Alibaba Cloud, which is the cloud computing arm of the Alibaba Group, offers compute, storage, network, and database services via its data centers located in 15 countries, spanning 30 locations globally. The expansion of Alibaba Cloud regions, coupled with the growth of the company’s primary products and platforms – such as Alibaba.com, AliExpress, Taobao, Tmall, Lazada, and Youku – necessitates increased data center capacity.
In total, Alibaba Cloud operates 89 data centers worldwide. These data centers support Alibaba’s 30 cloud regions, which are physical locations where data centers are clustered. These regions offer high availability, robust fault tolerance, and a minimal chance of concurrent failure.
Alibaba Cloud serves more than four million global customers. This includes 80% of China’s science and technology innovation enterprises, 60% of China’s national-level specialized “little giant” enterprises, and 55% of companies listed on the Chinese stock exchanges. The company’s Cloud Intelligence Group, which encompasses Alibaba Cloud, reported revenue of $3.5 billion (RMB25,123 million) for the latest quarter, representing a 4% increase year-over-year. Thus, on an annualized basis, Alibaba Cloud’s revenue currently stands at nearly $14 billion.
Dgtl Infra examines Alibaba Cloud’s regions, availability zones, and data centers that underpin its fast-expanding cloud computing operations, concentrating on the company’s current infrastructure sites and prospective build locations.
How Many Data Centers Does Alibaba Cloud Have?
Alibaba Cloud operates in 30 regions across the world, encompassing 89 zones. These regions are typically named after the cities where their data centers are located. For example, the data centers for the Japan (Tokyo) region are located in Tokyo.
Alibaba Cloud regions consist of anywhere from 1 to 12 physically distinct data centers, each with its own unique infrastructure for power, cooling, and networking. These data centers are referred to as zones by Alibaba Cloud, whereas other cloud service providers typically call them availability zones. To illustrate, consider a figure where Region 1 contains three zones (Zone A, Zone B, Zone C), and Region 2 also comprises three zones:
Within a single region, these zones are linked by a high-bandwidth, low-latency network. As a result, there’s minimal delay (latency) between them. This ensures faster communication for services within the same zone, leading to more efficient business operations.
Alibaba Cloud operates highly efficient data centers worldwide, notable for their excellent power utilization rates. Their strategic global regions provide availability and reliability. Advanced technologies like innovative cooling methods, distributed architecture, sophisticated power distribution systems, and smart monitoring mechanisms improve performance, scalability, and redundancy.
Where Are Alibaba Cloud’s Data Centers Located?
Alibaba Cloud’s regions and zones (also known as availability zones) are physical locations where the company clusters data centers around the world. Below is a summary of Alibaba Cloud’s 30 regions and 89 availability zones throughout China, the United States, Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East.
In China, Alibaba Cloud operates 15 regions and 59 availability zones. Specifically, Alibaba Cloud is available in the following markets: Qingdao, China; Beijing, China; Zhangjiakou, China; Hohhot, China; Ulanqab, China; Hangzhou, China; Shanghai, China; Nanjing, China; Fuzhou, China; Wuhan, China; Shenzhen, China; Heyuan, China; Guangzhou, China; Chengdu, China; and Hong Kong.
Within these locations, Alibaba Cloud operates data centers in the following regions: China (Qingdao), known as cn-qingdao; China (Beijing), known as cn-beijing; China (Zhangjiakou), known as cn-zhangjiakou; China (Hohhot), known as cn-huhehaote; China (Ulanqab), known as cn-wulanchabu; China (Hangzhou), known as cn-hangzhou; China (Shanghai), known as cn-shanghai; China (Nanjing – Local Region), known as cn-nanjing; China (Fuzhou – Local Region), known as cn-fuzhou; China (Wuhan – Local Region), known as cn-wuhan-lr; China (Shenzhen), known as cn-shenzhen; China (Heyuan), known as cn-heyuan; China (Guangzhou), known as cn-guangzhou; China (Chengdu), known as cn-chengdu; and China (Hong Kong), known as cn-hongkong.
China – Regions and Availability Zones
|China (Nanjing – Local Region)||cn-nanjing||1||Nanjing||China||2021|
|China (Fuzhou – Local Region)||cn-fuzhou||1||Fuzhou||China||2022|
|China (Wuhan – Local Region)||cn-wuhan-lr||1||Wuhan||China||2023|
|China (Hong Kong)||cn-hongkong||3||Hong Kong||China||2014|
The cloud computing industry in China remains in the early stages of development. Last year, the revenue from China’s public cloud services market – which encompasses IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS – constituted a mere 0.2% of the country’s GDP. This figure is significantly lower compared to that of the U.S.
In the United States, Alibaba Cloud operates 2 regions and 4 availability zones. Particularly, Alibaba operates facilities in the following markets: Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California.
Within these markets, Alibaba Cloud operates data centers in the following regions: US (Virginia), known as us-east-1, and US (Silicon Valley), known as us-west-1.
