Chinese search engine, and general web, giant Baidu made a lot of news on Wednesday, spanning from smart-home assistants to driverless cars. All in all, the company often referred to as “the Google of China” is looking a lot more like, well, Google. Still largely in China, but spreading its wings globally, as well.
Here’s the news, in case you missed it:
The partnership with Nvidia cover integrations within automobiles (where Nvidia has a dedicated GPU product and Baidu is clearly interested); smart homes (where Nvidia sells its Shield streaming box, and Baidu has developed its Duer digital assistant); artificial intelligence (Baidu is optimizing its PaddlePaddle deep learning framework for the latest Nvidia GPUs); and the cloud (Baidu will offer the latest Nvidia GPUs to its cloud customers).
While Baidu’s Apollo autonomous car effort is clearly a big deal and the company has long been viewed as a leader in AI (check out the February podcast interview with then-chief-scientist Andrew Ng
for more on Baidu’s plans and accomplishments there), I really never considered the scale of Baidu’s cloud computing business before today. It’s certainly not on the scale of AWS, Azure or probably even Alibaba in China, but the fact that it’s offering customized hardware like advanced GPUs and FPGAs suggests this is not some small-time operation.
(Perhaps Baidu’s hiring of Qi Lu
—former Microsoft corporate vice president, and Satya Nadella righthand man—as COO in January should have given me a clue, too.)
I would be happy to have readers correct me on this, but my sense is Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are to Chinese cloud computing roughly what AWS, Microsoft and Google are to U.S. cloud computing. And like Google, Baidu is betting on its expertise in AI and big data (the company runs research labs in both areas) to help propel its cloud businesses as those areas really begin to take hold within the enterprise. That’s a particularly good position to be in in China, where AI is all the rage right now and where there is a lot of unclaimed cloud business to be had.
It’s also a good position to be in globally, as first cloud computing, and then AI, start to take root in other markets, as well. Alibaba is already establishing quite a broad global footprint, and Baidu could very well do the same. While there might be legitimate geopolitical and legal reasons why U.S. cloud providers never really catch on in China, and vice versa, the rest of the world is a battleground where the competition is likely only getting started.
There’s plenty of good technology, brainpower and competitive pricing to go around, which could make advantages like ubiquitous AI products and a world-class R&D reputation important considerations. If Baidu can beat its competitors to that point, it could start looking a lot more real on the cloud front, too.