Should you use Alibaba Cloud?
That’s a question you might not even think to ask yourself, given that Alibaba’s cloud services tend to get far less media attention than those of the “big three” cloud providers. cloud – i.e. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
But when it comes to the diversity of cloud services available, as well as pricing and geographic coverage, Alibaba Cloud is in many cases a worthy competitor to other better-known cloud platforms.
To understand when it makes sense to consider Alibaba Cloud, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Alibaba Cloud as a cloud computing platform.
What is Alibaba Cloud?
Alibaba Cloud is a public cloud platform. It is owned by Alibaba, a China-based multinational that is also a major player in the e-commerce and retail sectors. Currently, Alibaba Cloud is the fourth largest public cloud provider in the worldafter AWS, Azure and GCP.
Like other major public clouds, Alibaba Cloud offers a wide range of cloud servicessuch as:
- VM instances
- Object and block storage
- Managed databases
- Managed Kubernetes
Alibaba Cloud also provides a variety of native management and monitoring tools – the equivalents of solutions like AWS CloudWatch and IAM.
The breadth of services of Alibaba Cloud is a factor that distinguishes Alibaba Cloud from “alternative cloud” providersmany of which only specialize in certain types of services (like storage).
Advantages of Alibaba Cloud
Compared to other major public clouds, Alibaba Cloud offers a few notable advantages:
- Potentially lower costs: Whether a workload hosted on Alibaba Cloud will cost less than on AWS, Azure, or GCP depends on a variety of factors that vary from workload to workload. However, in general, Alibaba Cloud services like VM instances tend to costs a little less than those of AWS, Azure and GCP.
- Asian geographic coverage: Alibaba Cloud offers a much wider selection of Data centers based in Asia than other major clouds. This is an advantage for companies whose users are concentrated in Asia.
- Reduced storage prices: Alibaba Cloud offers customers the option to prepay for storage at discounted rates through what it calls Storage capacity units (UCS).
- Reliable documentation and support: Alibaba Cloud offers documentation and support services comparable to what you’d expect from any major public cloud. Alibaba’s documentation and support aren’t necessarily better, but they’re certainly up to snuff.
In short, Alibaba Cloud offers the same wide selection of core services as AWS, Azure, and GCP. In some cases, Alibaba’s services cost less. And when it comes to geographic presence in Asia, Alibaba Cloud beats the big three clouds hands down.
Disadvantages of Alibaba Cloud
On the other hand, there are common reasons businesses may choose not to use Alibaba Cloud, including:
- Limited presence outside Asia: Although Alibaba Cloud operates a limited selection of data centers in North America, Europe, the Middle East, India and Australia, the vast majority of Alibaba Cloud data centers are concentrated in East Asia. Companies that need a truly global presence may therefore find it difficult to host their workloads on Alibaba Cloud.
- Fewer integrations: Not all major observability, security, and admin tools support Alibaba Cloud. Even those that promise multicloud support tend to only work with AWS, Azure, and GCP. For this reason, it can be difficult to manage Alibaba Cloud workloads using tool stacks that were not designed for Alibaba Cloud.
- Less known to engineers: In general, you’ll have a harder time finding engineers who know Alibaba Cloud than you do with the Big Three Clouds, at least in North America. The other clouds have stronger developer advocacy programs and, for now at least, enjoy a much higher degree of awareness among North American engineers.
Admittedly, Alibaba Cloud is still growing rapidly, and these drawbacks may lessen as it grows. But for now, Alibaba Cloud remains most heavily invested in the Asia-Pacific region, which means its support for workloads, tools and engineers based in other parts of the world is limited.
Nor is there much reason to believe that Alibaba Cloud will expand its presence in North American or European markets in the near future. He does not have data centers added in these regions since the mid-2010s, although it has continued to expand its presence in Asia. And when Alibaba Cloud talks about engaging the North American market, it’s usually in the context of work with North American companies seeking to expand its operations in Asia, rather than attracting customers not present in Alibaba’s backyard.
In general, therefore, it seems that Alibaba Cloud’s business strategy is focused on owning the Asia-Pacific market and leaving the rest of the world to AWS, Azure and GCP, rather than taking on the big three clouds.
Should you use Alibaba Cloud?
To sum up, the suitability of Alibaba Cloud for hosting your workloads depends on:
- Whether you need to use data centers in locations where Alibaba Cloud has a limited presence, and/or if it’s an advantage for you to have a large number of Asia-based data center options from ballast.
- If your cloud management tools support Alibaba Cloud.
- Whether your engineers are familiar with Alibaba Cloud or want to learn it.
- If your workloads cost less on Alibaba Cloud based on their specific configurations.
These considerations may change as Alibaba Cloud continues to evolve, particularly if the company invests more in markets outside of Asia-Pacific. But at present, Alibaba Cloud’s appeal to companies with little presence in Asia remains limited.
About the AuthorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst specializing in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers, and more. He also teaches at a major university in the Albany, New York area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution”, was published by MIT Press.
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