Amazon Raises Its Game Against Alibaba, Will Expand AWS Cloud Services To China In 2014

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Another step ahead for Amazon in its bid to become the world’s biggest cloud computing platform for businesses, and to specifically take aim at a big regional competitor in Asia, Alibaba. Today it announced that it would extend its Amazon Web Services suite of products to China beginning with a limited preview in early 2014. You can apply for early access on the AWS China homepage here.

It is teaming up with local players to provide infrastructure to underpin AWS, and is also starting a program to incubate more localized services to run in the AWS cloud.

AWS China will sit alongside Amazon’s existing China portal (which has seen some success, particularly around the newly available Kindle devices).

It will include all of the different services that Amazon has developed for other AWS regions: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Amazon EMR), Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), Amazon CloudWatch, AWS CloudFormation, AWS Storage Gateway, Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS), Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS), Auto Scaling, Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon Glacier, Amazon Simple Workflow (SWF), AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), AWS Management Console, and AWS Premium Support.

This is not Amazon’s first move into cloud computing services in China. It says it already counts “thousands” of companies like Xiaomi, Qihoo 360, TCL, Tiens, NQ Mobile, FunPlus, Kingsoft, Mobotap, and Papaya Mobile as customers. It was partly at their urging that Amazon moved into China with a more comprehensive service built on local infrastructure, the company says:

“Current and prospective AWS customers have asked us to build a local AWS Region in China,” Andy Jassy, SVP, AWS, said today in a statement (the company had a ceremony in Beijing today to mark the new service and sign the agreements). “China represents an important long-term market segment for AWS. We are looking forward to working with Chinese customers, partners, and government institutions to help small and large organizations use cloud computing to innovate and deploy faster, save money, expand their geographic reach, and do so without sacrificing security, availability, data durability, and reliability.”

This is a more concerted effort by Amazon to pitch for more business from larger corporates but also to tap into the very large and still-growing community of smaller and medium-sized businesses in the country.

That puts Amazon into closer competition with Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant, which has also been making more moves to become a one-stop shop for small and medium enterprises doing business online. That includes a marketplace for buying and selling goods, backend e-commerce merchant services, and its own cloud-computing platform, Aliyun.

Alibaba has arguably been called the Amazon of China, but in fact, Amazon wants to be the Amazon of China.

It’s a long-term project for Amazon — which has been expanding its ecosystem and raising its profile in the country for years already.

It started in 2004 with the acquisition of local site Joyo, which only rebranded to Amazon.cn in 2011. It was in that year that Amazon first started to lay the groundwork for Kindle device releases, although those only came to market earlier this year. Just yesterday, Bai Juyi, who runs Amazon’s Kindle business in China, said that his division is already profitable in China and “exceeding expectations.” As is typical for Amazon, no word on actual sales figures, however. The company’s goal is to expand its Kindle Chinese library to 100,000 titles by 2014, compared to 60,000 today.

With AWS, Amazon claims it is filling a hole in the market as Chinese businesses become more connected, particularly in terms of how it prices its services.

“Prior to AWS, businesses would take on the massive capital investment of building their own IT infrastructure or contracting with a vendor for datacenter capacity that they might or might not use. This choice meant either paying for wasted capacity or having to worry that their forecasted capacity was insufficient to keep pace with their growth,” AWS writes in a statement. That will include AWS’s well-known, super-aggressive pricing, which tends to undercut many other cloud-based offerings in other regions, and is built on a pay-as-you-use model with options for no upfront payments — an attractive option for smaller businesses that may not have much working capital.

Amazon says that its AWS effort, at least in these early stages, will be rolled out in partnership with local players. They include ChinaNetCenter and SINNET, which will be providing data centers; and ISP services such as infrastructure, bandwidth, and network capabilities. There are also consultants and other partners, including Cloudgo, Bamboo Cloud, Bamboo Technologies, ChinaNetCloud, and Hitachi Consulting China (full list here).

And there is a startup element to this, too: Amazon has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Beijing and Ningxia governments to develop cloud computing services, “to help foster development of a robust IT sector in Western China, empowered through cloud computing, that enables more Chinese customers to innovate and grow existing and new businesses.”

As part of that, AWS China will develop an incubator in partnership with the Shanghai Jiading Industrial Zone. It will offer “a combination of resources from AWS China along with a variety of incentives from Shanghai Jiading Industrial Zone.” (If you are familiar with Microsoft’s Bizspark program, that’s what this sounds like.) Amazon says it will roll out more of these in other regions going forward.

[Image: Flickr/Ashley Wang]