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STEERING THE CLOUD

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Updated : March 18, 2015 00:01  am,
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img54Cloud adoption is getting a move on as more organizations understand the benefits of leveraging the benefits of cloud computing

Cloud services adoption may have just moved up a notch in the region over the past year. According to a study commissioned by EMC and conducted by Dun & Bradstreet for the UAE, 95% of enterprises surveyed have already implemented or plan to implement a cloud computing model. Further, 49% of enterprises stated to have currently implemented a private cloud model and 35% consider their environment to be a public cloud. Further, 23% of respondents stated they have plans to implement an Advanced Hybrid Cloud model. These are impressive numbers and just goes to show that cloud computing adoption is indeed gaining speed.

James Spearman, Principle Cloud Consultant & Head of Data Centre Infrastructure, Dimension Data  that offers multiple cloud solutions on premise, in the public cloud or in a hybrid model says, “We’re seeing a general acceleration in the discussions around cloud services with most CIO’s either having a cloud strategy in place or looking for us to assist in determining their strategy in order to ensure that they start to realise the benefits cloud may bring and deliver against the requests business is now demanding.  Clearly each area of the business has different requirements so the infrastructure and applications teams have different cloud service requirements; this has brought about different cloud uptake levels within areas of the business.”

For all obvious reasons like operational efficiencies and scalability plus access to infrastructure and solutions at optimized costs, there is an increased demand for private cloud services.

Shams Hasan, Enterprise Product Manager, Middle East at Dell Middle east says that a discussion about the Cloud needs a separation of the public cloud from the private cloud and believes the latter will see significant growth.

He adds, “We will see increased momentum in Private Cloud projects in 2015 as more and more organizations leverage benefits that range from cost-saving to security. Another key benefit, agility, will be a highlight for private cloud’s continued success in 2015. The rise of converged infrastructure technologies and the ability to remove infrastructure modules as needed should make private clouds an even more agile and attractive option for CIOs looking to reap the other benefits of private clouds.  Cloud computing offers tremendous untapped opportunities for MEA enterprises looking to develop agility and up-to-the-times business practices.”

While private clouds are seeing significant traction, Gartner predicts that public cloud services in the MENA region will grow at 17.1 percent in 2015 to total $851 million with Software as a service (SaaS), estimated to be the largest segment at $205.7 million.

John adds, “SaaS and PaaS discussions are a little more mature than the infrastructure discussions with business putting pressure on IT to deliver against the IaaS discussions.  Dimension Data believes there will be a continued push into cloud based solutions with more and more enterprises starting to explore Cloud solutions for non-critical workloads or alternative consumptions methods for DR.  Forward thinking vendors are now starting to offer their key products in cloud based consumption models that show great appeal to the business.”

The momentum is also being helped along by the fact that CIOs are noticing their peers moving ahead with implementation. Businesses in the region may have been all along circumspect about security issues related to cloud but there is a growing level of confidence with the availability of mature product offerings.

Rajesh Abraham, Director, Product Development, eHosting DataFort that offers both Hosted Private Cloud and Public Cloud options for businesses says, “The hype around cloud services is over and it is becoming a reality. The apprehensions around challenges of cloud adoption have reduced significantly and enterprises are now ready to leverage the advantages of cloud services. Cloud adoption challenges are slowly reducing as vendor offerings become more mature and organizations start noticing their industry peers implementing cloud services.”

That is not to say that all bottlenecks on the way ahead have been cleared. Several challenges confront a growing adoption of cloud services but they may even be non-technical in nature.

“Even though the cloud computing has moved into the mainstream of IT, but there are significant number of non-IT challenges exist, number of non-technical issues, mostly revolving around people, processes, security challenges, contractual agreements and change management issues. These issues or challenges are usually harder to solve than technology problems. The cloud is the foreseeable future for IT but it will exist in many different forms and will evolve significantly over the next few years in UAE,” says Rashid Al Shamsi, Chairman of ixtel, a next generation IT services provider that provides Enterprise Cloud Services.

Non-technology issues can slow down public cloud adoption even as more customers go in for private cloud infrastructure. Security will always be a paramount issue in the region.

