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Alibaba Cloud reveals billion dollar 'ecosystem upgrade'

It's mostly a channel program with a fancy name, plus more outposts

Alibaba Cloud last week staged its annual gabfest and revealed some tasty new cloud services, as well as a billion dollar "ecosystem upgrade" aimed at finding more customers outside China.

The products include an upgrade to the Alibaba Cloud Enterprise Network (CEN), which in version 2.0 scales to allow 5,000 routes across a global network, or over 1,000 virtual private cloud attachments per transit router. Alibaba Cloud asserts that version 2.0 allows networks 1,000 times larger than was possible with its predecessor, all driven from a cloud interface.

Networks can span on-prem rigs around the world, or resources inside Alibaba Cloud regions.

Those who consume cloud storage can now consider ESSD Auto PL – a block storage service Alibaba Cloud claims can deliver up to a million IOPS per disk and reach 4GB/sec. Alibaba Cloud has touted the service as allowing "automatic scaling within seconds to … handle sudden traffic surges." However product documentation reveals "On-demand performance configuration is mainly for predictable periodic I/O traffic scenarios."

So maybe not quite hands-off auto-scaling for every occasion.

The centerpiece of Alibaba Cloud's kick-off was a "revamped ecosystem strategy" that over three years will hose out a billion dollars "to support partners' technology innovation and their market expansion."

The billion dollars includes "both financial and non-financial incentives, such as funding, rebates and go-to-market initiatives."

Which sound like a vanilla channel program.

But Alibaba Cloud is not a vanilla cloud. The outfit is rumored to have built infrastructure that might be more efficient than Google's and has innovated with a cloud desktop device, a cloud-native database built on Kubernetes, and a proprietary server architecture.

Those efforts are impressive and help it to stand apart from other clouds that have developed different specialties.

Alibaba Cloud also has its roots in China. Therefore it is subject to laws that, in theory, allow Beijing to demand access to information about its customers, and disposition of its infrastructure, on national security grounds.

That possibility has repeatedly been cited by governments outside China as an extraordinary risk to users. The United States, for example, adopted a "Clean Cloud" stance under the Trump administration. The Biden administration has continued that policy, which aims to "prevent US citizens' most sensitive personal information and our businesses' most valuable intellectual property, including COVID-19 vaccine research, from being stored and processed on cloud-based systems built or operated by untrusted vendors, such as Alibaba, Baidu, China Mobile, China Telecom, and Tencent."

That's not language that encourages customers to shop with Alibaba Cloud!

Which brings us to the billion dollars Alibaba Cloud will spend on its "ecosystem upgrade." It's not clear if it's all new money, and some if it will go towards service and consultancy centers in Malaysia, Portugal, and Mexico City.

But much will be aimed at partners – a community that usually gravitates towards tech providers that can either generate mass market interest or lets them address lucrative niches. While Alibaba Cloud is very strong in China, and does well in South East Asia, there's little evidence of enormous customer enthusiasm in Europe or the Americas.

Maybe a billion dollars can change that. But so could ongoing trade tensions between China and the rest of the world. ®

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