It’s clearer than ever that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba harbors visions of building a formidable cloud business like U.S.-based public-cloud market leader Amazon Web Services.
Amazon recently moved into the cloud-based file-sharing market, with the release of its Zocalo service. Now Alibaba could be looking for its own silver lining. Alibaba is in talks to invest in Chinese business-focused file-sharing company Gokuai, according to a report today from the Wall Street Journal.
Then again, Alibaba could just acquire Gokuai outright. In that case, Alibaba’s cloud portfolio could extend into the file-sharing area that has attracted so much interest from businesses in the U.S. and abroad. While Amazon is only still in the process of setting up its cloud infrastructure in China, Hangzhou-based Alibaba has the advantage of trust in China — unlike Seattle-based Amazon. If Alibaba moves fast, it could buy Gokuai and quickly build on the service’s customer base, which already includes the state-owned outfits China Telecom and Xinhua News Agency.
A more full-featured Alibaba would support its growth as it aims to go public in the U.S. and further diversify the company, which takes in most of its revenue from e-commerce business in China.
Alibaba’s cloud computing and Internet infrastructure business unit brought in $125 million in the year ending on March 31, 2014, up 19 percent over the previous year but still representing less than 1.5 percent of Alibaba’s total annual revenue of $8.46 billion, according to regulatory filings.
But Alibaba is growing the cloud business quickly and expanding geographically. Today Alibaba said it would open its fifth data center in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, according to the Journal. And Alibaba’s cloud customer count has gone from more than 980,000 at the end of 2013 to more than 1.4 million today. The business division, which is called Aliyun, includes features like Elastic Compute Service (comparable to Amazon’s EC2), the Open Cache Service (similar to Amazon’s ElastiCache), and a fully managed NoSQL database called Open Table Service (Amazon has DynamoDB).
As the service gets bigger, Alibaba ought to become more committed to buying server and storage infrastructure at great scale. That could make it a great candidate to maintain a cloud-based file-sharing service that can keep prices lower for millions of users. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have achieved such economies of scale, challenging younger companies with less cash on hand, like IPO-bound Box and Dropbox. And Alibaba could very well aspire to be a Chinese version of the American giants of the cloud.