Cloud computing is being hampered in the UAE because of security fears over a lack of local service providers, experts say.
But that is about to change, as Etisalat plans to roll out cloud services by the end of this year.
Cloud is a system where information is stored in a remote server and can be shared among different devices.
Its integration into the country's business sector was a central topic of discussion yesterday at a conference organised by Etisalat BT Innovation Centre at Abu Dhabi's Khalifa University (KU).
Chris Record, leader of cloud sales at IBM Middle East in Dubai, said the lack of a local provider meant the technology was not developing because it's unsafe to store information overseas.
"The big thing here is the data - you can't run secure data [on servers] outside the country," Mr Record said. "You have to keep it here and use local providers."
Robert Griffin, head of security at the Swiss cloud-computing firm EMC, said the biggest problem with cloud was that the service providers might not be able to protect important data.
"This is a new area that requires the ability to deal with new problems, so there's a huge amount that has to be done," Mr Griffin said.
He said there was "no way to achieve absolute security" because of infiltration by hackers and other countries "who are actively trying to penetrate and extract information".
"These issues are why we're not moving to the next level," he said.
Mr Record said other barriers in the UAE included a lack of knowledge and understanding of cloud services.
He quoted a recent survey by IBM that showed only 5 per cent of people in the Middle East have a solid understanding of the concept, compared with 10 per cent in Europe.
In a business sense, cloud computing is a service where computer hardware and software are provided by an outsourced company over a network.
"Cloud is simply a new way of delivering a service; the technology is the same," Mr Record said.
The UAE is in the beginning phase of the "race to be first", which means the market is open for entrepreneurs to set up businesses as providers, he said.
Etisalat's senior vice president of information and communication technology (ICT), Abdulla Hashim, revealed that the telecoms company is in the process of building the cloud infrastructure in its data centre and will be focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises.
"This is a good opportunity for those people who don't have the IT resources and staff; they will get everything in a box - all the applications required to run businesses," Mr Hashim said.
Neil Lock, the IT services programme director at British Telecommunications, said the IT industry focused too much on hardware and infrastructure, which students graduating from universities "don't care about".
"They care about where they can get service provided, and if they don't like it they go somewhere else," Mr Lock said.
Dr Mohammed Al Mualla, senior vice president for research and development at KU, said cloud computing was "the hot topic in the ICT sector in the UAE and one of the key areas we want to develop".