Alibaba Cloud has announced the release of PAI 2.0, an updated version of a platform designed to facilitate the deployment of “large-scale data mining and modeling,” with a specific focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Alibaba Cloud’s PAI 2.0 represents China’s first publicly available machine learning platform that encompasses use cases for its “ET Industrial Brain” related to manufacturing, optimized device and sensor configuration, energy utilization management and analytics related to the industrial internet of things, more generally. Separately, Alibaba has announced details of an “ET Medical Brain” that specializes in use cases related to drug discovery, patient management, hospital and clinical facility management as well as the deployment of virtual medical assistants to help patients interact with clinical protocols and tests. PAI 2.0 features over 100 pre-configured machine learning algorithms that can be adapted for different use cases and scenarios. The announcement of PAI 2.0 underscores the intersection between cloud platforms and machine learning technologies as cloud infrastructures increasingly seek to differentiate their platforms with value-driven analytic, coding and data management capabilities. PAI 2.0 allows Alibaba Cloud to claim parity with the likes of AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and IBM SoftLayer with respect to advanced machine learning functionality although the sophistication and ease of use of its algorithms and deep learning technologies remains in the process of discovery and realization by its customers.
Alibaba plans to invest $1B in cloud computing globally to further the expansion of Aliyun, its public cloud services platform. Alibaba currently operates five datacenters in Hong Kong and China and opened a data center in Silicon Valley earlier this year. The $1B investment will be used to create datacenters in the Middle East, Singapore, Japan and Europe and fund the company’s product development with respect to solutions for cloud and big data. Aliyun also announced a collaboration with Yonyou Software (Yonyou), the largest sotware vendor in China. The strategic partnership with Yonyou Software positions Aliyun to more effectively tap into the enterprise market for cloud products and services in both China and the Asia Pacific region. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Alibaba plans to take direct aim at the dominance of Amazon Web Services in the Infrastructure as a Service space as noted below by Simon Hu, the President of Aliyun:
Our goal is to overtake Amazon in four years, whether that’s in customers, technology, or worldwide scale. Amazon, Microsoft and others have already laid the groundwork for us by educating the markets about cloud in the U.S. and Europe, so we have an even better opportunity to join in the competition.
Aliyun has its work cut out for it if it plans to overtake Amazon within three to four years but its investment does beg the question of whether the larger space of cloud products and services has room for another major player. Even though a large part of Aliyun’s success rests upon the Chinese market in which it already claims a significant foothold, its $1B investment and associated plans to expand to other countries signal a deeper commitment to globalizing its product that builds upon its preliminary traction in mainland China. As such, Alibaba continues its transformation from an e-commerce vendor to a broader technology company focused on its original mission of helping businesses leverage the internet to more effectively market their products and services.