With the arrival of cloud data centres in the Middle East and Africa, SaaS vendors like Information Dynamics have struggled to find the right hyperscale platforms to host their applications. Once part of the diversified Sharaf Group in UAE, now spun off as a profit centre with multiple customers, Information Dynamics has essentially tried all the hyperscale cloud providers — a long journey to come up with the best fit.
In the past, building software applications was all about domain expertise, application code, and user interface. Information Dynamics’ own software development has been built on a 25-year relationship with Oracle.
“Our journey began with Oracle forms. Anything that is manufactured out from the factory till delivery into the end customer’s hand, we have a solution, and almost all of them are developed using Oracle platform,” explains Soundarrajan Sariyakutty, Vice President, Technology Services and Delivery, at Information Dynamics.
With the arrival of the cloud, though, an additional, crucial dimension has been added for software development and deployment — the cloud application hosting platform.
It might seem logical, given its software development history, that once Oracle started building cloud data centres globally, Information Dynamics would choose the company as its hyperscale hosting provider. But the road to finding the most suitable hyperscale cloud provider for its applications took twists and turns as cloud infrastructure in the Middle East evolved. “We have tried in almost every cloud platform,” Sariyakutty says.
Information Dynamics’ cloud journey was affected by the scope of its operations and the manner in which its customers adopted cloud technology. The company operates across the Middle East and Africa and has an installed base of 1,500 customers. It has presence in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kenya, and South Africa. Most of its business applications have been built for the shipping and logistics industry verticals. It has development centres in India and Egypt.
The evolution of the company’s cloud business offers insights into how the Middle East SaaS market is developing and what enterprise tech leaders expect from their software providers.
Cloud options call for testing
In 2014-15, Information Dynamics began to transform its business applications into pure-play hosted cloud solutions. The company’s initial approach was to test its application suite on all the hyperscale cloud platforms available across Middle East and Africa.
This was essential because customers were exercising their choice to select the hyperscale platform that they believed met their expectations, and not necessarily what suited Information Dynamics.
On the flip side, these early adopters of cloud computing did not receive significant benefits from their early progression into the cloud. This was due to the time-consuming coordination between the three technology parties involved in the cloud application hosting. This typically included the customer’s IT team, the hosting vendor for the cloud application, and the services team from Information Dynamics. “We continued implementing on the customer’s own cloud infrastructure, and it needed a lot of coordination,” reflects Sariyakutty.
There were other hurdles. Customers were moving between multiple hyperscale cloud hosting platforms. Efforts by Information Dynamics to standardize pricing were impacted by this back and forth.
SaaS model offers bundled services
Information Dynamics’ strategy towards the cloud continued to evolve and took the form of bundled service offerings, including applications, software support and services, and hosting support and services.
“This made it easy to deploy both for us and the customer and the next logical step was to move towards software as a service, SaaS model,” says Sariyakutty.
The company had to be price competitive. Along with the various cloud offerings that Information Dynamics had to offer, its customers were adding and integrating other business applications on top of various public cloud providers’ platforms.
Customers want to see TCO
Customers expected Information Dynamics to present a total cost of ownership for their applications, wherever they were hosted. Customers also expected to pay for cloud solutions as an operating expense, through a pay-as-you-go model, and discontinue the traditional software application, capital expenditure purchase.
To ensure that customers could receive the most competitive, total cost of ownership for its SaaS offerings, Information Dynamics hosted its cloud applications on multiple hyperscale cloud hosting platforms including AWS, Microsoft Azure, Alibaba, Google, amongst others.
After testing its SaaS cloud solutions on these hyperscale hosting platforms, Information Dynamics began to dominantly use AWS, hosting its SaaS suite on AWS Bahrain facing the Middle East, AWS Frankfurt facing Africa, and AWS India facing the Indian sub-continent.
Along the way, Information Dynamics tried to balance the needs of its customers and its own business interests. “We put together what benefits the most to us as well as our customers,” Sariyakutty says.
Oracle offers new data centre options
The game changer for Information Dynamics, though, happened with the opening of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure data centres in the Middle East. Oracle announced its data centre region in Saudi Arabia in July 2020 and in UAE in October 2020. This created a new opportunity for Information Dynamics to build a scalable and price-competitive offering.
Independent software vendors like Information Dynamics can take different approaches when adopting Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, according to Ahmed Adly, senior director for Oracle Technology Solutions and Cloud Engineering, Middle East Africa.
“They either offer their applications as SaaS running on top of Oracle PaaS and IaaS. Or they can enroll their application in the Oracle Cloud marketplace, which is a curated catalog of click-to-deploy independent software vendor solutions available to be deployed on customer tenancies,” he says.
Turning to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, Information Dynamics now has only one vendor as its point of contact for setting up customer hosting and any type of operational remediation. The vendor for its SaaS cloud application platform and the hyperscale cloud hosting platform are now one and the same.
“Any ticket or query raised flows within the Oracle support system, which in turn reduces the iterations between the different technology stakeholders and the technical resources,” Sariyakutty points out.
Information Dynamics now has a single point of contact to resolve issues related to the middleware, database, operating system on the application side, and for any cloud component on the hosting platform side. This implies that for any service or support response, fewer tickets are likely to be issued, since there is only one vendor involved.
Service orchestration key to cloud efficiencies
“If there is any debugging to be done on application latency, the correlation between the disk I/O issue and the database response is pretty well identified and responded to by the Oracle team,” he continues.
This helps to reduce the delivery time and service for Information Dynamics’ customers. Moreover, hyperscale cloud platforms like AWS charge the hosted customer for support requests or ticket issued, according to Sariyakutty.
Oracle Cloud Infrastructure does not charge its independent software vendors like Information Dynamics for tickets issued on its platform within its cloud suite application platform.
“Orchestration of updates and patches is handled as part of the overall enterprise service level agreement that Oracle provides to independent software vendors to ensure they benefit from availability, manageability, and performance,” explains Oracle’s Adly, “This assures customers that the independent software vendor applications are in operation with Oracle’s commitments to uptime and connectivity.”
By hosting on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and as an independent software vendor for Oracle, Information Dynamics gains from volume rebate on subscription licenses it is able to sell out through the Oracle platform. This extends across all types of services whether software applications, computing systems, or the hosting platform.
“As we started aggregating, there is a flat price benefit that we get as a middleman. The price has started dropping, which can benefit both us and the customer,” points out Sariyakutty. On the flip side, he says, licensing on other hyperscale hosting platforms are add-ons to the same initial flat price charged to Information Dynamics by Oracle.
Sariyakutty estimates that in an apples-to-apples comparison, Information Dynamics’ cloud suite is 35% cheaper on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure than on other hyperscale platforms. “This gives us a better edge to play with and more winning chances with customers.”
Information Dynamics also benefits from cost predictability. Oracle’s independent software vendor programme offers a simple rate structure that eliminates cost surprises associated with hard-to-estimate usage elements like data egress and storage performance. “Running workloads in the cloud can make it difficult to accurately forecast cost over time,” says Oracle’s Adly.
Information Dynamics has now migrated various parts of its cloud suite from AWS into Oracle Cloud Infrastructure in 2020, while the rest will continue in 2021.
“Today, we are aligned with our customer’s strategy of moving to the cloud as well as which platform to migrate to,” reflects Sariyakutty.