Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Alibaba Cloud: Rising Star in the Cloud Market

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Alibaba Cloud is one of the fastest-growing cloud computing companies in the world. Yet it’s a cloud provider that you might know very little about.

In its most recent quarterly financial statement, China’s Alibaba reported that its cloud computing revenue increased 103 percent year-over-year to reach 4.4 billion yuan ($699 million). According to Synergy Research Group, Alibaba Cloud is the world’s fifth largest provider of infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and hosted private cloud services with 4 percent of the market. Other analysts have said that the company is the third largest IaaS vendor on the planet. And by all accounts, it is the undisputed cloud computing leader in China.

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Of course, Alibaba Cloud has a long way to go to catch Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Those two firms accounted for 33 percent and 13 percent of the public cloud market, respectively, according to Synergy. However, Alibaba’s growth curve is impressive, and analysts have noted that the company has many similarities to AWS. In fact, many news reports even refer to the company as the “Amazon of China,” for some good reasons.

Like Amazon, Alibaba is primarily an ecommerce company. Its cloud computing business grew out of the IT infrastructure it built to support its online retailing business. And Alibaba’s business strategy is also very similar to Amazon’s.

“In many ways Alibaba is mirroring Amazon – but just trailing it by a few years,” John Dinsdale, chief analyst and research director at Synergy Research Group, said in an email. “Its revenue is growing in leaps and bounds. It has to have a large and rapidly growing data center infrastructure to support its core businesses. It is leveraging that infrastructure to launch and aggressively grow public cloud services. It is choosing to use large portions of its cash flow to fund aggressive growth in capex.”

He added, “In the cloud market, Alibaba remains a long, long way behind Amazon, but there is no doubt that Alibaba is a serious cloud provider that will continue to grow its presence in the market.”

That growth alone is plenty of reason for IT professionals to get to know Alibaba Cloud.

Alibaba Cloud: Background

Alibaba Cloud (also known as Aliyun and Ali Cloud) is a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding Limited, a multinational corporation headquartered in Hangzhou, China. Founded in 1999, Alibaba Group began as a Web marketplace called Alibaba Online. The public face of the company is Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman, who is, according to Forbes, the 20th wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $39 billion. In its most recent quarter, Alibaba reported sales of 61.9 billion yuan ($9.9 billion) with profits of 16.8 billion yuan ($2.7 billion).

By comparison, Amazon had revenue of $51.04 billion and income of $5.44 billion in its most recent quarter.

In 2001, Alibaba entered into a partnership with Yahoo, and it also launched, a consumer portal, which today is one of the most popular websites in the world.

In 2009, the company launched Alibaba Cloud. That was after Amazon launched AWS, but before Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud went live with their cloud computing services.

Alibaba expanded into the U.S. in 2015, when it opened data centers in Silicon Valley (US West) and Virginia (US East). Today it offers a wide range of cloud computing services to customers all over the world.

Alibaba Cloud Advantages and Disadvantages

Alibaba offers its customers a number of benefits that they might not get from other cloud computing providers. They include the following:

  • Access to China: As the largest public cloud vendor in China, Alibaba offers advantages for companies wanting to do business in the country. It has seven data centers in mainland China (Qingdao, Beijing, Zhangjiakou, Hohhot, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzen), plus a data center in Hong Kong. Its Content Delivery Network (CDN) has more than 1,000 nodes in China, making it easy for organizations to distribute content within the country. It also has special tools to help international companies set up shop in China.
  • Global Coverage: While Alibaba is strongest in China, it serves international customers as well. It has six Asia Pacific data centers (Singapore, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Jarkata, Mubai and Tokyo), two in the US (Virginia and California), one in Frankfurt and one in Dubai. It also boasts more than 200 CDN nodes outside China, providing coverage for more than 70 countries. It has more than 2.3 million customers worldwide.
  • Advanced Performance: The Alibaba Cloud website claims the company has set benchmark records in data sorting, mitigating DDoS attacks and processing ecommerce transactions.
  • Strong Security and Compliance: The vendor says that it complies with international regulations, including PCI DSS and HIPAA in the United States, Germany’s C5 and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). It has received the CSA Star Certification, ISO 20000 IT Service Management Certification, ISO 22301 Business Continuity Management System Certification and ISO27001 Information Security Management System Certification.
  • Discount Plans:For new customers, Alibaba offers a starter package plan with discounted rates on some of its most popular services. New users also get $300 in credits, including $50 towards Elastic Computing and $250 for other products. Customers can also earn credits by referring new users ($20 for each referral that spends $20 or more).
  • Wide range of services: Alibaba Cloud’s list of services is extensive, rivalling large cloud companies like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. The company has made significant investments in artificial intelligence (AI) research and development, and it offers advanced big data and analytics services.

So why wouldn’t you want to do business with Alibaba?

Some enterprises have security and privacy concerns related to doing business with a Chinese company. In addition, Alibaba’s international services are not as robust as those it offers within its own country. Also, some of its website tools, such as the pricing calculator and online documentation are not as advanced as some other cloud providers’.

Alibaba Cloud Reviews

What do users and reviewers have to say about Alibaba Cloud?

One CEO reviewer on the Gartner Peer Insights website said, “You want to be in China! [Alibaba is the] only real option.” He or she gave the service five stars overall, but cautioned that the payment processes were not as good as Amazon’s.