Shams says, “As the region recoups from recent exposés in security and data privacy, Business and IT leaders and managers scrutinize cloud computing opportunities with a more prudent eye.  In the Middle East there are still three mega trends influencing cloud adoption: trust; government regulations; and technology adoption.  Some of these trends have less to do with technology and have also seen limited development the past year in the region impacting to a larger degree plans for adoption of Public Cloud services adoption.  Dell’s observation is that Middle East Customers are still wary with Public Cloud offerings, but are very interested in Private Cloud builds; Dell has had a few successful engagements with Customers with the latter.”

Private to hybrid – the cloud accelerates!

A private cloud provides a distinct and secure cloud based environment where the computing power of the virtualized infrastructure is delivered only to the specified client organization that owns the cloud. So there is greater control and privacy vis-à-vis a public cloud and it suits organizations in some of the critical sectors like Banking, Government etc to have critical workloads run in such secured environments.

Rashid says, “Current adoption of private cloud computing is a work in progress for most organizations as they continue to implement server virtualization, automation and orchestration capabilities. Private clouds will dominate the most critical functions. Many factors drive the decision over public or private cloud. Industries with the strongest adoption of private clouds are financial services, healthcare and Government services, with financial services and healthcare facing heavy regulatory and compliance issues that are exacerbated, though not impossible in the cloud.”

Shams claims that the year has seen cloud adoption move from discussions in the board room to tangible adoption but there are many more opportunities in the cloud up ahead. Technology innovations including converged infrastructure, hyper-converged infrastructure, I/O virtualization, software-defined-networking, software-defined-storage, open-networking, and density-optimized servers have significantly reduced the barriers for Private Cloud adoption.

He adds, “We are starting to see enterprises in the region take advantage of Cloud opportunities in different ways.  Larger traditional enterprises are testing Public Cloud offerings with non-mission-critical functions, temporary workloads, and administrative tasks while also implementing Private Clouds to leverage faster, more flexible, and more cost-effective ways to meet the technology needs of their organizations.  Meanwhile young digitally native startups and SMEs are taking larger opportunities in the cloud to grow their businesses rapidly.”

However, he hurries to add that with the diversity of businesses in the Middle East, there’s a variety of comfort levels with the cloud ranging from large enterprises to SMBs, and from the public-sector organizations that operate in stringent verticals such as Defense to organizations (in both private- & public- sector spaces) that enjoy less stringent demands. So for business critical data and workloads large number of organizations, in his opinion will prefer to keep it in-house, they can.

James opines that there are many organizations that have delivered Private Cloud solutions within their organizations and while they may not have been full scale deployments of cloud, should provide some key lessons moving ahead.

He comments, “In the past, these have tended to deliver against the automation and orchestration elements of cloud and have been designed to fulfil on one specific area of business – such as highly automated VDI. But nonetheless great learnings and strides have been taken by many organizations.  It is rare to find a full true cloud deployment with granulated metering or self service capabilities delivering fully back against the true cloud definition.  These early adopters have, however, learnt some great lessons around what cloud can deliver and how by embracing the true benefits of cloud in public, private and hybrid usage, will really drive the future shape of how IT will start delivering and consuming in the future.”

Hybrid clouds bring the best of the two approaches and is winning over more customer confidence. That seems to be the case with the region in terms of deployments as well. As the study conducted by Dun & Bradstreet reveals, there is a growing interest in Advanced Hybrid cloud solutions with respondents stating they have plans to implement an Advanced Hybrid Cloud model that will allow greater flexibility.

As Mohammed Amin, Senior Vice President and Regional Manager, Turkey, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Middle East, EMC Corporation said, “IT organizations are striving to transform to deliver services that support the changing needs of their customers. Today, IT must leverage private cloud because it is trusted, controlled, and reliable, and public cloud because it’s simple, low cost, and flexible. This study clearly highlights the growing interest in adopting advanced hybrid cloud models to create a perfect blend of the two worlds.”

The hybrid approach allows a business to take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness of public cloud services and at the same time makes sure that sensitive data is kept absolutely secure in the private cloud. Managing this in a seamless way without disruptions will be key.

