AWS and Alibaba Cloud are two of the four largest cloud computing services in the world. Find out how these two Cloud systems compare.
AWS is part of Amazon.com, Inc., one of the largest corporations in the United States. Alibaba Cloud is owned by Alibaba Group, the largest company in China. Worldwide, Amazon is the fourth most valuable business and Alibaba is the seventh. Both of these conglomerates gain a large proportion of their profits from their Cloud computing divisions.
Both Amazon and Alibaba have similar backgrounds. Each created a trading platform for goods that are used both by wholesalers and retailers. While the products for sale on Alibaba are almost exclusively all produced in China, Amazon has a global source of suppliers with a large number of them based in China. Amazon’s strength is the location of the buyers that use it, including a large US audience. Alibaba sells more outside of its home country.
Alibaba Cloud and AWS
Mirroring their companion trading platforms, Alibaba and Amazon are the strongest in their home markets. Alibaba dominates the market for cloud services in China. AWS is the most successful Cloud platform everywhere else in the world. While most of the main players have a global customer base, the Chinese market is so large that it gets Alibaba Cloud into the top four Cloud computing providers without the service needing to market itself anywhere else in the world.
AWS does compete in the Chinese market. The business currently has 77 data centers across the world and three of those are in China (including Hong Kong). Alibaba has 11 data centers outside of China and 11 within China (including Hong Kong).
The Cloud Computing Market
AWS was one of the earliest providers of Cloud services, starting up in 2006, way ahead of its current US rivals, Azure and Google Cloud. Alibaba Cloud began offering services to the general public in 2009. The other two major rivals in the Cloud computing sector are Microsoft’s Azure, which began operations in 2010, and Google Cloud Platform, which launched at the end of 2011. So, both AWS and Alibaba had a head start on the two other top-four providers.
Over recent years, the cloud computing market has become very competitive. Azure and Google Cloud Platform have been particularly successful at increasing their market share. This has reduced the percentages held by AWS and Alibaba Cloud.
Although it is still the largest Cloud computing service in the world, AWS’s market share fell from having almost half of the market in 2018 at 47.8 percent to less than a third in 2020 with 32 percent.
Alibaba has also suffered from the intense competition that has seen both Azure and Google rise in the market. In 2018, Alibaba Cloud had a 7.7 percent market share but in 2020 it was down to 6 percent. That isn’t much of a fall. However, psychologically, it is significant because, over the same period, Google Cloud Platform increased its market position from 4 percent to 7 percent. Thus, Alibaba lost its position as the third-largest Cloud computing provider in the world. It is still number one in China, however.
Alibaba Cloud and AWS infrastructure services
The market that AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and Alibaba Cloud lead does not account for the whole of the Cloud. What these companies offer is Cloud infrastructure. This sector is called “Infrastructure as a Service,” or IaaS.
IaaS refers to the rental of server facilities for processing and storage. All of these companies have added to their IaaS offerings with extra services, such as load balancers and security systems. These extra services offer a big avenue for market growth and competition with business facilities providers. The addition of services makes these businesses “Platform as a Services” (PaaS) providers.
Servers are large computers and have a great deal of processing capacity. A processor is the part of a computer that runs programs. The elements of a computer that are needed for this action are a CPU (Central Processing Unit) and RAM (Random Access Memory).
Cloud infrastructure systems rent a part of a server’s processing power to each of a number of customers. Cloud systems use very similar architecture to that used for virtualization. Several virtual machines (VMs) are mapped onto a physical server through a virtualization server. This creates independent processing units that can’t be broken out of. That means each account has independent access that can’t be invaded by fellow customers sharing the same physical server.
As the processing unit is software-created, it’s size can easily be altered, so customers can increase or decrease the size of server space that they rent.
The table below shows the different processing services that AWS and Alibaba Cloud offer.
|Processing server space (CPU and RAM)||Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2)||Elastic Compute Service (ECS)||Virtual private servers|
|VM size adjustment||Auto Scaling||Auto Scaling||Automatic|
|VMWare branded hypervisor||VMWare Cloud on AWS||Alibaba Cloud VMWare Solution||Specifically, deploy VMWare|
|Server clusters||Parallel Cluster||Super Computing Cluster||Coordinate actions on several servers|
|Container services||Elastic Container Service (ECS)||Container Service||User containers instead of a VM|
|Secondary container service||AWS Fargate||Container Service||AWS has two architecture options for container usage|
|Docker image storage||Elastic Container Registry||Container Registry||Store Docker-formatted images|
|Kubernetes services||Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)||Container Service for Kubernetes||Use Kubernetes from the cloud platform|
|Microservices||App Mesh||Microservice Architecture||Fully managed service, no server space rental required|
|Serverless||Lambda||Function Compute||Pay per process|
Cloud Storage Servers
Servers space used for storage has many different price points, depending on the purpose of the storage. There are three types of storage that are offered by most cloud infrastructure services. These are:
- Block storage – unformatted space, like a hard drive. Block storage is usually only used in association with a cloud server. It provides space for temporary files and is not usually occupied for very long and is not intended for direct access by users.
