IT industry locally adapted to meet growing demand?
RASHID FAHAD AL NAIMI: Cloud service provisions have been steadily growing in Qatar. For instance, at MEEZA between 2013 and 2014, we doubled the number of seats on our cloud. We now have over 10,000 seats on the cloud, and that number continues to grow daily. We have reached over 200 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) locally and succeeded in convincing large clients such as Commercial Bank that we can protect their data better than they could.
In 2013 we conducted a MENA-wide study to identify opportunities to invest in cloud services regionally. Tentatively we are looking at Saudi Arabia given the amount of large industries locally and an SME sector that overall is quite self-contained. The UAE and Turkey were also identified as markets with significant potential for cloud service investments.
The cloud is extremely important for SMEs as they do not have the financing capabilities to invest in their IT infrastructure, given the large amount of capital required for such ventures. Therefore, it suits them better to allocate operational expenses in order to rent cloud services from IT providers who can manage all of their IT services for them.
There is a lot of scepticism regarding how safe cloud services are. How can potential users here in Qatar be assured that their data is safe?
AL NAIMI: This is not an easy job, and the cultural perception of cloud services in the MENA region is the first issue to address. When we started cloud services in 2008, there was little to no understanding of what this service entailed locally in comparison to Europe or the US. Many people in the MENA region had not heard about the private cloud, let alone the public cloud, and the perception was that in order to be secure they had to invest in their own IT and security infrastructure. In Qatar, the main change came about once the oil and gas industry came onboard. Given the capital in this industry, companies can afford to invest in their IT infrastructure so the challenge was to convince them of the added value. It is easier for hackers to enter from a client angle as opposed to hacking an IT service provider given our technology and the experts employed to protect data. This is our added value.
Considering the increased need for cybersecurity, what is being done within the state to counter the potential threats of cybercrime?
AL NAIMI: MEEZA launched its pioneering security operations centre, where we provide advanced services for cybersecurity to protect against a range of advanced persistent threats against entities. There has also been a huge advance in raising awareness of cyber-security in the market – spearheaded by Hessa Al Jaber, the Minister of ICT, with whom we are working. We are pioneering efforts and created the GCC Digital Security Forum to continue to raise awareness in the market. The government is very seriously establishing rules and regulations for the sector, treating cybercrime like any other crime. MEEZA also recently signed the Government Data Centre Deal with the Ministry of ICT.
What are the advantages of localised infrastructure, and what does MEEZA offer clients?
AL NAIMI: Firstly, if you can offer the same standard of security locally then there is no need to go outside the country. Secondly, if there are any issues then clients can impose their requirements in the local market, which they would not be able to do in data centres in the US or Europe. Finally, we have regulations that do not permit certain industries to keep their data abroad, such as the banking and finance sector.
MEEZA has one of only four data centres in the world that have platinum LEED certification. In total we have three data centres covering 4000 sq metres. Two are full, so we are looking to expand and have 1000 sq metres of land next to our current sites to develop.
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