Alibaba counts on Olympics to prove its cloud capabilities
Aura of Olympics sponsorship has already given Chinese e-commerce giant a boost in global cloud market one year after it signed agreement with IOC
When it comes to demonstrating cloud-based applications for large-scale events, the Olympics probably ranks high up for the degree of complexity, with the summer games hosting more than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries, watched by five million spectators over two weeks.
At this week’s 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has dipped its toe into cloud computing with the ultimate goal of saving money and increasing efficiency, with greater use of the technology expected at the Tokyo summer games in 2020 and Beijing winter games in 2022.
Cloud computing, including artificial intelligence and big data, will help the IOC analyse and share data for future games management, including monitoring the influx of personnel and athletes, optimising public transport and route planning, and real-time sports scheduling.
Alibaba Group Holding, China’s largest online shopping service provider and owner of the South China Morning Post, is an official Olympics sponsor, providing cloud and e-commerce platform services to games through to 2028.
“The Olympics’ most important and confidential data on athletes and the games will be stored on Alibaba cloud,” Chris Tung, Alibaba’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview in Pyeongchang.
Due to the many years of advance planning that go into organising the games, Alibaba Cloud’s role at Pyeongchang is very limited and the company will only participate in some projects for the 2020 summer games in Tokyo, according to Tung. However, it will play a major role for the winter games in Beijing in 2022, he said.
“Alibaba will deliver its full cloud power for the [Beijing] event,” said Tung. “We did not partner with the IOC just for the Beijing Olympics. It just came at the right time and we have enough time to prepare for it.”
In any case, the aura of the Olympics sponsorship has already given the company a boost one year after it signed the agreement with the IOC, according to Tung.
“Alibaba’s cloud segment has maintained quarterly growth momentum of more than 100 per cent, which shows that our cloud business is still expanding even though we are already a top cloud service provider,” he said.
Alibaba’s cloud computing business, with more than 1 million paying customers worldwide, saw revenue grow 104 per cent year on year in the October to December quarter after the company launched almost 400 new products and features, the company said in early February.
Founded in 2009, Alibaba Cloud is the biggest provider of public cloud computing services in China with almost half the market share, but it is facing stiffer competition from the likes of Chinese tech firms Tencent and Huawei which have stepped up investments in their cloud operations.
Globally, its worldwide share is less than 4 per cent, putting it far behind market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) which is about eight times bigger than the Chinese company.
In comparison, Microsoft, IBM and Google’s worldwide share in the cloud market is between 6 to 13 per cent, according to Synergy Research. However, Alibaba Cloud is among the top five based on fourth quarter market share data compiled by Synergy Research and released this month.
“Exploring global business opportunities has always been key for Alibaba Cloud, and the partnership with IOC … is helpful to expand the Chinese company’s brand awareness in the world market,” said Thomas Zhou, IDC’s research director.