6 ways Alibaba Cloud challenges AWS, Azure, and GCP

Most folks will by now have heard of Alibaba, the giant Chinese conglomerate, with business interests that include retail, financial services, logistics, media, and digital branding and marketing. The technology backbone underpinning these business units, Alibaba Cloud, is the third largest cloud provider globally, behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. And while Alibaba Cloud provides broadly similar offerings to AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, it does have a few surprises.

A relative newcomer to the international cloud market, Alibaba Cloud has deep pockets, and a keen desire to get ahead of Amazon globally. In April of this year they announced plans to invest $28 billion in infrastructure over the next 36 months. Did I mention they have deep pockets? This investment will go to building data centers, custom operating systems, and semiconductors for hardware-accelerated solutions.

To quickly put Amazon and Alibaba in perspective, remember that Amazon is a reseller. They own inventory and the supply chain and sell directly to the customer. Alibaba is a marketplace, and merely connects buyers and sellers. This has a couple of consequences. First, Amazon’s supply chain and inventory management systems are considered competitive advantages, so you won’t see them selling supply chain solutions that leverage their experience. Second, the profit margins are much higher for Alibaba (23.3 percent vs. Amazon’s 4.1 percent in 2019). This gives Alibaba Cloud a lot more cash to invest back into their offerings.

Here are six ways Alibaba Cloud beats or rivals the other leading cloud providers. 

Highest number of services

Amazon Web Services has 175 services. In the last half of 2019 Alibaba announced 597 new products and 300 solutions to its portfolio. There is literally something for everyone here. So much so, the choice is overwhelming. Alibaba Cloud is targeting both enterprises and SMBs, and there’s bound to be a solution, from pig farming (really) to finance that meets your needs, if you can find it. (Hint: Get a partner to help with this if you’re setting up in Asia.)

Computational storage

Computational storage is an old idea whose time has finally come. Given the vast amounts of data being processed today, there is no choice but to optimize the hardware paths that the data takes from disk to application, and push down the computation as close to the storage as possible. A draft standard for computational storage was released in December 2019, but proprietary hardware for it also exists, mostly limited to high-end custom computers like the Nvidia DGX series.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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