Cloud channel wars - Assessing the Aussie impact of Alibaba and Google

Cloud channel wars - Assessing the Aussie impact of Alibaba and Google

What happens when two of the most cashed-up tech companies on the planet unleash their cloud businesses on the local channel?

The shadow that the cloud has been casting over the local channel scene has grown long and deep. Like its namesake, its tendrils have been creeping their way into almost every nook and cranny of the Australian enterprise technology landscape.

Today, cloud technology is big business; one of the biggest in the entire IT industry. For local partners, it is a necessary area of competence. For vendors, it represents an essential step in long-term relevance.

But not all vendors are equal. Some have come a long way in establishing themselves as clear leaders in the global cloud market: Amazon Web Services (AWS), of course, Microsoft and IBM, while Oracle is making great strides to capture more of the cloud market.

While these players are already big names in the channel, others are still in the process of ramping up their presence.

Among the emerging contenders in the Australian cloud landscape are Alphabet, Google’s parent company, which launched its local Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in June, and Alibaba Cloud — known in China as Aliyun.

Both of these global players have extremely deep pockets with which to invest, and both are likely to become formidable cloud contenders in the local channel.

All in with Alibaba

In September 2014, Alibaba Group entered the record books, mounting what was at the time the largest initial public offering (IPO) in history.

The Chinese e-commerce company raised US$25 billion in its New York Stock Exchange float, attaining a market valuation of more than US$230 billion in the process.

The move not only ushered in the company into minds of the Western market, but also delivered it some serious funds with which to invest.

So, what does a tech company with a cool US$25 billion at its disposal do with all that cash? Quite a lot, it seems.

Now, almost three years after its IPO, Alibaba Group is dipping its fingers into an increasingly diverse array of technology offerings, include database systems, artificial intelligence, smart logistics and cloud computing, all while keeping the ship afloat thanks to its core e-commerce business.

While many of these technology offerings are yet to become fully-fledged businesses in their own right, the company’s cloud computing brand, Aliyun – or Alibaba Cloud in Australia and other markets internationally – is making enormous gains in the global tech landscape.

Cloud has been a clear growth area for Alibaba since at least 2009, when it established Alibaba Cloud as a subsidiary business.

Like other areas of its technology portfolio, Alibaba Cloud got its start supporting Alibaba Group’s existing platforms and activities, as well as powering services for its sellers and other third-party entities participating in its ecosystem.

However, in late July 2015, the company revealed plans to pump US$1 billion into the Alibaba Cloud business in a bid to accelerate the global rollout of its cloud computing footprint.

Now, the company claims to be the number one public cloud vendor in China, with 14 international data centres and at least 2.3 million customers globally — end customers include the likes of Schneider Electric, Philips and Nestle.

“Today, Alibaba Cloud hosts 35 per cent of total websites in China while also providing clients with cloud computing and big data services,” Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, said in a letter to shareholders in October last year.

“Alibaba Cloud is a company with cutting-edge technology and an extensive range of products and now ranks among the world’s top three cloud computing companies.”

From the very outset, the investment was not only aimed at expanding Alibaba Cloud’s international presence, but also to extend and support an alliance-based global cloud computing ecosystem.

One of the company’s initiatives aimed at building this ecosystem is its international Marketplace Alliance Program (MAP), which was launched in June 2015, and designed to provide global users with one-stop cloud services and contribute to the worldwide development of cloud computing.

The first wave of alliance partners included Optus parent company, Singtel, among others across North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Two years later, and Alibaba Cloud’s worldwide data centre tally comes to at least 14, with one opening in Sydney in November last year, effectively launching the company’s cloud services in the local market.

It remains to be seen precisely how Alibaba Cloud intends to tap the local channel in its efforts to reach end clients, but the company claims that partners are a key part of its expansion in the local market.

“We recognise that only if we work with local partners here, we will see success,” Alibaba Group managing director of A/NZ, Maggie Zhou, said late last year.

“This includes the government, includes channel partners and businesses here. We are also very eager to bring Alibaba Cloud here in Australia to enable the young people, the SMBs and the start-ups.”

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