- Object storage – data is held in pools with each pool representing a particular data type, such as video or images. Data is held for a long time but is not kept in a format that is directly accessible by users. Identifiers for each object are kept in a separate list and act as pointers to an area of the data pool.
- File Storage – a standard file directory space like that used by businesses and users to hold files in directories. This type of storage is typically accessed directly by users but can also be managed and populated by automated storage.
Cloud providers have different rates for different types of file storage. The calculation on the charges for each different file storage product is usually calculated by the amount of space and also a price for each access event. This creates three tiers of file storage space.
- Hot – frequent access live files
- Cool – infrequent access backups
- Cold – rarely accessed archives
The price structure makes space charges much lower for cold storage, but those prices have a higher charge for access. This suits archiving needs because that store will need to be very large but will hardly ever be accessed. Hot storage, on the other hand, will be accessed many times a day, but the files there will soon get moved to cheaper backup services once their relevance ages out.
The table below shows the different storage services presented by AWS and Alibaba Cloud.
|Block storage||Elastic Block Storage (EBS)||Local Disk||Virtual server disks for use with corresponding VM service.|
|Distributed cloud storage||–||Cloud Disk||An Alibaba specialty with block space spread over several servers.|
|Object storage||Simple Storage Services (S3)||Object Storage Service (OSS)||Large data stored for application-mediated access, such as big data analytics.|
|File storage||Elastic File System (EFS)||Network Attached Storage (NAS)||User-accessible files held in a directory structure.|
|Archiving||S3 Infrequent Access (IA)||Infrequent Access||Cool object storage with less frequent access for archiving.|
|Deep Archive||S3 Glacier||Archive||Long-term object storage with very infrequent access.|
|Backup and recovery||Backup||Backup and Archive||Includes a data restoring mechanism.|
|Hybrid Storage||Storage Gateway||Hybrid Backup Recovery (HBR)||Offers cloud storage to backup onsite files.|
|Onsite caching||DataSync||Cloud Storage Gateway||Copies kept onsite and on the cloud.|
Edge and Network Services
The extra services that transform an IaaS into a platform have many uses from database services to security services. The meeting point between infrastructure and platform probably lies in the network-related services that both AWS and Alibaba Cloud provide. Some of these are listed in the table below.
|Virtual networking||Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)||Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)||Creates a private network over the internet|
|WAN security||VPN Gateway||VPN Gateway||Connection privacy and security between sites or connecting to remote workers|
|DNS management||Route 53||Alibaba Cloud DNS||DNS server management|
|Traffic management||53||Global Traffic Manager||Reroutes traffic according to requested applications and also manages server clusters|
|Private line||Direct Connect||Express Connect||Manages leased lines to cloud resources (not over the internet)|
|Load balancing||Elastic Load Balancer (ELB)||Server Load Balancer (SLB)||Network load balancing at Layer 4 (TCP/UDP)|
|Load balancing||Application Load Balancer||Server Load Balancer (SLB)||Layer 7 load balancing including SSL offloading|
|Web application Firewall||Web Application Firewall||Web Application Firewall||Protects web hosts and their web services from hacker attack|
|Network Firewall||Web Application Firewall||Alibaba Cloud Firewall||General network inbound traffic protection plus outbound HTTP/S checking|
|DDoS protection||AWS Shield||Anti-DDoS||Network/web protection from overload attack|
AWS and Alibaba Cloud Web services
Both AWS and Alibaba Cloud are accomplished at hosting websites because both host their parent company’s eponymous trading platform. While neither system markets web hosting services directly, they provide the infrastructure used by many other web hosting services. These are supported by web services that are part of the PaaS architecture.
|Managed web hosting platform||Elastic Beanstalk||Web Hosting||Supports web service provision.|
|API publishing||API Gateway||API Gateway||Hosts APIs and makes them available both internally and externally.|
|Content delivery network (CDN)||CloudFront||Alibaba Cloud CDN||Caches site content on servers around the globe.|
|Website accelerator||Global Accelerator||Global Accelerator||Distributed web applications for faster delivery and failover.|
|Web application development support||LightSail||Web Hosting||A managed platform for web application development and access|
AWS vs Alibaba Cloud Prices
AWS and Alibaba both have different prices depending on which datacenter hosts a customer’s account. It is also possible to open accounts at several data centers. Many services have different elements involved in their pricing policies. All of these factors make comparing the prices of AWS and Alibaba very complicated.
