JD Cloud is quietly, but effectively, positioning itself as the new “national champion” in China’s cloud computing market. This move became apparent when, during the weeklong “Two Meetings” deliberation that anointed China’s leaders of the next five years, JD Cloud’s top executive, Cao Peng, was the one who delivered a set of proposals on how the country can accelerate the modernization and digitization of its supply chain on the cloud with 100% domestic technologies.
JD Cloud is a minor player in China’s cloud industry. So minor that the government's own think tank, China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, hardly mentioned JD’s name in its official white paper, which I analyzed in-depth a few months ago. Industry analysts feel the same way. In Canalys’s latest estimates of China’s cloud market, JD Cloud doesn’t even get a sliver on the pie chart.
Thus, it’s extra notable that it was JD Cloud’s executive of all the Chinese clouds, who had a voice during the all-important “Two Meetings.” It also helps that Cao Peng is a member of the National Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference.
Yesterday, JD held a “JD Cloud Summit” in Guangzhou to further amplify the messaging of its proposal and, not surprisingly, touted why JD Cloud should be the go-to cloud platform to use. What emerged from JD’s proposal and its event, which Cao Peng also spoke at length, are two new slogans that illustrate both the progress and struggle that China’s facing in completely switching its digital infrastructure from foreign to domestic technologies – and two opportunities JD Cloud hopes to capitalize on.
Slogan 1: Real Replacement, Real Usage (“真替真用”)
This slogan shows that, despite all the calls-to-action to switch to “Made in China” technologies, made more urgent by the US’s increasingly tighter export control, companies still don’t trust domestic technologies enough to use them for real.
This struggle was explained in more detail by the plain-spoken Cao, who shared that most companies are willing to try homegrown technologies in the development and testing stage, but not in production (or real usage).
For readers who are not familiar with how companies adopt new technologies, the “development to testing to production” migration process is typical. If you are a large company and/or a less technically capable company, the process can often take one to two years, depending on the level of urgency, technical sophistication, and dedicated engineering resources. Companies will usually create a development environment to “play around” with the new technologies, and if all goes well, test it in a staging environment that simulates the real world to “kick the tires” further. Passing the threshold from “testing” to “production”, which basically means deploying the technology into the wild, is very hard. There is always a chance that new technologies could cause issues, interrupt business operations, and lose revenue or customers. Rolling back an in-production deployment is also difficult and messy. Even if all goes well, it is best practice to keep your previous technology stack around for a while as a failsafe.
By coming up with this slogan as a key message, it signals that even with all the urgency from the top and pressure from the outside, most companies don’t yet trust domestic technologies enough to put them in production and risk business losses. This fear is understandable, because most domestic technologies are unproven and most businesses are trying to recover from Zero Covid and don’t want to add another risk to their operations. Meanwhile, the risk of not being able to, say procure the latest Nvidia GPUs, is more remote and can be circumvented rather easily than US regulators care to admit.
To inject more confidence into domestic technologies and position itself as the “national champion”, JD shared that 80% of its own workloads now run on “Made in China”' solutions. Companies who are slow to make the foreign-to-domestic switch can leverage JD’s experience – all distilled and packaged into a platform called JD Cloud. It is perhaps not lost on JD’s audience, and certainly not to the sharp readers of this newsletter, that even the “national champion” is only at 80% and not 100%.
Slogan 2: Multi-Cloud, Multi-Silicon, Multi-Workload (“多云多芯多活”)
If slogan 1 speaks directly to China’s overall challenges in adopting domestic technologies, slogan 2 sounds more self-interested – tailored to benefit JD Cloud. It is pushing a multi-cloud narrative that commonly benefits the smaller players. (That’s why AWS, as the longtime global cloud computing leader, would not allow even the utterance of the word “multi-cloud” at its Reinvent conference a few years ago. It relented in more recent years, when ignoring multi-cloud became impractical and tone deaf.)
As a small player, JD Cloud benefits from a “multi-cloud” industry landscape. As the “national champion”, JD Cloud embraces a comprehensive menu of domestic chips (“multi-silicon”) and homegrown infrastructure software products to handle all types of use cases (“multi-workload”), so customers can (in theory) use a high-performance cloud that uses 100% “Made in China” solutions from top to bottom.
How comprehensive? This infographic, aggressively promoted by JD, shows all the components of an entirely homegrown digital infrastructure that makes up JD Cloud.
What is noteworthy about this infographic (and you don’t really need to read Chinese to appreciate it) is that it goes into painstaking detail to highlight and squeeze in every homegrown product worth mentioning in the cloud computing stack. JD Cloud claims to integrate them all, starting from the CPUs/GPUs and operating systems layer, to the IaaS and PaaS layer, to even the SaaS layer that includes collaboration products, like Google Doc, and virtual meeting tools, like Zoom. The stack also includes open source projects created by Chinese companies, like TiDB (by PingCAP) and OpenEuler (by Huawei).
If you take this infographic at face value, there already appears to be multiple “Made in China” alternatives in every layer of the cloud. In theory, all the pieces of a 100% domestic cloud are already in place. Of course, where the rubber meets the road is how well these solutions work in production, not just individually but together in a single, coherent cloud platform. That’s the challenge. And that’s the problem where JD Cloud, poised to be at the center of a multi-cloud, multi-silicon (domestic silicon, of course) world, is positioning itself to solve.
