First things first
I really couldn't think of a more compelling headline for this issue, which is based on a handful of stories I've read over the past few days -- ranging from a summary of Gartner's IaaS Magic Quadrant for Public Cloud Storage to the U.S. Senate's letter to Google over its rumored censored search engine for China. Here they all are:
- Whoa, AWS, don't slip off your cloudy perch. Google and Microsoft are coming up to help (The Register)
- Google is in China cloud talks with Tencent, others (Bloomberg)
- India may become next restricted market for U.S. cloud providers (TechCrunch)
- A bipartisan letter from the U.S. Senate to Sundar Pichai
I suggest you read them all, but let me quick recap in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness style.
There are two highlights of Gartner's Magic Quadrant (for cloud storage), in my opinion. One is that Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure are both moving closer to AWS (which actually slipped) in the top-right corner. The other is that Alibaba Cloud is moving toward becoming the fourth cloud provider to enter that quadrant. As I've written before, Alibaba should be taken seriously as a cloud provider, especially because it has some inherent advantages in establishing footholds in markets -- including, possibly, India -- where U.S.-based providers might struggle.
However, reports that Google is looking to partner with Tencent and/or Inspur to build out its cloud business in mainland China could make things a little more interesting -- at least in china. AWS and Microsoft already have partnered with Chinese companies to sell their cloud services there (Chinese law requires such partnerships, and requires data to stay in the country), but none as large as Tencent. Furthermore, Google and Tencent already have a patent-sharing partnership, and Tencent is battling with Alibaba and Baidu for digital dominance in China, so Tencent could definitely benefit from this relationship, too.
I'm not sure if server-manufacturer Inspur already builds servers for Google, but that's also an interesting angle. Google building out its footprint in China could catapult Inspur into the data center business, while ensuring it has a buyer to fill up those facilities with its gear. The major takeaway here is that while AWS and Microsoft went a more traditional route by partnering with more traditional telcos, Google is looking at major web companies and server makers, which might give it more control over operations while also helping it establish a foothold in the greater Chinese economy.
Which is something Google appears to want, based on reports that it's building a censored search engine to comply with Chinese laws. I think the U.S. senators who wrote the letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai make some very good points and ask some very good questions, and they could do the same about artificial intelligence if they haven't already. It strikes me as odd that while Google employees fight against military deals in the U.S. and the company publishes its ethical guidelines for AI, it's also establishing deeper connections with Chinese institutions that presumably are not entirely free from government/military control.
I've never really believed that the United States is in danger of losing an AI technology battle against China, but geopolitics are a different thing altogether. While it's fascinating to watch the world's biggest companies fight to stake their claim in what might very well become the world's most important economy (if it's not already), you have to wonder how much they're willing to put up with in order to do it, or if they really care as long as the money is flowing. You also have to wonder how long the U.S. government will sit on the sidelines before it decides it needs to act, and whether it should at all.