Rashid says, “Many enterprise are opting for hybrid cloud when it wants to get the best of both worlds – private and public. For example it has a bunch of data that it doesn’t mind putting on the public cloud, and it also has some highly sensitive data that it wants to keep on-premises by using the private cloud.

However, the negative aspect when going for a hybrid cloud solution is that businesses will have to fine tune the lines of collaboration and communication between Public and Private cloud users.”

Globally, IDC predicts that almost half of the large enterprises will have deployed hybrid cloud by the end of 2017. All this clearly indicates that customers are more comfortable in adopting hybrid cloud. Enterprise customers are making sure they have a mix of strategies in place that provide them the best solutions. Several other factors including availability of public cloud services locally will have a significant role to play.

James says, “Most organizations will settle on a hybrid cloud architecture moving forward, the percentage of on/off site cloud usage will of course vary immensely based upon many factors and local availability of public cloud will be a driving factor that may shift over time.  We’re also seeing a big push from vendors to unlock the ability to transition to a Hybrid IT environment as they see this transformation happening within their customer base.  In this region, we are seeing enterprises considering how they will enable this process moving forward and often ask how IT can integrate the public cloud environment with their on premise solution to attain the efficiencies being promised by cloud.”

Security concerns always a top priority when it comes to adopting the cloud. Many customers seem to be more comfortable keeping their data in a datacenter that are local rather than have data stored in datacenters that located elsewhere.

Rashid says, “Not surprisingly, challenges relating to security and privacy continue to rank highly on the list of concerns for both IT and business executives. However, the organizations are becoming more confident in the security of cloud providers if the data remains’ in local datacenters. This does not mean that security is no longer a key issue for business. Of the possible security concerns, data loss and privacy risks are the main concerns along with legal and regulatory compliance which is often security related.”

Security concerns will never go away and shouldn’t according to James because that is an important factor of choosing your cloud supplier. Further, choosing the cloud supplier needs to be based around a more elaborate process rather than just basing the decision on where the data is going to be stored locally.

James adds, “Most global cloud suppliers have an extremely tight story around security and will normally over deliver on the security processes of traditional enterprise data center.  Understandably most local organizations are more comfortable for their data to stay on shore.  When a local cloud supplier is able to demonstrate the ability to deliver cloud services competitively to the same security level as the global cloud suppliers, then it would make sense to choose local suppliers. There is a degree of workload profiling that needs to be undertaken by enterprises to understand if there is any risk to moving some of the data out of country, many times you see enterprises making the decision around their entire data set rather than data for certain workloads.  Data location is not just security and sovereignty though, there is also a network performance and outgoing bandwidth cost based decision. A comprehensive approach to assessing the security of cloud providers will mitigate concerns and, in certain cases, illustrate that cloud providers are able to offer more comprehensive security for a company’s data.”

The ability of the cloud provider to meet the organization’s needs should be the key consideration.

Rajesh says, “Local players can provide enterprises with a local data centre and 24/7 bilingual local support. Low latency and faster access to applications is another advantage offered by local data center service providers. However, choosing a local data center provider over multinational companies and vise-versa depends upon the nature and size of the business and it does get tricky to determine the right services provider to best suit the company’s needs. So rather than basing criteria on Local or Global, we suggest working with an experienced services provider, offering customized plans to meet customers’ specific requirements.”

The journey to the cloud is an ongoing task. Companies like Dimension Data are enabling organizations

build the IT strategy around cloud, identify the necessary cloud migration projects, deliver the actual cloud capacity and assist transform the workloads to be cloud capable when required.

Eventually, a larger percentage of workloads in a typical enterprise IT infrastructure would shift to cloud but which will vary customer by customer but there will be ever growing confidence and also the conviction that cloud will enable the organization to be more agile and stay ahead. Shams believes that Cloud usage correlates with revenue growth as cloud adopters see significant benefits – which are even greater for organizations with a deeper commitment to cloud – over those that have not adopted cloud solutions.

