With government approval, OpenStack adoption continues apace in China

By Tamlin Magee Nov 22nd 2017
With government approval, OpenStack adoption continues apace in China

Enormous organisations like the State Grid Corporation of China are turning to OpenStack, and their contributions have the potential to drastically reshape the landscape for cloud computing.

Deployments of OpenStack cloud are growing faster in China and the APAC region than anywhere else in the world, backed in part by the Chinese government's vocal support for the open source infrastructure.

It is China in particular where some of the biggest deployments are running. China UnionPay recently overtook Visa for the largest volume of card payments in the world. The state-operated railway network China Rail oversees billions of passengers every year. By total number of subscribers China Mobile tops the list for biggest mobile phone operator globally. And the massive utility organisation the State Grid Corporation of China employs 1.5 million people.

All of these enormous enterprises are running OpenStack clouds. Why?

"I think the most important factor is we can control the software stack by ourselves," Junwei Liu, assistant general manager of the cloud computing products division at China Mobile told Computerworld UK during the Openstack Summit in Sydney earlier this month.

"China is a little different from other countries - in China the security is very important, so we like to build private cloud, and OpenStack is very suitable for private cloud."

Analyst house 451 Research publishes an annual report on the state of OpenStack, including a breakdown of maturity by geography. Asia is far and away the fastest-growing region, where OpenStack has emerged as "slowly, yet clearly" one of the "foremost technology platforms for cloud implementations in both developed and developing Asia", the report concludes.

While the open source infrastructure is deployed all over the APAC region, it is Japan and China in particular where usage is booming. The China Electronic Standardization Institute - a group that works under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to oversee standardisation in tech - has been a loud voice in support of OpenStack.

The security and visibility that comes with open source infrastructure has the clear appeal of providing control for state-operated businesses, where they can own the entire stack and influence its development by participating in the community - especially compared to the closed shop of the major American vendors.

Indeed - infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden opened a summit last year to talk up the infrastructure's importance for ownership that does away with the "silent vulnerabilities" that might be found in pre-packaged American kit.

There is a possibility that the swell in contributions to the development cycle in China will transform OpenStack into a viable contender to the traditional public cloud giants, especially in regions that might be suspicious of US interests around data ownership.

But for matters that are less concerned with the potential for subterfuge, OpenStack in China also helps organisations make savings. There is a large pool of developers to pick from in China and building a working private cloud eats up substantially less resources than it would in the USA or Europe.

These organisations are racing towards embracing digital, and being able to contribute and influence the direction of OpenStack is another attractive piece for adopting open source.

China Mobile last year won the SuperUser award for community contributions to OpenStack, which marketing and community services VP at OpenStack Lauren Sell now calls 'coveted' in China. This year in Sydney, three of four finalists were Chinese companies: Tencent, China Railway and China UnionPay.

Director of technical support at China Railway Information Technology Center, Mingxing Gao, told Computerworld UK earlier this month that the "very traditional" company did have some hurdles to clear in retraining a workforce to use OpenStack.

But the organisation's journey into full-fledged deployment was relatively speedy for its size. China Railway began building an OpenStack cloud towards the end of 2014, the private cloud became operational in 2016, and it now runs passenger management, freight management, train parking, train tracking and core infrastructure.

"So we can increase the size of the cloud as we need, we can more quickly and better support applications," Gao said. "We have to transform with digitalisation, we have to develop new business based on our core business. You have to have good compute, you have to mine business data, to find ways to cut costs and to develop new business.

"With the cloud platform, we can better support and meet the requirements of users. It helps business innovation, communication innovation and management innovation."

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