The real power and flexibility of Software Defined Networking (SDN), and the business possibilities it opens up as it is used to build ever-larger Wide Area Networks (WANs), are now starting to be seen in action, with one of the biggest players in retail – Alibaba – having made a move to strengthen and extend its ability to reach out to the rest of the world.
Alibaba Cloud, the service provision side of the business upon which all the retailing operations are built, is already a dominant player in the Far East marketplace, with both Gartner and IDC predicting a 41.7% market share in China and 28.2% across the whole APAC region by the end of last year. But despite this strong position in the East, and despite the fact it has services available in 21 regions and 63 availability zones around the world servicing millions of customers in total, it has still not really penetrated western markets to any great degree.
This is where SDN may come to play an important role. It may also prove to be an interesting worked example of how businesses, when operating in the cloud, will end up working with channel partners of the large service providers, the specialists with skills and expertise in focussed areas of the marketplace.
In this case, Alibaba has partnered up with Aryaka, San Mateo-based producer of SD-WAN systems, with the double-edged gambit of making it much easier for Chinese vendors to sell directly to Western businesses and consumers, while at the same time providing Western businesses with a far more direct route to use Alibaba to sell directly into Chinese markets.
According to an Alibaba spokesperson this is, in effect, a dynamically reconfigurable global peer-to-peer network between Alibaba China and any IP address anywhere in the world, be that a single consumer or a major business partner/distributor/agent in another country. In theory therefore, any business with a product or service to sell and an expectation of sales in the APAC region will now be able to reach those markets through Alibaba. The quid pro quo is that any business or individual consumer looking to buy from APAC vendors will be able to get direct access.
In addition, this partnership between Alibaba and Aryaka, suggests that the degree of seriousness within Alibaba to take on the global market has become more prominent in its long-term planning. Though it has been offering service access in the UK and Europe for a couple of years now, it has yet to put significant levels of effort into building up the business. This partnership, which Aryaka has referred to as providing a global on-ramp to Alibaba Cloud’s services, does look like the move that could give the retailer some real traction in starting to play in the global market.
The company line is that the addition of Aryaka as just one more of a large range of options customers will have for working with Alibaba:
Our customers will continue to connect to our points of presences around the world through our global data centre partners, join over the internet or they can organize their own last mile connections with their telecommunications providers. Aryaka provides an additional option to our customers to connect to our points of presence via their global network and SD-WAN technology.
What could make a difference here however is the range of services it brings to the party in its own right, services that could tick a number of boxes for vendors looking to exploit the potential of the Alibaba network, not just for selling into China, but any other country where Alibaba manages to establish a foothold.
The Aryaka package is a good example of the ‘platform-ization’ of appropriate services that customers are likely to require in order to set up a working production environment. Its SmartServices platform includes its core managed Software-Defined WAN, known as SmartConnect. This is joined by a family of Smart-branded services covering global orchestration (…Manage), security (…Secure), application/WAN optimization (…Optimize), direct multi-cloud connectivity (Cloud), and sophisticated analytics (…Insights).
In addition, Aryaka has recently forged partnerships with cybersecurity specialist, Check Point Software Technologies and 8x8. This will give Alibaba, and other customers, access to Check Point’s CloudGuard Connect and CloudGuard Edge to get real time threat prevention technology that is kept up to date through Check Point’s ThreatCloud intelligence network. All customers will also get access to 8x8’s enterprise communications services offering voice, team chat, meetings, and contact center solutions, which can then be offered to their own customers as an additional service. In current circumstances this could provide Alibaba’s customers with an alternative to its own DingTalk service.
In many ways this may look like another ‘businesses partner up’ story, but to me it also sets out what could be an important worked example of how the ‘platform-ization’ of cloud-delivered services will create complete service packages, where CIOs need pay less and less heed to the specification of required technologies and much more to the efficacy of achieving the required business goals. And in a fast-changing business world, that can only help improve the overall business agility. After all, who worries about ordering new tyres for the taxi they have just hailed?