He adds, “According to findings of the Dell Global Technology Adoption Index (GTAI): nearly every IT decision-maker surveyed said their company either uses or plans to use cloud solutions; only a mere 3 percent of respondents are not planning to leverage cloud solutions.  Exploring what drives this trend, the Dell GTAI observes: there’s a strong correlation between cloud use and company growth. Of those using cloud, 72 percent of organizations surveyed experienced 6 percent growth or more in the last three years, with just 4 percent experiencing zero or negative growth. This is in sharp contrast with companies not using cloud, where just 24 percent have growth rates of 6 percent or more, and 37 percent experienced either zero or negative growth.”

Rashid is optimistic that the typical enterprise may eventually run nearly as much as 70 percent of its infrastructure in the cloud in the next three years. While that number at the moment looks to be on the higher side, there sure is a strong case to believe that the journey to the cloud in a higher gear now.

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Press Start – The Future of Businesses Lies in Gamification

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By Jérémy Denisty, Co-founder, Imagin3 Studio, Co-author Virtual Economy

PowerPoint presentations, extensive email threads, and traditional all-hands meetings have one thing in common —they are all one-dimensional forms of communication. And, not to mention, dull.

Company briefs and strategic meetings are typically transactional for employees, offering information without encouraging ongoing engagement. There’s an unconvincing call to action at the end of the email that lingers more as an afterthought rather than words of encouragement.

Similarly, businesses often struggle to establish meaningful connections with their customers, who are eager to engage but can’t beyond a transactional relationship with their favorite brands.

As a result, some brands are turning their attention to gamification as a successful strategy to establish a two-way interaction that integrates entertaining gaming elements into the mundane model of information and commercial transactions.

Gamification is not only an avenue for customers to engage with brands in a unique and enjoyable manner but also a medium for improving internal communication, engagement, and collaboration within businesses.


How customers can interact better with brands

Gaming is one of the most successful and fastest-growing industries with a report suggesting that young Americans spend 12 hours a week gaming. For example, Roblox boasts 70.2 million active daily users who spend on average two and a half hours per day on the platform, which shows how gaming has evolved from a hobby to a way of living, connecting, and consuming.

Those new generations of customers are getting accustomed to fast-paced, increasingly engaging, and rewarding experiences, which is what they expect from the brands they consume. In our book, The Virtual Economy, we talk about the Magic Triangle and how brands must create value by focusing on building better EXPERIENCES, LOYALTY, and COMMUNITIES. This is exactly what games are about.

Enter gamification for brands.

The biggest impact of gamification for brands lies in the ability to nurture more loyal customers. Loyalty programs have historically rewarded customers transactionally, based on their referrals or a set number of purchases.

A great example of a brand leveraging gamification techniques to grow a loyal fan base is Starbucks.  Starbucks introduced a sophisticated points-based and benefits system through its Starbucks Rewards app, akin to some of the most successful Triple-A games. This digital alternative surpasses traditional loyalty cards, fostering customer loyalty and contributing significantly to the company’s revenue.

As a result of their successful loyalty program shift, Starbucks reported a $2.65 billion revenue increase, with over 25% growth in membership, and 40% of sales at US stores attributed to the membership program.

Starbucks leverages this approach to enhance customer interaction and feedback collection, offering incentives for completing surveys. This gamified strategy not only entertains users but also provides valuable insights to enhance overall business operations.

Going even further, Starbucks introduced Starbucks Odyssey in late 2022. This new layer of the loyalty program offers members the chance to participate in Starbucks “journeys”, such as watching a video on the history of the brand or trying their limited-edition Christmas drink, and rewards participants with “digital stamps”. Those stamps are either redeemable for unique benefits -one of them a trip to Costa Rica to visit a coffee farm, or tradable with other members on a marketplace. More than $200,000 of sales have occurred on the marketplace between members, with Starbucks grabbing a 7.5% royalty fee, making Starbucks Odyssey one of the first “loyalty-to-earn” programs, delivering direct benefits to members, and the brand.

This innovative approach not only enhances user engagement, loyalty, and customer experience but also serves as a creative method of collecting and utilizing data for continual improvement.

However, gamification is not only limited to increasing customer engagement and building more brand loyalty but also to improving internal operations.

Why brands are introducing gamification into their business.

Engagement in the workplace has increasingly become a challenge for brands and companies. A recent Gallup survey showed that “active disengagement” from employees has risen each year since the 2020 Covid pandemic. Only 32% of respondents felt engaged in their work, and 18% felt actively disengaged.