United States – Regions and Availability Zones
|US (Silicon Valley)||us-west-1||2||San Francisco||California||2014|
In Europe, Alibaba Cloud operates 2 regions and 5 availability zones. Presently, Alibaba Cloud is available in the following markets: Frankfurt, Germany and London, United Kingdom.
Within these markets, Alibaba Cloud operates data centers in the following regions: Germany (Frankfurt), known as eu-central-1, and UK (London), known as eu-west-1.
Europe – Regions and Availability Zones
|UK (London)||eu-west-1||2||London||United Kingdom||2018|
In Asia Pacific, Alibaba Cloud operates 9 regions and 18 availability zones. Specifically, Alibaba Cloud is available in the following markets: Sydney, Australia; Mumbai, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Tokyo, Japan; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Manila, Philippines; Singapore; Seoul, South Korea; and Bangkok, Thailand.
Within these locations, Alibaba Cloud operates data centers in the following regions: Australia (Sydney), known as ap-southeast-2; India (Mumbai), known as ap-south-1; Indonesia (Jakarta), known as ap-southeast-5; Japan (Tokyo), known as ap-northeast-1; Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), known as ap-southeast-3; Philippines (Manila), known as ap-southeast-6; Singapore (Singapore), known as ap-southeast-1; South Korea (Seoul), known as ap-northeast-2; and Thailand (Bangkok), known as ap-southeast-7.
Asia Pacific – Regions and Availability Zones
|Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur)||ap-southeast-3||2||Kuala Lumpur||Malaysia||2017|
|South Korea (Seoul)||ap-northeast-2||1||Seoul||South Korea||2022|
As the leading IaaS provider in the Asia Pacific region, Alibaba Cloud is continually expanding its international cloud infrastructure and enhancing its local cloud service capabilities, particularly in Southeast Asia.
In the Middle East, Alibaba Cloud operates 2 regions and 3 availability zones. Particularly, Alibaba Cloud is available in the following markets: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Within these markets, Alibaba Cloud operates data centers in the following regions: SAU (Riyadh – Partner Region), known as me-central-1, and UAE (Dubai), known as me-east-1.
Middle East – Regions and Availability Zones
|SAU (Riyadh – Partner Region)||me-central-1||2||Riyadh||Saudi Arabia||2022|
|UAE (Dubai)||me-east-1||1||Dubai||United Arab Emirates||2016|
Alibaba – Asia Pacific’s Leading Cloud Services Giant
Alibaba Group is the world’s third-largest Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider and the largest in the Asia Pacific region by revenue in U.S. dollars, according to Gartner. A key player in digital transformation across diverse industries, Alibaba Group’s cloud services division, Alibaba Cloud, was initially created to manage the massive scale and complexity of the company’s internal operations within China, including commerce, payments, and logistics.
Alibaba Group – Business Segments, including Cloud
Alibaba Cloud is a key player in the technological revolution that involves replacing traditional IT infrastructure with cloud services, offering significantly higher efficiency at a lower cost. This comprehensive suite includes the company’s own proprietary servers, computing, storage, network, security, database, big data, container technology, machine learning, and tools for model training and inference. These services are vital to the Alibaba ecosystem and also serve a wide range of customers globally.
Cloud Service Models – IaaS, PaaS, and MaaS
Beyond the conventional Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Alibaba Cloud’s offerings extend to platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and model-as-a-service (MaaS), all part of its full-stack cloud capabilities and products portfolio. These cloud service models enable customers to build IT infrastructure that is high-performance, flexible, scalable, cost-effective, and secure. Additionally, it provides customers with sophisticated data management tools, essential for efficiently handling complex analytics and machine learning tasks.
Recognized as China’s largest provider of public cloud services by revenue, including PaaS and IaaS services according to IDC, Alibaba Cloud delivers industry-specific solutions across several verticals, such as finance, public sector, and manufacturing.
Customers of Alibaba Cloud
Cloud Operating System
Alibaba’s Cloud Operating System offers scalable computing resources and services via the internet. It abstracts underlying infrastructure complexities, allowing users to access applications and data from any device, anywhere. The system is composed of:
- Apsara: This is Alibaba Cloud’s proprietary, general-purpose distributed computing operating system
- ShenlongCompute: This is Alibaba Cloud’s hardware virtualization architecture, which plays a crucial role in maximizing computing efficiency
- Pangu: Serving as Alibaba Cloud’s distributed cloud storage system, Pangu ensures reliable, scalable, and efficient data storage solutions
Cloud Revenue Streams
Alibaba Cloud’s revenue is primarily derived from offering public and hybrid cloud services to enterprise customers both domestically and internationally.
