A Chat with Alibaba Cloud

Dr Feifei Li

Vice President of Alibaba Group

If bringing a cloud strategy to fruition in your organisation has left you stumped at the options available (multi-cloud systems? open source?), this article recounting our chat with Alibaba Cloud will surely be up your alley.

CIO World Asia had the pleasure of speaking with Dr Feifei Li, Vice President of Alibaba Group, ACM Fellow, President of the Database Products Business Unit of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, and Director of the Database and Storage Lab of DAMO academy. Dr Li boosts extensive R&D experience and award credentials. He shares his insights on the beneficial risks of cloud storage and trends in data retention. 

Trends In Data Management And Retention

Internationally, there’s a normalisation of moving data applications to cloud-native systems. Tech companies pioneered the move – e-commerce, gaming, edutech. Following not far behind, with the pandemic as a catalyst, companies outside of the tech domain also accelerated the move to cloud – financial services, manufacturing, transportation, government agencies. 

Companies build entire data stacks, layer upon layer on cloud applications. A robust database management system acting as a one-stop management platform, combined with analytics, became very much in-demand. Less effort spent on processing, cleaning and integrating, means more effort for generating values and insights from data.

As companies placed all their eggs (data) in one basket, cloud systems became denser with data, professionals wondered what if the main server was compromised? Utilising only one service provider’s in-house product translates into being locked down by it. Disaster recovery plans were sought. The trend of setting infrastructure in multi-cloud environments, some in open source databases, some in service providers’ platforms thus began. 

This move also brought about another trend, open source databases. As Dr Li views it, open source is a double edged sword. Pros – it builds a rich, vibrant ecosystem for all to leverage. Cons – a competitor to cloud service providers such as Alibaba, AWS. If these providers’ business model wants to continue being modelled on offering managed services, they need to open source the entire stack. Alibaba Cloud has embraced the trend by open sourcing its self-developed database PolarDB for PostgreSQL and PolarDB-X last year.

Beneficial Risks Of Unified Cloud

Threat actors go for the biggest fish in the sea. Major cloud vendors’ databases encounter the most number of cyber attacks. Yet as the proverb goes, once bitten twice shy. Cloud vendors grow from each attack, solidifying their defence strategy. Conversely, individual customers’ databases which encounter lower attack rates are safer in the short-term, but weaker in the long run.

The burgeoning of data concerning all aspects of society’s functions sees governing policies set in place, ethically and legally regulating data. Last year, India and Indonesia released a policy requiring onshore data localisation, disabling companies’ plans to store information in cross-country multi-clouds. Ever-changing regulations across industries and regions pose a complex challenge for individual companies to keep track of. Cloud service providers with more expertise in this area can then step in to close the gap.

Alibaba Cloud’s Data Safety Design

On the security side of things, Alibaba Cloud boosts an end-to-end encrypted database for transitory and stored data. A KMS (key management system) allows customers to encrypt data using an individual unique key, before uploading data to the cloud. Alibaba Cloud also ensures its data centres comply with the respective region’s data security and data governance policies.

On the reliability side of things, Alibaba Cloud employs a strong disaster recovery plan by keeping RTO (amount of time needed to reboot a system) and RPO (metrics for acceptable data loss from downtime) at or close to zero. 3 replica systems are set up, each replica is located in a different region, yet all are in an easily accessible zone. When disaster strikes, the cloud can switch over in real time such that business operations are not affected.