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Cloud Computing in China Taking Small Leap Forward

The Government's MIIT Slow to Issue a Definition, as Some Businesses Proceed

Spring is trying to get sprung in Beijing, as 50-degree days and increasing sunlight work to green up the brownish land and bare tree limbs in and around the city. I arrived there a few days ago (late March) to speak to a group of about 300 IT executives who are considering the move to Cloud Computing.

I found a high level of interest, but almost no adoption just yet. This being China, the questions were not so much about security (they're good at that) but price. Even as Cloud business models facilitate the migration of capital expenditure to operating expense, the relative cost of human labor in China is still a bargain compared to the Western world--the rarefied, educated world of IT being no exception.

Red Army soldiers drilled ceaselessly below my hotel room, but I've never found the overall vibe in China to be oppressive. Beijing is an austere place, designed on a massive scale, and wonderfully balancing its thousands of years of history with a new infrastructure that is as up to date as everything in Kansas City.

I took a very nice express train in from the airport for about $4 US, and rode the crowded subway around for 2 RMB (about 30 cents) a journey.

I would recommend staying away from anything marked with three chiles at the traditional restaurants. My consciousness literally exploded in lights and whistles when I ventured too deeply into the spicy stuff-I felt as it I was in the middle of a Chuck Jones cartoon. This may seem like a real "duh" moment, but I was shocked nevertheless. Go for the 500-milliliter bottles of Tsingtao, though; this version is truly and vastly superior to what one encounters outside of China.

There was a small, brave contingent of folks trying to start up a "media cloud" in China. More on that later. As far as the unavailability of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. in China, I found that most people get around it-with the tacit non-disapproval of the authorities-through VPNs. A VPN option was even offered at my hotel.

Slow Cloud to China
There are several aggressive datacenter initiatives (in Hebei Province, Harbin, and Chonqquing, for example), and at least one city government (Foshan, in Guangdong Province) offering Cloud services to local businesses.

But many folks seem to be waiting for the the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to issue a Cloud definition, something promised for later this year. By contrast, the NIST in the US has clarified its Cloud definition and the federal government has committed to moving 25% of its IT budget (or $20 billion per year) to the Cloud by 2013.

One executive from the petrochemical industry noted that Cloud Computing was in the newly launched, 12th Five-Year Plan. Oh yes, I had forgotten about these and how so many things on China hinge on them. But he seemed dubious as to how billions of dollars of investment in legacy IT was going to be converted in any meaningful way.

I also heard remarks from a lot of attendees about certain vendors seemingly working to achieve Vendor Lock-in 2.0 rather than focusing on Cloud's touted benefits. Openness and standards came up time and time again. One attendee ended the day with a more optimistic note, specifically asking about where to find the "low-hanging fruit" and seemingly aimed on acting on this principle.

Is the Price Right?
The price thingie may be a big hang-up in a country that has a poor tradition of respect for western copyrights, and may be working to reverse engineer as much as possible in the world of software. But I pointed out to the audience that the US and China, as the world's two largest economies, have a joint responsibility to aggressively and openly move toward the latest in technological advances.

China must become more of an importing nation to balance its economy, forestall inflation, take pressure off its currency...and help spark the US toward economic recovery. Most of the major Cloud vendors are headquartered in the US, even as they serve a global customer base.

One semi-shocking aspect was the appearance of a very experienced Japanese executive from the government's technological sector. He had flown in from Tokyo, and was apparently "scouting" China to see how advanced it was with the Cloud. He and I spoke at length about the nature of innovation, particularly in Japan today. I hope to include some of his remarks in a follow-up report.

I have many follow-up reports to write, but for now, it seems to me that the US does have the edge in these very early days of the Cloud. I look forward to Cloud Expo in New York June 6-9, where we can see the current state of Cloud Computing in its full glory.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.