Alibaba says 'open sesame' to AI, 1,000 new jobs in $1bn cash splash

Nvidia silicon recruited by Chinese web bazaar

Alibaba's cloud arm is planning a new billion-dollar partnership with Nvidia to expand its deep learning and big data systems over the next three years.

The plan, announced on Tuesday at a press conference in Shanghai, will see AliCloud use Nvidia's silicon to run the new services, and will be offering them from data centers around the world.

"The Big Data Platform fulfills our vision of sharing our vast data troves that will create immense value to our users," said Simon Hu, the division's president, as reported in the South China Morning Post.

"What we want to do at Alibaba is turn the data-processing capacity and data-security capabilities that we've accumulated over the last decade into a product, so that data becomes a resource and a service that we can provide our clients."

AliCloud is still a smaller player in the cloud market compared to giants like Amazon Web Services, but Hu and his team want to change all that. The firm will hire over 1,000 new data engineers to handle the new workloads, and Silicon Valley will be proving the iron to run it.

In November, Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said that the firm is now "all-in" on deep learning, and unveiled both big iron GPU computer hardware and a credit card-sized "supercomputer" for smaller systems.

"We will provide our clients, especially emerging start-up companies, with GPU-accelerated computing services on AliCloud, the leader in cloud computing services in China," said Shanker Trivedi, Nvidia's vice-president of worldwide sales.

The move by AliCloud shows players like AWS and Microsoft that the Chinese are coming for their markets, and Alibaba has been quietly rolling out new data centers to back up new service offerings.

Unfortunately Alibaba is coming into the cloud market during an intense price war, and margins are getting slimmer than ever. The new deep learning capabilities of Nvidia's silicon might give the Chinese firm an edge, but the competition is also getting into this increasingly important area. ®

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