At a conference on Friday, the company announced that Alibaba’s cloud computing unit is integrating the Apsara operating system with processors based on ARM, x86, RISC-V, among other architectures. According to market research firm IDC, Alibaba Cloud is the Chinese e-commerce giant and one of the fastest growing public cloud services in the world in the second half of 2020.
The global chip market for personal computing and arm for mobile devices was largely dominated by Intel’s x86. However, RISC-V, an open-source chip architecture competing with ARM technologies, is gaining popularity around the world, especially among Chinese developers. Launched by academics at the University of California, Berkeley, RISC-V is open to the public for use without licensing or patent fees and is generally not subject to U.S. export controls. The Trump administration’s sanctions on Huawei and its rival ZTE over national security concerns have effectively severed ties between Chinese telecom titans and American tech companies, including semiconductor suppliers.
Arm was forced to decide on a relationship with Huawei, saying it could continue to license Chinese firms because it is a source in the United States. However, Huawei is still struggling to find fictitious features that are capable of producing and approving chips designed using real architecture. U.S. sanctions spread activity around RISC-V in China’s technology industry as developers prepared for future U.S. technical restrictions and were with Alibaba at the forefront of the movement. RISC-V International’s 13 premier members include Alibaba Cloud, Huawei and ZTE, meaning they have a seat on its board of directors and a seat on the technical steering community. In 2019, the e-commerce company’s semiconductor division T-Head launched its first core processor, the Xuantie 910, which is based on the RISC-V and used for Cloud Edge and IoT applications.
Working on an operating system with multiple chip systems instead of a mainstream architecture could well prepare Alibaba Cloud for the future of chip independence in China. “The IT ecosystem was defined by chips, but cloud computing fundamentally changed that,” Zhang Jianfeng, president of Alibaba Cloud’s intelligence group, said at the event.