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Solidere launches Unibox cloud platform in Downtown Beirut

Solidere’s Mounir Douaidy, Microsoft’s Hoda Younan and Abou Chaaya unveiled Lebanon’s first local cloud platform.

BEIRUT: A new cloud-based computing system has been launched in downtown Beirut that will provide low-cost software applications to local enterprises, specifically benefitting small and medium-sized businesses.

Tuesday evening at Beirut Souks, Solidere, along with Microsoft Corp. and Procomix Technology Group, announced the launch of Unibox, which will provide a range of IT solutions through a server on the Downtown development company’s broadband network.

The service will enable businesses in the Central Beirut District to have protection against data loss through backup protection, allows users to check their business emails wherever they might be and gives them access to remote servers.

“The companies will now be connecting through a local loop. Before they could only go through Europe or the U.S.,” Richard Azoury, head of Business Development Unit at Solidere, told The Daily Star shortly before the launch ceremony at the Souks, part of the Beirut Central District, where broadband speed reaches 100 megabits per second – by far the fastest in Lebanon. They hope to soon see the high speed and cloud platform extend well beyond the city center.

“We provide the fiber optic networks – the highway – for companies to use it as their technological building blocks,” he said.

This is the first system of its kind in Lebanon and one of the few in the region – Dubai has its own cloud platform through the mobile-phone services company Etisalat – no small feat for a country with a notoriously slow Internet. It could also be an important development for small- and medium-sized businesses downtown, which has until now been considered by many as inaccessible for its high prices for rent and services.

A big advantage of the cloud platform, aside from the services it offers, is the relatively low prices compared with what they would otherwise pay for software that would provide abilities. The prices for the Unibox packages range from $6 to $50 per month per person.

“It reduces cost,” said Oscar Abou Chaaya, senior partner at Procomix Technology Group, whose team of 15 – including support staff – is managing Unibox at its office at the Downtown co-working space Cloud 5. “When you buy software, you’re always renting. Every time you buy new software, it becomes obsolete. With Unibox you don’t get tied to upgrading.”

Abou Chaaya added, “Clients don’t have to upload software on their computer. We’re providing them with a desktop service.”

Abou Chaaya said they already have around 120 clients using the cloud platform service, although with this new launch that offers new services – such as more focus on customer relationship management – they are hoping to attract more users, particularly new startups.

“We need to attract all players. We’re looking for very large to very small,” he said.

“That’s what will make the region a technology hub. We can’t just be for large companies. We need to start by supporting them when they’re small,” he said. “We’re starting with support here at Cloud 5, but when they’re more successful they’ll move into other areas like Solidere. That’s one of our objectives.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 20, 2013, on page 5.

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