Can JD Execute Better This Time?
It has always been perplexing to me why JD is not more of a leader in the cloud. It is not because JD lacks technical prowess or innovative capabilities. In fact, JD was an early adopter in a lot of cutting edge tech that has now become mainstream. Back in 2018, JD was an early user of Kubernetes, a now-ubiquitous cloud container orchestration software that popularized the notion of multi-cloud. For a while, JD managed the largest Kubernetes cluster in the world! However, JD was slow to package its cloud capabilities into products to meet market demands.
While JD Cloud was late to the market, China’s fast-growing (though recently slowing) cloud sector has been carved out by other big players, each with its own lanes. AliCloud, the market leader, serves SMBs and startups well and is moving up into large enterprises. Tencent Cloud caters to social and gaming products, not surprising given that those verticals are also where its own core products shine. Huawei Cloud is a strong fit for the public sector and state-owned enterprises, given its longstanding roots and relationships with those sectors. Baidu is trying its damn hardest to carve out an “AI lane” for itself (see my previous writing on Baidu and AI). ByteDance Cloud, a new entrant, is squeezing into the space by packaging its own powerful recommendation engines as a cloud to lure companies who aspire to be like ByteDance one day.
Where does that leave JD Cloud? Well, beyond being an e-commerce juggernaut, JD does have differentiating capabilities in managing a complex and highly-efficient set of warehousing, delivery, and supply chain operations. These capabilities are “infrastructural” by nature, thus are amenable to be packaged into cloud services, which is, at the end of the day, just digital infrastructure for rent. Now that it is hard-pivoting into its role as a “national champion” – a label that commands more market power in an age of deglobalization and constant sanctioning risks – JD Cloud may be getting a second chance.
Coming out of the “Two Meetings”, JD clearly has the ear, if not the backing, of the newly-anointed government leaders and will play a key role in China’s next phase of digitization. Given the challenges ahead, especially as encapsulated in “Real Replacement, Real Usage”, JD Cloud must deliver a solid, enterprise-level cloud experience without foreign technologies or it will risk embarrassing itself and China’s entire push to adopt domestic technologies.
The Spiderman rule applies to all. Being a “national champion” comes with both great power and great responsibility.
京东云在国产云市场中是个小角色。这个角色小到，以至于连官方智囊 – 中国信息通信研究院 – 在去年出版的白皮书中连提都没提“京东”这两个字。云行业分析师也持有相同的看法。在Canalys最新估算的中国云市场份额中，京东云在饼图上连一小块都没有占。
昨天，京东在广州又紧接着举办了一场“京东云峰会”，进一步强化其题给领导的建议中的内容，并接机宣扬为什么京东云应是加快数智化社会供应链建设的首选云。从京东的提案和宣传活动中，以及曹鹏的发言中，浮现出两个新口号。这两个口号反映了中国在将数字基础设施从国外技术转向国产技术方面的进展与挑战 —— 以及京东云希望抓住的商业契机。
对于不熟悉大企业如何采购和采用新技术的读者来说，我稍微科普一下一般流程。从 “开发到测试到生产” 的迁移过程是很典型的。如果您是一家大型企业或技术能力较弱的公司，这个过程通常需要一到两年时间，具体落实时间段取决于紧迫程度、技术精湛程度和投入的工程资源。公司通常会创建一个开发环境来 “玩玩” 新技术，如果一切顺利，将其放到一个模拟现实场景的“测试”环境中进一步“踢轮胎”。从“测试” 过渡到 “生产”（也就是把新技术放到真枪实弹的场景中）非常困难。新技术总有可能出问题，中断业务运营，导致收入或客户流失。回滚一套已投入到生产环境的部署也是件很头疼的事情。即使一切顺利，最好还是留住之前的技术栈作为一个安全备份措施以防万一。
为了增强对国产技术的信心，并将自己定位为“国家队主力”，京东表示，现在自己内部80%的负载已经运行在百分之百的国产技术上。对于需要开始“国产化”的公司，可以借鉴京东的经验 —— 这些经验都被浓缩并打包成“京东云”这个平台。值得一提的是，就连“国家队主力”也只达到了80%，而不是100%。
如果 “真替真用” 一针见血点出中国在采用国产技术方面还有很多挑战，那么“多云多芯多活” 则听起来更自私些，基本就是为京东云打广告。推动“多云”的模式，通常有利于小玩家。（这就是为什么作为长期的全球云计算领头羊，AWS，在它几年前的Reinvent大会上严格不允许任何参与者提“多云”这一词。近几年才开始放宽，因为”多云”的趋势已经没法忽视。）
如果您完全相信这张图里的所有信息，那云平台的每一层都已经有了多个国产的替代品。理论上，100%的国产云已经是现实。当然，这些解决方案在生产环境中的表现如何，而且不仅仅是单个的性能，而是结合起来的综合性能，还有待考验。这就是国产化面对的挑战。这也就是京东云在 “多云多芯多活” 中试图解决的问题。
“蜘蛛侠”守则适用于所有人。成为 “国家队主力” 既意味着巨大的权力，也意味着巨大的责任。