A closer look at Alibaba’s cloud computing and AI business
Chinese technology giant Alibaba found success in the ecommerce space with a suite of sights such as the eponymous Alibaba, Taobao and Tmall. One of the world’s largest companies, it reported its FY19 revenue as being $56.15bn. Since its founding by recently departed leader Jack Ma in 1999, it has extended its remit into a vast array of services including electronic payments and, the focus of our inquiry today, the cloud.
The cloud part of the business, founded in 2009, provides AI and cloud computing services to organisations in over 200 countries. According to Gartner, it is the largest cloud service provider in the entire Asia Pacific region, with a 19.6% market share, while being third largest globally.
"We believe our strong growth and leading market position is a testament to the hard work of our teams and the support of our many customers and partners around the world, to whom we are truly grateful," said Jeff Zhang, president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, when Gartner released its findings last month.
"We look forward to continuing our work, which enables our global customers and partners to expedite their digital transformation journeys through our scalable, robust and secure infrastructure, advanced analytics capabilities and thriving ecosystem."
The company has also turned its cloud capabilities onto the coronavirus pandemic. Back in March, Alibaba said it was giving medical personnel access to cloud and AI applications useful in the fight against coronavirus, including Dingtalk, an enterprise communication and collaboration platform, and which features real-time AI language translation into 11 languages including Chinese, English, French and Arabic, for cross-border collaboration.
The company’s approach has won it customers including the likes of Ford, KPMG, Air Asia, SAP and it is the ‘Worldwide Cloud Services Partner’ of the Olympic Games, promising to bring to the now postponed 2020 Olympics improved efficiency and security via the use of its products.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”