Amazon Web Services (AWS), the arm of the tech giant that provides on-demand cloud computing, is finally eyeing the Middle East market and plans to expand its services through more offices and partners.
By Dina Al Wakeel
AWS held its first industry conference in Dubai in May to help participants develop and hone the skills to design, deploy, and operate cloud infrastructure and applications.
With 33 percent of the global cloud infrastructure market, AWS is the largest provider of on-demand cloud computing. It has been active in the region for many years, but since 2017 the company accelerated its investments, including offices in Dubai and Manama to serve its rapidly growing customer base.
Zubin Chagpar, who’s responsible for AWS’ regional public sector business, told Venture in the summit the cloud allows businesses, governments and even smaller startups to create new business models and solutions for their customers.
Do you think that today companies in the region are more aware of the cloud’s importance?
I do believe that customers, including companies and governments, do see the value. At the end of the day a company is beholding to their customers and their shareholders and they need to create value. Technologies are a big part of that and if they want to leverage the latest technologies they see that AWS cloud is probably the best way to get access to that and a very quick manner that they can experiment and test. So I believe they are aware. However we are doing things to make sure that customers across the region have the latest knowledge, including events like the AWS Summit where we are today. We have technology sessions and a lot of online resources including webinars. We have a team that works with our customers and partners. We have partners that can work with our customers on solution integration, so they can migrate to the cloud. We also have specialist partners that can help them around big data or Artificial Intelligence. So we have a great list of partners and we will continue to build them out across the region so that they can better service our joint customers.
You have established some offices in the region in 2017. What do your activities in Jordan cover and are you planning to open an office in the Kingdom as well?
We listen to our customers to decide where we need to put more resources on the ground. But by leveraging that partner network too we are able to service Jordan and help them with their cloud migration and cloud solutions as well. An area that we are very keen on is education and that is where we are working with two universities in the Kingdom. We work with them on programs including AWS educate which allows students to start using cloud today so that they can start building solutions and be ready to join the workforce. Those are our contributions today but we want to continue to grow and continue to work with countries like Jordan.
Do you think that cloud is an investment priority for the Twenty-First Century companies?
I think technology and particularly cloud should be a conversation happening at all levels of the organization, especially the board. It’s a strategic decision to start leveraging cloud because it gives that flexibility and that ability to create new and align with what customers are looking to do today. The answer is that they absolutely should be investing time, but the great thing about the AWS cloud is that you don’t have to invest a lot of resources, you can create a cloud excellence team internally to focus on what they can try on the cloud today, gather results and then show that to the management team. And once that trust is earned they can start making that overall cloud strategy and move even quicker leveraging the cloud.
What are some of the most in-demand services today?
We have over 100 services that are built today and it’s growing based on people’s needs. The foundation services, including storage, compute and data basis, are usually where a customer would start, it’s sort of the traditional IT. But the ones that are actually taking off right now include the Redshift, which is a fully managed data warehouse service that allows customers to put all their unstructured data in there to find new services or business models that they can create for their customers. Another one that’s exciting is Lambda, which is serverless computing. If a company gets a request from a customer requiring to resize a photo and create a thumbnail for it, instead of keeping a computer and storage power running I can just do a quick compute ping on that, do the work that I need to do and then shut off the services on a transactional bases.
With security becoming a major issue for companies trying to protect their data, how can AWS guarantee its customers the utmost security?
In terms of cloud technology, cloud security is a primary focus for us. What happens with our customers is that they have access to cloud technology that’s been vetted and that has many years of experience behind it from Amazon. If you’re a small startup, a big enterprise or a government, you have access to that same level of cloud security today. So that is available to all our customers and it’s our main focus.
Also our customers have control over their data, which is very important. It’s up to them to control how they can use the data; they can decide to keep it in a data center region, they can move it, encrypt it, and audit it, and we encourage them to do a lot of those activities and even provide guidance on that.
How does AWS help startups and entrepreneurship in particular?
It’s a very important segment for the region. If the region is going to continue to build solutions and business models, a lot of that is going to be driven by startups. So our contribution is to provide any incubator, accelerator or VC that reaches out to us—sometimes we reach out to them as well—with access to our AWS activate program. Activate provides at least three to four benefits; one is access to credit which we hear about quite often; they need credit to try to experiment in the cloud. But it is important that the startup realizes this credit is not to fund them but to help them experiment to create that solution. We provide them with training as well, which is online. They also have access to our marketplace, where they can use other solutions that can help them scale quickly so they don’t have to reinvent and they can focus on their solution for the customer instead. Furthermore, they have access to our solution architects online.
Last year we also announced that even if you’re not funded yet you can still sign up for a builder program and though you get a smaller amount of credit, it will be enough for you to get started until you get that funding or until you get into one of those accelerators. Any startup that is looking to create new is eligible for these programs.
What are the key areas that you are particularly focusing on in the region?
The region is super exciting in terms of embracing cloud technology, which we’ve seen everywhere. Like any new region we have to work with the government, the enterprises, the startups and individuals to build up that ecosystem. So one area is partners; we continue to invest in our partners especially local partners to make sure that they can deliver on what the customer is asking for. Another is skills and development, which is a key area. We mentioned the schools, we need more of the local population to continue to embrace the new technologies because this is where the jobs will be created from, especially in countries like Jordan where you have high youth population. There is also helping to develop startups to let them grow quickly and to move on to something new quickly if it doesn’t work. These are all opportunities that we are focusing on right now to develop the overall ecosystem.