This lack of engagement has significant consequences for companies, whether through a lack of productivity or through increased recruitment and training costs derived from a higher employee turnover rate.

Gamification could be seen as an appropriate solution to solve this problem.

It appeals to our competitive nature and fosters deeper engagement. Gamification integrated into business practices introduces a competitive and fun aspect that motivates professionals to outperform colleagues or their competitors within their industry.

As an example, gamification can be used to create more effective employee training programs. Training programs are loaded with information that usually takes a while to be completely acquainted with. 

Companies can learn from popular Triple-A games such as Call of Duty and develop a leaderboard and badge system that encourages employees to finish modules and learn new skills that will benefit them. In other words, allow them the ability to “level up” their stats, gain XP points, and be rewarded when they complete certain classes and certifications.

Conclusion

Gamification draws heavily from the principles of Prospect Theory, a behavioral economic concept highlighting the motivational power of small incentives in situations with known probabilities of outcomes. Individuals, fundamentally motivated by the prospect of rewards, find their behaviors influenced by gamification elements, offering brands a cost-effective tool to shape consumer engagement and commitment.

Beyond Gen Z, Generation Alpha is the only generation born into the internet and gamified experiences. Growing up playing games such as Roblox and Minecraft that leverage reward systems, Generation Alpha anticipates a similar dynamic in the workplace, emphasizing gamification’s lasting impact and relevance.

With the latest technological advancements, such as VR and AR, gaining popularity in workspaces with a generally young workforce, gamification will continue to shape companies and allow customers to connect with brands at a more relatable level.

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Gaming’s Future is being Redefined by AI in 2024

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By Nauman Moghal, Business Head, GameCentric

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has undeniably claimed its spot as the buzziest of buzzwords, permeating across various industries. Unsurprisingly, the gaming realm is no exception to this AI revolution. This isn’t just a trend; it’s a massive change shaking up the gaming world in 2024. Set aside your preconceptions about gaming – AI is doing more than just making things look cool or telling stories. It’s rewriting how games work. Picture gaming as a dynamic playground where AI takes the reins, not only shaping landscapes, characters, and more but actively engaging with players. This isn’t confined to the screen; it’s a transformative shift that influences how we perceive gaming. 2024 is game-ready for a wave of innovation that will reshape the gaming experience for all audiences!

A Game-Changer for Developers

AI’s ability to spot patterns and analyse the gaming industry landscape introduces a paradigm shift in how developers approach game production. By employing reinforcement learning and pattern recognition, AI becomes a guiding force in understanding player behaviour, innovative gameplay, and adapting to the ever-changing gaming environment. This analytical prowess is not just about understanding the players but also about shaping and evolving the very essence of game creation itself.

Developers now find themselves liberated to focus on the imaginative aspects of game design, leaving the technical intricacies to AI-driven solutions that identify patterns, adjust to surroundings, and accelerate the game development cycle.

Keeping Gamers Intrigued

The dynamic duo of reinforcement learning and pattern recognition isn’t just theoretical; it’s a practical solution to the perpetual challenge of keeping gamers engaged and appropriately challenged. Rapidly assessing player behaviours allows for the adaptation and evolution of character behaviour over time, ensuring that the gaming experience remains a fluid and responsive narrative that captivates players and keeps them on the edge of their seats.

AI’s Impact on Gameplay

The revolution doesn’t stop at game creation; it extends to the very core of gameplay. AI is not just responsible for delivering realistic designs and interactive avatars; it’s the driving force behind tailoring experiences to the unique play style and skill level of each player. Whether adapting difficulty settings, personalising challenges, or creating individualised narratives, AI ensures that every gaming session is a bespoke adventure.

People and Brands Are Beneficiaries of AI’s Gaming Revolution

In this new era of AI-driven gaming, both individuals and brands stand to benefit immensely. Players are no longer passive participants; they are active contributors to the gaming narrative. Through the innovative approach of Gaming-as-a-Service (GaaS), AI becomes the backbone of a personalised gaming experience, assisting players in levelling up and enhancing their journey.