Alibaba offers two price models: a Pay-As-You-Go metered rate and a subscription rate. AWS just offers a metered rate.
In order to simplify the comparison between the two services, we focus on one service: block storage.
AWS’s Elastic Block Storage is built on SSD systems. Alibaba also offers SSD in its Cloud Disk service. However, Alibaba offers different prices depending on the throughput needed for the service.
AWS posts a tariff per GB per month. However, it doesn’t require the customer to reserve a block of space. Instead, account holders are only charged for the amount of space used per second. When the bill is calculated, the monthly rate is divided by the number of seconds in the month and then multiplied by the number of GB used in each second. The result of this second-second bill is then summed up to give a total charge for the month.
The closest equivalent to the AWS EBS service is the Pay-As-You-Go rate for ESSD Cloud Disk PL0. This has a rate of 100 GB per hour. As with AWS, the customer only pays for time when the disk space is actually in use and does not have to pay for an allocation of space.
Here are sample prices of some of the key data centers of AWS.
|Region||Price per provisioned GB per month|
|US East (Ohio)||0.1|
|US East (Verizon)||0.15|
|US West (Los Angeles)||0.12|
|US West (Verizon) – San Francisco Bay Area||0.15|
|US West (Oregon)||0.1|
|Africa (Cape Town)||0.1309|
|Asia Pacific (Hong Kong)||0.132|
|Asia Pacific (Mumbai)||0.114|
|Asia Pacific (Tokyo)||0.12|
|Asia Pacific (Sydney)||0.12|
|South America (Sao Paulo)||0.19|
Here are the prices from Alibaba Cloud for the equivalent service.
|Region||Price per provisioned 100 GB per hour||Subscription per 100 GB per month|
|US East (Virginia)||0.025||11.2|
|US West (Silicon Valley)||0.025||11.2|
|Asia Pacific (Hong Kong)||0.025||11.2|
|Asia Pacific (Beijing)||0.016||7.65|
|Asia Pacific (Heyuan)||0.03||15.3|
|Asia Pacific (Mumbai)||0.025||10.7|
|Asia Pacific (Tokyo)||0.03||12.95|
|Asia Pacific (Sydney)||0.03||12.95|
The difference in time series between these two services makes comparison very difficult without examining a use case scenario.
The subscription rates of Alibaba work out cheaper in theory than the metered rate. However, while the Pay-As-You-Go plans are charged for retrospectively, the subscription fee has to be paid for in advance. Another difference is that customers opting for a subscription plan have to predict at the beginning of the month how much space will be needed and pay for that block for the whole month whether it ends up being used or not. Again, whether the metered rate or the subscription fee works out cheaper depends on individual business block storage usage over any given month.
AWS vs Alibaba Cloud: Strengths and Weaknesses
The services offered by AWS and Alibaba Cloud are very similar – in most cases, they even have the same name. The pricing difference can only be fully expressed when calculated for a specific use. As the two services are so similar, any business decision over which cloud platform to choose might come down to price.
The location of demand for the services of each provider is clearly illustrated by the locations of their data centers. AWS has only three data centers in China but seven in the USA, which has a quarter of the population of China. Alibaba Cloud has only two data centers in the USA but 11 in China. AWS currently has 77 data centers around the world and plans to add 15 more. None of those new sites are in China.
Clearly, AWS doesn’t see China as a target market that could provide it with expansion opportunities. That gives Alibaba Cloud a strong advantage in its home market.
Alibaba Cloud vs AWS Verdict
The customers of AWS in China get access to a website and console all written in Mandarin, all support staff speak and write Mandarin. The US customers of Alibaba Cloud are served by English speaking support staff and all of the environment is written in English. So, there is no language barrier when Chinese customers or US businesses choose between these two services – they are, essentially, equal. However, there seems to be a patriotic element in the decision over which of these two services to use.
AWS and Alibaba Cloud succeed in their home markets. This could be due to the location of the directors of each company – each is more interested in capturing attention in their own home environment and regards overseas markets as secondary. If you are in the USA, you are probably going to opt for AWS; if you are in China, you will likely sign up for Alibaba Cloud.