Your Guide to Cloud Hosting in China
China is the second largest economy in the world and has the world’s largest digital population, at 1.05 billion users as of early 2023. China’s large online population has helped boost China’s E-commerce market to become the biggest and most mature in the world, with a size of 2.7 trillion USD projected to reach in 2023. This has made digital infrastructure increasingly important for the Chinese economy.
Today, no other digital infrastructure is growing as fast as cloud hosting. More and more businesses are undergoing ‘cloud migration’, or moving their IT systems into the cloud, amidst the rapid growth of E-commerce and push for digitalization precipitated by COVID.
Perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world, the cloud hosting market in China has grown at a staggering pace, reaching 7.3 billion USD in the first quarter of 2022 and accounting for 13% of global cloud infrastructure spending.
However, the cloud hosting landscape in China is completely different from elsewhere in the world.
It’s common knowledge at this point that China’s digital ecosystem is vastly different compared to what people in the West are used to. Thanks to the Great Firewall of China, the Chinese internet hosts its own set of social media platform giants, E-commerce giants, and more. For this reason, China’s digital ecosystem also presents a unique set of challenges for overseas companies looking for cloud hosting in the country.
Cloud Hosting vs Managed Hosting
Before we jump into how cloud hosting is different in China, we need to define some terminology:
When it comes to hosting your website or application, there are several options available and the two most popular are managed hosting and cloud hosting.
In managed hosting model, the service provider takes care of all the technical aspects of the IT system. The provider is responsible for managing and maintaining servers, hardware, and infrastructure; managing, monitoring, and securing servers; and handling software updates and backups.
With this model, clients can focus on their own core businesses without worrying about managing the IT system themselves.
Outside of China, managed hosting providers include WP Engine, Kinsta, and Hostinger.
In a cloud hosting model, the service provider uses virtual servers to provide on-demand computing resources. Cloud hosting providers are only responsible for managing the servers, storage, and network infrastructure. Clients do not need to invest in physical hardware and only rent what they need to use. However, clients will need to manage their IT systems themselves.
Cloud hosting providers most readers will be familiar with are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
Benefits of Cloud Hosting
Cloud hosting is recommended for businesses of all sizes as it offers greater scalability and flexibility compared to managed hosting. While providers of managed hosting usually offer different hosting set-ups based on pre-defined specifications, cloud hosting gives you the possibility to build an architecture which perfectly fits the needs of your business.
Cloud hosting can be easily scaled up by renting more machines as your business grows or scaled down during downturns. With the ability to replicate data over multiple servers and regions, they not only improve reliability and fault tolerance but also increase the performance during periods of high traffic.
As clients are responsible for their own IT system management on cloud hosted servers, they allow for more complex architecture and full control over the system’s underlying configuration.
Cloud Market Share in China
While AWS, Azure, and GCP dominate cloud hosting in the West, they are not the major players in China.
China is the only major economy where foreign cloud service providers are not permitted to operate with their own data centers. To get around this, both AWS and Azure operate as less than 50% foreign-owned Sino-foreign joint ventures with Chinese partners for their Chinese operations. GCP is not available in China. It’s important to note that AWS and Azure are both separate instances from their global counterparts and are therefore not connected to the international AWS and Azure global network.
According to Canalys’s report on cloud services in China, as of Q2 2022, the largest cloud hosting platforms in China are Aliyun (34%), Huawei Cloud (19%), Tencent Cloud (17%), and Baidu AI Cloud (9%). The remaining competitors, which include AWS China and Azure China, make up 10% of cloud market share in China.
Comparison of Chinese Cloud Hosting Providers
|Aliyun (阿里云)||Aliyun is operated by Alibaba, one of China’s largest tech giants. Alibaba is known for its massive presence in the E-commerce space, owning Taobao and Tmall.||As the largest cloud hosting provider, Aliyun is the most reliable provider in the list. They also offer the most products and services.||As the market leader, Aliyun’s pricing is more expensive than competitors.|
|Huawei Cloud (华为云)||Huawei Cloud is operated by Huawei, one of China’s largest telecommunications hardware companies. Huawei is the largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world and plays a critical role in China’s 5G infrastructure.||Huawei, as a hardware company, offers its strengths in hardware and security to its cloud hosting service. The majority clients are state-owned enterprises, government agencies, and banking institutions.||Huawei Cloud’s product and service offerings are not as competitive compared to Aliyun and Tencent Cloud.|
|Tencent Cloud (腾讯云)||Tencent Cloud is operated by Tencent, China’s largest tech giant. Tencent is most well-known for being the owner of WeChat. Tencent is also the largest video game company in the world based on its investments.||Strongest tech for gaming, livestreaming, VOD, and IM. As it is a newer platform, Tencent Cloud’s pricing is more competitive than other providers and is always offering deals.||Tencent is a more recent contender in the cloud hosting space compared to Aliyun and Huawei Cloud. Hence, it is seen as less reliable and has a less mature suite of products and services compared to Aliyun.|
|Baidu AI Cloud (百度智能云)||Baidu AI Cloud is operated by Baidu, another Chinese tech giant. Baidu is regarded as China’s answer to Google, owning the foremost search engine in China.||Focused on simplifying AI technology for enterprise applications, Baidu AI Cloud is the best option for AI-based web applications.||Baidu AI Cloud, as the name suggests, has a narrow scope of focus: AI. Unless you’re looking to develop cloud hosted AI-based web applications, it is suggested you look to the top three providers.|
|AWS China||While AWS China is controlled by Amazon and has many of the services and APIs found on AWS, AWS China is operated by Sinnet in Beijing and NWCD in Ningxia.||AWS China offers many of the same services and products as AWS global with differences on the available features and configuration possibilities.||AWS China’s service zones are only limited to Beijing and Ningxia. There are possibilities to partially connect the AWS China network with the AWS Global network.|
|Azure China||Azure China is operated by 21Vianet in China, as part of a joint venture with Microsoft.||Azure China offers many of the same services and products as Azure global.||There is no way to integrate websites and applications hosted on Azure global systems with Azure China.|
How is Cloud Hosting in China Different?
It is important to note that while AWS, Azure, and AliYun are available outside of China, they are not the same as their Chinese counterparts.
Due to Chinese regulations, cloud servers in China are hosted on a different instance from their international counterparts. This means that it’s not a simple task to migrate a web application built and hosted on AWS global to AWS China and vice versa. The migration will require modifications to both the architecture and the source code. Technical adaptations related to functional differences are also necessary if you want to host your solution in China.
In addition, Chinese internet regulations are much more stringent than elsewhere in the world. For a business to run a website or app, they must be registered in China, and depending on the business scope and industry, must be registered as a Sino-foreign joint venture.
For websites and web applications hosted on Chinese servers, one major difference is the ICP registration requirements. For mobile apps, a Chinese Software Copyright Certificate (SCC) and a completed Security Assessment Form are required.
We understand that for an outsider, planning digital expansion into the Chinese market can be daunting. At QPS we are experts in digital solutions for the Chinese market. We can help you navigate through the entire process of launching your website or deploying your app in China. Our specialized support will enhance your chance of success in China and help your business grow.