These services are detailed as follows:
- Public Cloud Services: Revenue is generated through various offerings that include elastic computing, storage, networking, database, big data, security solutions, and the use of proprietary servers. Enterprise customers are billed for these services either based on their usage (pay-as-you-go) or via a subscription model, such as for the on-demand delivery of computing and storage resources
- Hybrid Cloud Services: Revenue is produced by providing comprehensive cloud service packages that are tailored to the specific needs of enterprise customers. These packages include hardware provisioning, software licensing, software installation services, as well as application development and ongoing maintenance. This approach allows for a more customized cloud solution that integrates with the customer’s existing on-premises infrastructure
Machine Learning and Large Language Models (LLMs)
Alibaba Cloud offers enterprises a machine learning platform designed for the large-scale training and inference of models. This platform accommodates both Alibaba’s proprietary foundation model, as well as facilitating the training and implementation of other large-scale and domain-specific models prevalent in the market.
In 2023, Alibaba Cloud introduced its newest Large Language Model (LLM), Tongyi Qianwen. This LLM is slated for integration into every facet of Alibaba’s business applications, with the aim of significantly enriching the user experience across their entire ecosystem.
Recognizing the transformative power of generative AI, Alibaba Cloud is democratizing this innovation by providing enterprise customers with access to Tongyi Qianwen via the cloud. Furthermore, customers will have the capability to develop bespoke LLMs tailored specifically to their unique business contexts.
Competition and Market Share
Alibaba Cloud competes internationally with the following cloud service providers (CSPs): Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Oracle Cloud. Domestically, in China, its main competitors include Baidu AI Cloud, Huawei Cloud, Kingsoft Cloud, JD Cloud, QingCloud, and UCloud.
Overall, among global cloud service providers, Alibaba Cloud holds a 4% market share in terms of spending on cloud infrastructure services.
Alibaba Cloud’s Sustainability in Data Center Design
Alibaba Cloud’s data centers are designed to prioritize sustainability, possessing an industry-leading Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.215 in their self-built data centers. This performance in sustainability is achieved through a diverse range of energy-saving strategies, including the implementation of AI and machine learning in power management algorithms, the adoption of liquid cooling technologies for servers, and the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
Illustrating their progress, Alibaba Cloud’s clean energy usage in its self-built data centers rose from 21.6% in FY2022 to 53.9% in FY2023, marking a 1.5-fold increase on a year-over-year basis. This substantial shift to clean energy resulted in a reduction of 1.105 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) emissions. Additionally, in FY2023, Alibaba Cloud’s services prevented the release of 6.863 million MtCO2e by helping customers minimize their reliance on locally deployed data centers and servers, by migrating them to the cloud.
Research conducted by Alibaba Cloud indicates that customers in China can avoid up to 85.5% of their computing emissions when they switch from on-premises data centers to Alibaba Cloud. This substantial reduction is primarily due to the superior efficiency of Alibaba’s own data centers. Notably, the most significant carbon savings are attributed to enhanced Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and the decreased energy consumption of servers throughout the operational phase of a data center.
Alibaba Cloud is also focused on resource recycling, with a particular emphasis on water conservation, pursuing technological innovations that contribute to minimal water usage. An example of this is the development of a high-efficiency dry cooler designed to optimize Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE), successfully driving the WUE below 0.1 liters per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
Alibaba Cloud Well-Architected Framework
Alibaba Cloud presents its Well-Architected Framework, designed to offer best practices for achieving success in the cloud era. This framework emphasizes architectural excellence in alignment with an organization’s objectives and values. Its primary goal is to unleash the full capabilities of the cloud, enabling organizations to foster growth, improve efficiency, enhance resilience, and spur innovation.
Pillars of the Well-Architected Framework
- Security: In today’s interconnected world, information security is paramount. This pillar of the framework assists businesses in developing robust systems that function effectively and are safeguarded against evolving threats. While Alibaba Cloud ensures the security of the cloud service platform, customers are responsible for their application security
- Reliability: No business can tolerate system downtime. The framework prioritizes the creation of highly available and resilient systems, ensuring customers enjoy an uninterrupted experience. Moreover, it provides safeguards for business continuity in the face of potential failures
- Cost Optimization: Efficiently managing costs is crucial. The framework guides businesses in maximizing the utility of their cloud resources, enabling them to achieve more while spending less
- Operational Excellence: As cloud environments become more complex, maintaining efficient operations becomes vital. This component of the framework aids in structuring efficient operational systems, streamlining daily activities, and automating repetitive tasks
- Performance Efficiency: Ensuring that systems deliver peak performance is a pivotal aspect of the framework and critical for users to receive the most optimized experience possible. Performance efficiency is achieved by prioritizing cloud-native services and technologies, employing serverless architectures in line with cloud-native standards, and leveraging Alibaba Cloud’s elasticity and performance stability
Cloud Governance Center
Alibaba’s Cloud Governance Center provides a set of tools that automatically deliver over 100 distinct metrics. These tools empower users to evaluate multiple dimensions of their systems and assess whether they meet the standards of a well-architected cloud environment. Additionally, the Cloud Governance Center offers more than 80 scenario-based architecture solutions, presenting users with a comprehensive toolkit to tap into.