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Report: Seminar on cloud computing by China Entercom

BritCham / CBBC
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The British Centre played host on 25 September to an enlightening seminar on using cloud computing as a means to make business operations more efficient. Speakers from member company China Entercom and CITIC Telecom explained the background and future of the cloud with reference to its application in China and abroad.

Russell Brown, chair of the British Chamber of Commerce in China, opened the seminar by welcoming attendees and introducing the first speaker, Layton Lok, chief operating officer of CITIC Telecom.

Mr Lok gave an overview covering two aspects:

  • How can cloud computing help your business?
  • What are the key considerations to make?

According to Mr Lok, a recent market overview indicated that 43 per cent of companies now use the cloud. This is projected to rise to 88 per cent in the next two years. There are a number of attractions for them:

  • It reduces the time to market by enabling a faster response to market requirements.
  • Staff are able to concentrate on their core business rather than IT issues.
  • It enables companies to understand market trends more easily; for example, through data analysis.
  • Geographical expansion is simpler, especially if the company has branches abroad, since all branches can work via one cloud.

Of course, with the benefits come concerns, and many companies are hesitant about embracing cloud computing. Mr Lok presented the top three concerns as security, performance and integration with the existing system. However, he assured attendees that the cloud computing solutions provided by his company, CITIC Telecom, have many satisfied customers whose initial anxieties have proved unfounded. Of course, users need to be aware of security, in particular, but provided they also take their own preventive measures, there should be no problem with the cloud technology per se.

He made the point that contrary to the common logic, which says that companies shouldn't entrust their entire IT system to an external provider, in fact this is far more sensible than entrusting it to one or two IT staff within the company who may have been there only a year or two - why hand over all the data to them, and not to a major multinational that could be held to account if anything went wrong?

One participant asked whether data can be stored on a company's own server, rather than the provider's. Mr Lok said that it is possible to have a private cloud, which may be operated in the customary way by the user or be managed by the provider.

Another member was interested in the type and size of CITIC Telecom's clients. Mr Lok explained that originally most had foreign backgrounds, but now, in line with the increasing opportunities for Chinese companies overseas, more and more are domestic enterprises.

As to the speed of the cloud in cross-border interaction, Mr Lok affirmed that this should not concern users. His company works across some 120 countries and there are no problems as regards high-speed connections. The only issues in respect of cross-border operations are things such as regulatory differences: for instance, data privacy laws vary from country to country and even industry to industry.

This presentation was followed with one by Yanni Li, account manager at China Entercom. She gave a definition of cloud computing - "a style of computing where massively scalable IT capabilities are enabled as a service over a network" - and listed some household names that use the cloud, including Google, Baidu, Youku, Amazon and Tmall.

Ms Li described some more benefits of the cloud:

  • Cost
  • Efficiency and scalability
  • Agility (e.g. applications on the cloud platform can be upgraded with the click of the mouse). 
  • The automation of IT operations
  • Universal access to company resources
  • Standardisation and control

Two case studies were cited to illustrate the points at hand. One was a supply-chain solutions firm headquartered in Germany, which wanted to source clothing for an online shop but was reluctant to invest heavily upfront. They also wanted to start up as soon as possible.China Entercom was able to get them started with a cloud system in under a month (as against about six months for server-based systems) and estimated that it saved them about 60 per cent in costs compared with the purchase a server, auxiliaries and maintenance fees. The second case study looked at a reinsurance company that wanted security without upfront licensing or hardware fees. China Entercom was able to offer them a one-stop solution.

Ms Li's presentation also prompted a lot of questions from the audience. One member wanted to know whether her company also provided software solutions such as email. Indeed, China Entercom has its own email system, SmartCLOUD, and also provides internet access. The company can build the entire cloud infrastructure for clients and provide a monitoring service. It now has as many as seven platforms, and further investment is envisaged, so the company is keen to attract new clients.

Someone mentioned VPNs and queried whether they are provided everywhere or just in China. Ms Li said that VPNs account for 17 per cent of China Entercom's revenue, and they are available everywhere, although the focus is on mainland China.

One of our Chinese members was keen to know whether Chinese companies with overseas branches can establish an online system overseas that is consistent with regulations in the PRC. He was told that such requirements can be accommodated abroad via CITIC Telecom - China Entercom's majority shareholder with 49 per cent - or with other partners. As to whether China Entercom can set up local servers in the US or Europe, for example, and whether this mightn't be too slow, Ms Li responded that it is possible instead to connect internationally via a VPN in Hong Kong, as they do for clients currently.

Inevitably there was a question about fees - these are due monthly, and the shortest contract, which is six months, starts from RMB 2,000 per month. Packages include the CPU, storage, memory and LAN. 

And just as inevitably, the thorny issue of government access to cloud-based data was brought up. Ms Li was hard put to provide a definitive answer, but the consensus among forum members was that if they want access, they can get it - although one member pointed out that in some cases this might entail their breaking the law! However, China Entercom guarantees it they fulfils its legal responsibilities in respect of data security.

 

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