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Wissam Mattout

The Cloud MENA Conference 2016 Article

By Mohammed Owais, CTO at Cazar

I had the good fortune of being invited to attend the Cloud Mena conference 2016 at the Conrad Hotel Dubai last week. This was mostly thanks to the fortuitous combination of an introduction by my good friend, Omid Mahboubi (himself a speaker and chairperson at the conference) to the organizers and a last-minute drop-out of one of the panelists. I was graciously invited to fill that space and I agreed.

It was a really good experience overall. I got to meet several speakers and most of them had very interesting things to say. The audience, though, seemed to be lagging far behind the speakers. It constantly surprises me how little people know about the cloud. This was a conference about the cloud itself and people certainly knew something about how it worked, but most people I spoke to showed little understanding of the operational aspects – what it meant to run a business in the cloud. There seemed to be several myths surrounding the topic and the speakers did a good job of dispelling some of them.

Safdar Zaman

Safdar Zaman

There is definitely a need for more of these conferences and, perhaps, smaller meetups where people can discuss their concerns one-to-one with experts.

“It constantly surprises me how little people know about the cloud.”

The opening remarks by the organizer

The first day started about an hour late and continued to lag for the rest of the day. This was not the organizers’ fault as people in the Middle East tend to be very relaxed when it comes to timings. I can imagine the dilemma that the organizers face every time: do we start on time with half the chairs empty or do we wait and send out a message that tardiness is acceptable (not to mention annoying those who did turn up on time)?

Melina Diamantopoulou, who was the chief organizer of the conference, did something very interesting as part of the opening speech: she reminded us that a conference is a great networking opportunity and gave us three minutes to introduce ourselves to two other people! A neat way to break the ice and start talking.

Awad (Adnoc), Azzam (Wysada), Abid Butt and Suraj (Zomato)

Awad (Adnoc), Azzam (Wysada), Abid Butt and Suraj (Zomato)

AWS vs Azure

Both AWS and Azure delivered very powerful sessions on the first morning. It was interesting to see how much the two sessions had in common. They started with explaining the basics and helping people understand IaaS before moving on to PaaS and then to more complex scenarios. Both highlighted their geographic breadth and the number of large enterprises and technology companies running critical operations with them.

It also helped that Nuri (of Microsoft) and Victor (of AWS) are both excellent speakers backed up by great slide decks.

The grumpy CISOs

It was rather ironic that right after these brilliant sessions by Azure and AWS, we had a panel discussion about optimizing security that quickly descended into a scaremongering session about data in the cloud. A bunch of stern-faced CISOs took to stage and started recounting every possible way in which you could be compromised.

While we all appreciate the need for security, I think the overall tone of the session was a bit negative and only served to dissuade many people from the audience from considering the cloud options seriously.

Awad (Adnoc), Azzam (Wysada), Abid Butt and Suraj (Zomato)

Awad (Adnoc), Azzam (Wysada), Abid Butt and Suraj (Zomato)

Innovate or Die

This was a very entertaining panel discussion where Wissam Mattout (of Nextcare) notably made some great points about fostering innovation. The standout, however, was Dr. Dhrupad Mathur (of S.P. Jain School of Management) – he articulated some great examples of disruption that put the discussion in context.

Vendor compliance

This one looked like it was going to be a rather dull session, but turned out to be a very refreshing and frank discussion. Full marks to Georges de Moura (of Etihad Airways) who, despite the absence of his co-panelist, managed to do justice to a very complex topic. Top marks to him for also keeping the discussion very balanced on both the vendor and the customer side – one would think that he would be biased towards the customer, but he was very fair to both sides.

The charming chairperson, Michael Mudd, who had so far been content with just asking questions, jumped into the debate himself and gave some great examples from his countless years of experience. Even better, he coolly shut down a slightly snide member of the audience who was asking odd questions about certification with the following line: “Yes, the ISO standard in question – I sit on the committee that defined the standard”. BOOM!

“Why is there no such thing as the perfect cloud provider? Because everybody has such vastly differing motivations for investing in the cloud.” 

AWSome day

The second day saw a drop attendance in the main conference, mostly because the audience was split between the conference and the parallel track being run by AWS. The AWS sessions attracted quite an audience and it was encouraging to see a lot of young, hip and techno-savvy people at the event, a far cry from the middle-aged suits next door!

Careem had a very interesting session at the AWSome track and people got so excited that most of the questions after the session had nothing to do with their use of AWS! It was great to see Karl (CEO of Careem) handling the questions with aplomb.

Speed Networking

Speed Networking

My panel discussion

I was speaking at a panel discussion on the morning of the second day. It was really interesting because one of the other panel members, Krishna (of Qatar National Library) had diametrically opposing views from mine of how to use the cloud. Both of us wanted to do great things with the cloud but in very different ways. For example, being a SaaS operator, we wanted to recycle space as quickly as possible, whereas she wanted to retain data for ever (that’s what libraries do!). That was a fantastic juxtaposition and we all enjoyed the discussion.

The session also gave me deep insight into one of the fundamental questions of our panel: why is there no such thing as the perfect cloud provider? Because everybody has such vastly differing motivations for investing in the cloud.

I also talked about some of the more innovative ideas that we (at Cazar) are turning into reality with the help of the cloud; ideas that would not have been possible to implement just 10 years ago. A lot of people came up to me after the talk and said they really enjoyed that part of the discussion.

Registration is now open for Cloud & DevOps World 2016, taking place June 21-22, 2016, at Olympia in London.

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