Another reviewer, someone who works in IT operations, said, “If you have primarily locations in China and Asia Pacific region, Alibaba Cloud has very strong presence here.” However, he or she complained that the company’s services and documentation were “too basic,” and that the services available in China were not all available internationally.

A 2017 Gartner report said that Alibaba Cloud “has very little in the way of unique differentiation compared to other hyperscale providers. Additionally, Alibaba Cloud’s vision seems inextricably tied to that of its global competitors; it takes liberal inspiration from competitors when developing service capabilities and branding.”

Dinsdale noted that Alibaba is growing its international business. “Alibaba has the luxury of being the dominant cloud player in the high-growth Chinese market, and it can use that position as a foundation to help it expand globally,” he said.

Alibaba Cloud Services

The chart below details many of the services available through Alibaba Cloud. It’s worth noting that the company has jumped on some recent trends like containers, big data analytics, microservices, machine learning and AI. It also offers extensive high-performance computing capabilities and bare-metal servers, which is a fairly unique offering. (IBM Cloud also offers bare metal, but AWS, Google and Microsoft do not.) Its security offerings are more extensive than some other vendors, but its hybrid cloud capabilities are not as advanced as its competitors’.

One note on the chart: the Alibaba website contains only partial information about which services are available in its US data centers. The chart lists N/A for services that where data center information was unavailable.




Available in US?

Elastic Computing

Elastic Compute Service

Basic compute services


Simple Application Server

One-click deployment for various standalone application use cases


Elastic GPU Service

Advanced compute services with parallel processing capabilities through GPUs

Va. only

Auto Scaling

Automatically adjusts resources as needed


Server Load Balancer

Manages sudden traffic spikes


Container Service

Runs Docker and Kubernetes on Elastic Compute Service


Container Registry

Manages container images


Resource Orchestration Service

Simplifies cloud resource management



High performance computing services

Va. only

ECS Bare Metal Instance

Physically isolated servers delivered within minutes


Super Computing Cluster

Combines bare metal instances with high-speed RDMA for extremely fast performance


Function Compute

Serverless computing


Storage & CDN

Object Storage Service

Encrypted object storage


Table Store

NoSQL cloud database


Alibaba Cloud CDN

Content delivery network


Network Attached Storage

On-demand NAS for use with Elastic Compute, HPC and Container Service

Va. only

Hybrid Cloud Storage Array (Coming Soon)

Enterprise storage array that integrates with Alibaba Cloud Storage


Data Transport

Offline data migration



Virtual Private Cloud

Hosted, secure private cloud services


Express Connect

Dedicated networking to connect cloud environments


NAT Gateway

Enterprise-class public network gateway


Elastic IP

Manages IP resources


VPN Gateway

Connects virtual private clouds and on-premise data centers


Cloud Enterprise Network

Networking tools for building a hybrid cloud



ApsaraDB for RDS

Database hosting that supports MySQL, SQL Server and PostgreSQL


ApsaraDB for Redis

Key value database service


HybridDB for PostgreSQL

Massively parallel processing data warehouse

Calif. only

ApsaraDB for MongoDB

Cloud database based on MongoDB


Data Transmission Service (DTS)

Migrates data among cloud storage and databases


ApsaraDB for Memcache

Managed memory-based caching service for high-speed queries


Distributed Relational Database Service

Middleware for managing large distributed databases


High-Performance Time Series Database

Time-based database for monitoring IoT data



Anti-DDoS Basic

Free basic protection against DDoS and Trojan attacks


Anti-DDoS Pro

Paid service to protect large enterprises against DDoS and similar attacks


Web Application Firewall

Cloud-based firewall


Server Guard

24/7 monitoring for high availability


SSL Certificates Service

Apply, purchase and manage SSL certificates


Alibaba Cloud Vulnerability Discovery Service (Coming Soon)

Vulnerability assessment


Managed Security Service

Fully managed security that incorporates WAF and Anti-DDoS services


Content Moderation

Detects inappropriate content in images and videos


Monitoring & Management


Real-time monitoring of Web resources and applications


Resource Access Management

Identity and access control for cloud services


Key Management Service

Creates, deletes and manages encryption keys



Security analytics, resource change tracking and compliance auditing


Domains & Website

Web Hosting

Website hosting that starts at $0.99 per month

Calif. only


Domain registry service


Alibaba Cloud DNS

Domain name resolution and management


Analytics & Big Data


Hadoop and Spark service



Large-scale data warehouse

Calif. only


Offline development environment for creating big data applications

Calif. only

Quick BI

Business intelligence



Data visualization


Image Search

AI-based image search


Intelligent Service Robot

Chatbot platform


Dataphin (Coming Soon)

PaaS for intelligent big data applications


Machine Learning Platform for AI

End-to-end machine learning platform


Data Integration

All-in-one data synchronization


Application Service

Message Service

Message queuing and notifications for applications

Calif. only

API Gateway

API hosting


Log Service

All-in-one service for log data



Send transactional notifications and bulk email


Media Services

ApsaraVideo Live

Live broadcasting platform


ApsaraVideo for Media Processing

Transcoding for multimedia content



Enterprise Distributed Application Service

Microservices PaaS


Message Queue

Distributed message queue service


Application Configuration Management

Centralizes management of application configurations


Hybrid Cloud

Apsara Stack (Coming Soon)

Deploy Alibaba Cloud services in your data center


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