Telecoms & IT

Cloud Tech

Abu Dhabi, as the region’s smartest city, is investing in cloud computing to speed up the Emirate’s digitalization journey.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai were jointly ranked as the smartest cities in the Middle East and North Africa for the second year in a row, according to the Smart City Index 2021. This will not come as a surprise to anyone. Both cities have been using innovative ICT-powered solutions for years to make life easier for their residents. The role of IT is not limited to citizen-to-government interactions; it also plays a critical role in the process of political decision-making. The Statistics Center Abu Dhabi (SCAD), for example, has a partnership deal with a major cloud computing service provider to use AI solutions in gathering statistics in the form of big data across the Emirate—statistics and figures that will be form the basis of many important decisions in the near future.

Running a smart city, however, relies on a robust and well-maintained ICT infrastructure. The UAE has had this for a long time. Abu Dhabi enjoys one of the finest telecoms infrastructures in the region that is continuously growing. A 2019 forecast by the US Department of Commerce predicted that the largest growth opportunities will be in software and telecommunications between 2019 and 2023. Now, in 2023, we know that the forecast has indeed come to pass. Even the unpredicted disruption caused by the pandemic did not slow down the sector’s growth in 2020-2021. The Emirati ICT market, which was valued at roughly USD52 billion in 2021, grew to over USD60 billion by the end of 1Q2023, indicating an annual growth rate of 8% that will likely continue until 2025.

Cloud computing is one of the fastest-growing segments of the country’s ICT market. Various applications of cloud technology are helping with governance, urban management, and bureaucracy in cities such as Abu Dhabi, which is further stimulating the growth of the sector. The Zayed Smart City Project of Abu Dhabi was perhaps the most ambitious smart city initiative of its time in the region, which created a lot of momentum in AI, cloud computing, and IoT. The five-year initiative was launched in 2018 by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities. “It is a pioneering project for managing the infrastructure by using the Information Technology and the Internet of Things,” said the city’s municipality at the time per Gulf News, promising that all services of Abu Dhabi City Municipality would go digital by the end of the Zayed Smart City Project.

To continue its digital journey in the mid-2020s, Abu Dhabi has been investing in cloud technologies since, along with high-speed connectivity, cloud services form the backbone of digitalization. Cloud computing is roughly defined as the on-demand storage, processing, and delivery of information. This way, various devices connected to the platform will run more smoothly while loss of information will be, theoretically, nonexistent.

International companies active in the country report a high level of interest in cloud computing. “We have already built the first cloud region in Abu Dhabi, the first ever in the Middle East region. We have managed to get over 50 enterprises and government customers into this cloud. Only in 2022, we managed to launch 15 new innovative services into our clouds,” said Alaa Elshimy, Managing Director of Huawei Middle East to TBY.

Another consideration, especially when cloud computing is used for running a smart city or an even smart business, is safety. The cloud infrastructure used to support the digitalization of government, urban services, and critical sectors of the economy must be highly protected. Over 55% of Emirati business leaders who are already using cloud services say that they are worried about the associated risks, according to a survey by Veritas Technologies.

As such, the UAE and its capital Abu Dhabi have been investing generously in cloud technologies to foster the secure digitalization of the nation. G42, a UAE-based tech company specializing in cloud computing and AI, has launched a USD10-billion expansion fund in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Growth Fund (ADG). The fund will function as a private equity investor, selectively focusing on “computing and communications technologies, intelligent mobility, clean tech and renewables, digital infrastructures, fintech, healthcare and life sciences,” according to Hayat Biotech. Even before such financial supports were available, public and private Emirati institutions were ahead of the region in the adoption of cloud computing.

In the coming weeks and months, government spending will be a major stimulus for growth in cloud technologies. “We take our direction and strategy considerably from the government because we focus on serving in, along with large enterprises. When the government moves to spend more on smart cities, it is our cue to invest likewise in building related capabilities,” says Ussama Dahabiyeh, CEO of Injazat—a leading Emirati developer of smart cities. As government spending on smart cities is expected to more than double by 2025, expect to witness considerable growth in services such as the cloud.