Rackspace goes East with first Asian public cloud launch

cloudOpenStack cloud vendor and Amazon–agitator Rackspace Hosting is launching its first public cloud offering for Asia in Hong Kong today, so I caught up with APAC MD Ajit Melarkode to talk all things Hong Kong, cloud and Rackspace.

I covered the news over at The Reg. Given that not many businesses rely solely on the public cloud, the announcement can be seen more in context of Rackspace’s Hybrid Cloud offering – which allows users to mix and match between public and private cloud and dedicated server hosting.

As such, I’m sure IT managers in the region will be keen to have another option for their cloudy needs.

They should also be assured that Rackspace is certainly investing significantly in the region, and Hong Kong, Melarkode told me. “We’ve sent a lot of Rackers out to set up here,” he said. “We’re not treating it as a satellite office – Hong Kong has really come into its own this year.”

Testament to this is Melarkode himself, who has experience of running operations on the ground in the region, and the fact that the firm is setting up dedicated finance, HR and marketing departments, as well as hiring a regional CTO, lead engineers, SMB and enterprise support staff, and ensuring that there is a good spread of local language speakers.

So who is Rackspace hoping to target with its new offering? Well, according to Melarkode, the growth of the Hong Kong office and APAC hub can be seen in parallel with the expansion of Rackspace customers into Asia: “as our customers expand we expand with them – we’re driven in a major part by client requirements”.

Another market he mentioned was that of the smaller innovative local companies in industries like retail and technology which are unencumbered by legacy infrastructure and are “leapfrogging onto new technologies like mobile and cloud”.

Melarkode was unsurprisingly quick to leap to the defence of Asian firms, which are often branded as copy cats and accused of lacking the ability to truly innovate.

He argued that creating services on top of “building blocks” already developed in the West does not necessarily amount to copying – and pointed out that firms from the region are contributing code to OpenStack, which he claimed is certainly not the behaviour of a technology laggard.

The region in general, while perhaps slightly behind the West, is certainly catching up in terms of the maturity of its IT services industry.

“I’ve seen how the region has developed right from the time Indian outsourcing started blooming in 1993, to the more hardware and infrastructure  focus in China and the BPO success taking hold in the Philippines,” he explained.

“What I see is lagging behind here but the pace is still fantastic. Look at how it’s catching up. Lots of clients used cloud just for back-up and storage but now they’re starting to use it for app testing and development. The catch-up rate is astonishing.”

Rackspace will certainly need that maturity to expand beyond the handful of early movers in APAC if it’s to recoup some of its growing investment here.

Things are moving pretty fast, though, with the firm doubling headcount and its datacentre space in Hong Kong to meet expected demand and with plans to do so again in the coming year, Melarkode said.


Decrypt Weibo: new tool promises a censorship-free Sina Weibo

great fireGreatFire.org, a not-for-profit calling for an end to China’s repressive censorship regime, has launched another tool designed to bring transparency to the Chinternet and no doubt some consternation in Beijing.

I covered the Decrypt Weibo announcement over at The Register. It pretty much does what it says on the tin, allowing users who see a post on Sina Weibo that has been blocked by the censors, to retrieve that message.

The founders of GreatFire have been mapping the censored Chinese internet for over two years now and last year launched FreeWeibo, a tool which allows users to conduct uncensored searches of Sina Weibo – by far China’s biggest weibo platform.

However their work so far seems to have flown under the radar, which probably comes down simply to user numbers.

“We’ve been operating FreeWeibo.com now for almost a year and they have not done anything to try to block that service,” co-founder Charlie Smith told me. “It may be that we are just a small blip on their radar. But we think that we are making things difficult for them and we are going to continue to makes things difficult.”

The big worry for internet freedom advocates is that China’s latest attempts to suppress online free speech have edged the closest yet to an Orwellian “thought police” model.

In attaching severe jail terms to any popular online message subsequently deemed to be a harmful “rumour”, the government will slowly and insidiously create a nation where all but the bravest are afraid to say anything mildly controversial online, for fear of reprisals.

That’s the worry anyway, as GreatFire alludes to in its post explaining the launch of Decrypt Weibo, although it’s good to hear that Smith and his team are undimmed in their fight.

“Sina’s likely reaction to our new service will be to inform the authorities about our presence … and put the matter in the hands of the police. The police won’t find us and won’t be able to shut us down which means that they would have to shut down the entire Sina Weibo service to stop us doing what we are doing. This would lead to a massive public outcry,” he said.

“Of course, we hope that they just decide to end online censorship voluntarily.”

In the end, the only way this could happen is if the Communist Party realised that its demand for indigenous innovation-based economic growth (rather than one reliant on copying and stealing IP) is doomed if it continues to suppress debate online and place such a heavy burden on web companies for self-policing their platforms.

Unfortunately I don’t think this will happen anytime soon, so in the meantime let’s hope Decrypt Weibo finds its way into the hands of as many Chinese netizens that need it as possible.