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Amazon Web Services (AWS) has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in 2006. In the Asia Pacific, AWS operates infrastructure in Singapore, Japan (Tokyo), Australia (Sydney), as well as a limited preview deployment in China (Beijing).

We had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Richard Harshman, head of ASEAN, AWS, on the sidelines of AWS re:Invent 2014 held in Las Vegas. We talked about the uptake of cloud services in Southeast Asia, regional sentiments towards the cloud and the identities of some AWS customers in the region.

“Asia Pacific as a whole has a terrific adoption rate. For Southeast Asia, it’s been quite rapid,” said Harshman of the region. According to him, businesses ranging from startups and small and mid-sized businesses are adopting AWS as well as large enterprises. “That’s mainly because of the agility, scale, and cost effectiveness that Amazon provides,” he said.

Barriers to moving to the AWS cloud
What concerns do businesses in the region have about moving to the cloud? “There are two common concerns internationally  and they are applicable to this region as well,” he said, noting that CIOs traditionally love to be able to “grasp their boxes” and fear “losing control”.

However, Harshman points out that clients that have adopted the cloud are saying they actually gain greater insights into their data landscapes. “This is because, with a single API call, you can see where every server you are running is,” he said. “We see [this fear] consistently across the Asia Pacific, and also globally.”

The other issue that Harshman highlighted potential clients have is to do with security, though he did note that it is something he is seeing less of now. However, there are also a variety of ways that it can be addressed. “More and more people are seeing that they can have a more secure environment now,” he said of cloud computing.

Of course, there is always the thorny issue of data sovereignty, given how the Southeast Asia region is really made up of multiple disparate countries at varying stages of development, and with quite different cultures and laws.

“What we are finding is, a lot of these companies that may be regulated, or have requirement that data cannot be stored offshore, they are setting up hybrid IT infrastructure,” said Harshman. He elaborated on this, noting that “data is encrypted, and data without any personally identifying information is sent offshore for batch or parallelized processing.”

While Harshman emphasized that the onus is with customers to meet the requisite regulations governing their industry, it is no wonder that data sovereignty regulations don’t appear to be a showstopper for customers keen to make the switch to AWS.

“We have a lot of customers in Indonesia who leverage the AWS platform,” confirmed Harshman. “This ranges from ecommerce companies to some of the fastest startups, telcos, and financial services companies.”

Ultimately, data sovereignty considerations may be a moot point; after all, the head of AWS, Andy Jassy, has publicly shared a long-term vision in which Amazon may well operate from every country “in the fullness of time.”

So who is using AWS here?
Some of the organizations that Harshman identified as running on the company’s cloud infrastructure platform are well-established brands in the region. This includes the likes of iProperty, Property Guru and GrabTaxi (MyTeksi in Malaysia), which he says are running fully on AWS.

According to information furnished by AWS, below are other organizations that deploy AWS in some way or other.

Jollibee Foods Corporation, a very popular fast food chain in the Philippines with a nationwide network of more than 2,000 stores in the the country, and 500 stores elsewhere.

Astro RADIO, Malaysia’s leading radio station with approximately 13 million weekly listeners.

Singapore Land Authority (SLA), a government statutory board under the Singapore Ministry of Law. SLA runs its OneMap service, an intelligent map information system on Amazon S3 and AWS CloudFront.

Conclusion: Growth in the region
The practical benefits of cloud adoption aside, it is increasingly evident that organizations in the region will also need to change the way they approach IT in order to derive the maximum benefit from it. Things are moving along on this front, if you believe Harshman.

“You see a big mindset shift across Southeast Asia. I think it is really exciting, I think it bodes really well in the different countries,” said Harshman. “There is such a great amount of developer talent in Southeast Asia [that may not be widely reported about]. In the Philippines and Indonesia, they have some really, really good developers. It’s really exciting to be part of that.”

Part of this, according to Harshman, is the establishing of smaller teams and the adopting of a “startup” mentality. What he meant is how small teams can work with greater autonomy and flexibility, but without the excessive bureaucracy that too much management can bring. This translates into a heightened level of innovation that will stand to benefit them.

Ultimately, AWS is continuing to push the envelope of cloud computing in the region too. For example, it recently received the highest level-3 certification for the Multi-Tier Cloud Security (MTCS) Standard for Singapore (SS 584). Apparently, the AWS team was actively involved from the begining.

“We wanted to be engaged as easily as possible in the process,” said Harashman of the certification journey. “Singapore is an extremely early market for AWS globally. We want to be sure that we meet any security standards that they are bringing to market. The team worked very closely to be able to meet that.”