Brands have found a new playground in the virtual realm, leveraging AI not only to enhance in-game experiences but also to craft immersive marketing experiences within games. Within the strategic framework provided by gaming giants, the collaborative nature of AI-driven gaming is fostering a sense of community and engagement, amplifying the overall impact on both the gaming industry and its stakeholders.

As we stand at the cusp of this gaming revolution, propelled by the extraordinary capabilities of AI and the strategic insights of gaming giants, one thing is certain – the future of gaming is not just an evolution; it’s a revolution that transcends boundaries. The adventure has just begun, and the possibilities are as limitless as the virtual worlds AI is helping to create.

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Key Considerations for a Robust Cloud Economic Model

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Cloud Economic Model

By Rick Vanover, Senior Director Product Strategy, Veeam

Amidst the sea of economic uncertainty, one thing is emerging as a non-negotiable for tech companies: a well-defined cloud economic model. With the escalating requirement to optimise costs, controlling cloud expenditure has taken a prime position on the priority lists of CIOs. Even though the first quarter of 2023 alone saw an overwhelming expenditure of more than $63bn on cloud services, recent history would dictate that as much as 30% of this spend is unnecessary. This startling fact puts a spotlight on the need for organisations to have a cloud technology plan that matches their financial expectations. Let’s delve into the three key areas tech companies should focus on.

1 – Understand the “why”

One of the first pieces of advice I give to businesses looking to move to the cloud is arguably even more relevant when assessing or defining a cloud economic model – make sure you understand why you are doing this in the first place. That means thinking beyond just a business outcome or “cloud is a cool technology that everyone is using”. Instead, you need to equate three factors here:

The business factor – From a business perspective, you need to be clear on the objectives you intend (or originally intended) to achieve through migration. Is it for attaining greater scalability or fostering agile development? Are you seeking cost reduction or chasing performance enhancement? Having this clarity will not only guide you in developing a successful cloud strategy but also shape your economic model.

The technical factor – On the technical side, there’ll be a whole host of factors that may not always equate with the business reasons for moving to the cloud. Things like functionality, resiliency, availability & security requirements – even if some of these are part of your original plan, expectation vs reality can be a real factor here.

The economic factor – So finally, we come to the all-important question, how much is this going to cost? If the business reasons and technical requirements aren’t aligned, which is often the case due to the disjointed nature of teams defining them, the economics will fall short of expectations, resulting in the dreaded ‘Billshock’. Therefore, it is vital to devise a tech plan and model that matches expectations.

2 – Consider the data lifecycle

A common pitfall that businesses stumble upon while defining their cloud economic model is ignoring the data lifecycle. You need to think about where data is going to sit, and what it’s going to cost – but this doesn’t (and more importantly, shouldn’t) stay the same over a seven-year data lifecycle.

Your economic model should walk hand-in-hand with the data lifecycle, taking into account its evolution over time. The cost of storing data should diminish as it ages. Fresh data demands more resources, residing on high-performance, transactional types of storage. On the flip side, data approaching the end of its mandatory retention period doesn’t necessitate cutting-edge storage. Cloud providers may allow you to use snapshots indefinitely, but this could prove as costly as production.

The data lifecycle progression can be broadly classified into three phases – performance tier, object storage, and archive storage. As you plan this lifecycle, remember to consider other crucial factors like ransomware resilience and regulatory compliance. If your data resides on higher category storage than necessary, you’re flushing money down the drain.

3 – Discard the security vs economy dichotomy

Security and resilience are often perceived as standing in opposition to economic considerations. This especially holds when businesses are looking to upscale with the cloud, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Remember that the two main driving forces behind the shift to the cloud are enhanced resilience against ransomware and reduced costs – it’s possible to do both. Immutability originated in the cloud, and cloud-powered disaster recovery is now a staple for most businesses, with the Veeam Data Protection Trends Report 2023 revealing that 84% of businesses employ the cloud for their disaster recovery function.

As businesses navigate the choppy economic landscape, creating a cloud economic model rooted in the ‘why’ and balancing business, technical and financial considerations is crucial. A well-defined cloud economic model is not just a “nice idea” anymore – it’s a necessity for survival and growth.

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