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China & Cloud Computing: Is Harbin's "Cloud Valley" a Threat?
Multi-billion RMB Investment Indicates China is Serious About Its Most Northern City

In the feedback to my article about whether China was "friend or foe" to global Cloud Computing vendors, the topic of China's nascent "Cloud Valley" in the city of Harbin came up.

Late in 2010, China announced that it would be building a datacenter and unspecified other Cloud accoutrements in this far northeastern city, probably best-known currently for the spectacular ice sculptures found during its winter festival.

I've seen estimates of about $150 million for the datacenter, and $500 million for the entire project, which is scheduled to be completed in three years. Hard to gauge precisely, given the mystery of the Chinese currency's true value, and local labor and materials costs. We'll assume this is a major commitment.

It's C-c-c-old There
The People's Daily notes how "the world's largest cloud computing data centers are mostly located between 40 degrees north latitude and 50 degrees and Harbin's location is similar to that." The apparent logic is that high latitudes, with their cold climates, are ideal for minimizing the air-conditioning costs associated with high heat-producing datacenters.

Harbin's latitude is a few hundred miles north of that of Chicago, the site of a couple of massive datacenters, but its winter climate is more akin to that of neigboring eastern Siberia or Fairbanks, Alaska. Its climate is less similar to other datacenter hotspots such as Miami, San Antonio, Taiwan, and Qatar. Whatever. Even in China, people are sometimes allowed to believe what they want to believe.

Harbin is also said to have the electric power resources available for Cloud Valley's ambition.

There You Go Again
I wonder why people throughout the world can't just develop their tech areas without the obligatory comparison to, and riffing on the name of, Silicon Valley.

This meme, which pre-dated the Worldwide Web, was first applied to Boston, New York, Austin, and Illinois in the US (among other places), then to Scotland, Taiwan, at least two places in France, and to Hsin-Chu Park in Taiwan. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently talked about doing this after a recent visit to Silicon Valley.

It's been noted so many times that Silicon Valley itself provides a unique combination of urban location, leading universities, venture capital, almost apolitical climate, and great weather. Why note it again?

So What's Going to Happen?
In any case, China plans to include a business incubator and innovation center as part of this project. It will be fascinating to see if entrepreneurial activity in China, long considered a province of the south, can spring to life in tundric Harbin.

Cloud vendors-whether selling hardware, virtualization software, SaaS, or more extensive Cloud services-will no doubt keep a close eye on Harbin.

It would seem the most likely scenario will be that a big datacenter gets built and serves Chinese customers, and some logistics software will be developed to meet the country's need to modernize its IT systems to keep up with its manufacturing and exporting prowess.

But what if the thinking is that this area can develop Cloud software and elastic services-whether by hook or crook-that competes domestically (and perhaps internationally) with US and European Cloud vendors?

In this case, where is the upside of established Cloud vendors aggressively going after the China market today, only to see their prowess leveraged against them down the road?

Lucy has pulled the football away from Charlie Brown in many industries in China, in the view of the West.. Will she try to do it again?

Note: I'm moderating a pair of Cloud Computing events in China this year, in Beijing March 24 and Shanghai September 15. They are fully independent of the Chinese government, and should both attract several hundred people with a variety of IT and business line titles.

I'd love to hear how you are doing, and how much of an impediment the old pirate habits have on your view of China and its prospects. Email me at strukhoff@yahoo.com or @strukhoff through Twitter.

About Roger Strukhoff
Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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