Zain Saudi joins forces with Alibaba to launch cloud network in the kingdom

Chinese tech giant’s subsidiary Whale Cloud will build services over the next three years

Zain Saudi will roll-out a 5G network in 26 cities in the kingdom by the end of 2019. Salah Malkawi for The National
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Zain Saudi Arabia has tied up with Whale Cloud, a subsidiary of Chinese tech company Alibaba Cloud, to offer cloud computing solutions in the kingdom.

Under a three-year agreement, Whale Cloud will help the teleco — a unit of Kuwait telecoms operator Zain Group — to deploy, operate and maintain a public cloud platform in Saudi Arabia, the companies said in a joint statement.

“Zain will launch public cloud services in Saudi Arabia … enriching our service offerings and expanding our market landscape,” said Saad Al Sadhan, chief business and wholesale officer at Zain Saudi Arabia.

A growing number of enterprises are now embracing cloud services, with the public cloud services market in the Middle East and North Africa projected to grow to $1.9 billion (Dh7.97bn) by 2020, double the size it was in 2016, according to data from researcher Statista.

Moving to a cloud system hosted by a specialist company can be cheaper for businesses than building their own infrastructure of servers, hardware and security networks.

According to the agreement, Whale Cloud will deliver a flexible and scalable public cloud platform to Zain Saudi. It will also incorporate artificial intelligence solutions to help the telecoms operator roll-out a 5G network in the country.

Zain Saudi has already built the first phase of its 5G initiative — a network of 2,000 towers that covers more than 20 cities in the kingdom. This will be expanded to 2,600 towers covering 26 cities by the end of 2019, said the operator.

The company swung to a second-quarter net profit of 130 million Saudi riyals (Dh127.29m)  versus a loss of 38m riyals a year ago. Net revenue for the quarter rose 11 per cent to 2.01bn riyals, Zain Saudi said in a filing to Tadawul in July.

Alibaba Cloud, the computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, is already offering its services in the region from its Dubai data centre, which opened in November 2016. Other big cloud operators in the region include Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Amazon Web Services.

“This partnership will strengthen Zain’s capabilities in cloud-based services and help it to provide differentiated services to its customers,” said Bao Zhongjun, chief executive of Whale Cloud.