The Cloud Computing Era

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Cloud computing in the west is a mature market with massive economies of scale. This means incredibly low prices.

Competitors like Amazon AWS, Rackspace, and Digital Ocean have been duking it out for years with prices rapidly going towards zero, in a distinctly Rafkin-esque economic model.

For example, a basic cloud droplet (i.e instance) with 1 GB RAM and 20 GB bandwidth using Digital Ocean can cost as little as 5$ / month.

While Amazon / Digital Ocean have servers and data centers located in the Asia Pacific Region (Japan and Singapore), none are actually located in China. This, coupled with China’s strange ISP peering situation means that access speeds to AWS servers can be quite slow within China.

The need for cloud computing infrastructure in China is clear with their 600 million+ internet user base. This means you might need some serious server back end if you are deploying any mobile or web apps, websites, or server infrastructure that is targeting the Chinese market.

Even small scale app deployments will benefit by having servers physically present in China.

Why NOT to have servers in China?

Hosting in China will NOT prevent your app or website being blocked in China. Server location has nothing to do with the internet filter, though the vast majority of blocked websites originate from outside China.

Hosting in China will NOT help boost your rankings in Baidu.

Hosting in China cannot be used as a VPN to get around the Great Firewall. To do this you would need a server in a location outside of China. See here for our reviews of best VPNs for China.

Cloud computing is the natural weapon of choice for deploying web apps, mobile app back ends, high traffic websites, and e-commmerce, since you can instantly scale your RAM and other resources without needing to migrate to other servers as you would in a dedicated or VPS setup.

However the choices of Cloud server providers in China is somewhat limited, and prices reflect this situation. Let’s take a look at the options.

Aliyun – Alibaba’s response to AWS

The most obvious choice for cloud servers in China would be Alibaba’s Aliyun (“yun” means cloud in Chinese).

Aliyun Cloud servers (or Elastic Computing Clouds) can be deployed in Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen.

Registering for Aliyun can be massive headache if you haven’t already made a verified Alipay account. Aliyun requires all sorts of additional documentation to verify your identity before you can get started. The verification process can take several days and requires you divulge quite a bit of personal information.

Furthermore, the language support on the Aliyun site is atrocious, and is clearly not welcoming to non-chinese speakers. In contrast, Amazon AWS has multiple languages on their site, which speaks to their global ambitions. You can use Chrome to auto-translate most of the text however there are still some issues with rendering of certain elements on the pages.

Prices are charged based on server hardware and also bandwidth. For bandwidth you can choose to be charged a monthly flat rate with a capped data transfer rate or you can choose uncapped with a maximum monthly transfer total in GB.

Either way you choose, it will be more expensive than what is offered by Amazon or Digital Ocean — so be prepared. A 1 GB, 20 GB disk, 1 mbps transfer cloud will set you back nearly 90 RMB / month or $15 USD / month. This is nearly 3x what you would pay at Digital Ocean for a similar setup.

Despite this, Aliyun remains as one of the best choices for cloud servers in China. The Alibaba tech giant certainly has the ability and expertise needed to deal with the unprecedented scale of users and connections in China.

51IDC – Simple and Fast Cloud Computing and VPS

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51idc is another popular cloud hosting service / VPS provider located in China. In contrast to Aliyun, registering with 51idc is completely painless and takes about 3 seconds. 51idc uses a topop system much like a pre-paid mobile SIM card plan — simply add money to your account by selecting Tencent Pay or Alipay and it shows up in your account.

Keep in mind you will still need to Chrome auto-translate everything on 51idc, as there is no English language support.

Your cloud dashboard will then estimate the amount of time you have left on your server before you need to top up again.

Choosing a cloud instance or droplet is super easy. Just click on the “add” button follow through the options for RAM, disk space, OS or Linux distro

51idc offers all the main flavors of Linux: Ubuntu, Redhat, and Centos, and also Windows Server.

Prices on 51IDC are definitely higher than what you would for a similar deployment on Rackspace or Digital Ocean. The cheapest option

1 GB RAM 1 MBPS transfer speed 20 GB diskspace

costs about 78 RMB or about $12 / month. This is more than 2x what it costs at Digital Ocean. But alas, such is the price of dealing with China.

Server uptimes are promised to be on the order of 99.99% and I have yet to see any issues with my cloud deployments as of yet.

Firewall configuration is neatly laid out in the cloud topology dashboard and rules for allowing incoming and outgoing connections (PPTP, PING, FTP etc) are easy to setup, even for complete beginners.

The Future of Cloud Computing

As the cloud computing war spreads across the globe, we should expect to see prices in China decline from their unreasonably high levels of the present. Until then, the options are not so plentiful, though you probably can’t go wrong with either Aliyun or 51IDC. If you just want a quick deployment without the heft of Alibaba, then go with 51IDC.

  • Harvey Specter
    Posted at 9:32 pm March 16, 2016
    Michael Caplan


    Really useful write up. Do you have any advise in hosting in Hong Kong in order to service the Chinese market? As a US company looking to extend our reach, Hong Kong hosting seems much more approachable (both from a documentation / government regulations perspective as well as diversity of hosting choices).



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