Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu AI make cloud services free during COVID-19 pandemic

In a bid to help researchers, businesses and students, the top three Chinese cloud providers have made services available free to those in need, setting a precedent for similar incidents in the future.

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COVID-19, caused by a new strain of coronavirus, has led to China's three major cloud providers offering free services to government agencies, businesses, researchers, and students in their bids to fight the pandemic.

Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud, and Baidu AI Cloud have all opened up aspects of their platforms for free to select users, offering various services to help researchers as well as business professionals forced to shelter at home. 

The services offered vary between the three, but all made analytics and data tools available to researchers needing more data processing capabilities than they previously had available. 

Canalys estimates that China's cloud infrastructure services market grew 66.9% in Q4 2019, as total spend reached $3.3 billion. China represented 10.8% of the worldwide total, making it the second largest market. Alibaba Cloud remained the leading cloud service provider in Q4 2019, accounting for 46.4% of total spend. Tencent Cloud increased its share to 18.0%, while Baidu AI Cloud moved into third place with an 8.8% share.

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Image: Canalys

Alibaba offered credits for Elastic Compute Service

Alibaba offered credits for its Elastic Compute Service and other products, along with making its AI-powered cloud services available to researchers with a focus on gene sequencing, protein screening, treatment, and prevention plans. 

Tencent opened up its platform for similar purposes, but also made its Cloud Office Portfolio video chat and meeting tools free for businesses and students. 

Baidu's contribution also came in the form of AI-powered assistance for researchers, but the company also made its online medical consultation tool free, resulting in over 15 million virtual medical assessments that helped treat patients while keeping doctors safe from infection.

It may still be too early to determine what impact their offers have had on the management of the COVID-19 outbreak, but it is important to note that coronavirus infection rates in China plummeted around the same date other news outlets began reporting similar stories.

Yih Khai Wong, senior analyst at Canalys, said in a statement that this is a clear case for the power of the cloud. "The benefits of cloud computing were demonstrated by the leading cloud service providers in response to the escalating coronavirus crisis." 

Not only did Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu prove the power of cloud computing, it was also a call to action for other cloud providers, Wong said. "They rapidly deployed continuity measures for organizations and established resource-intensive workloads to analyze vast datasets … [setting] the precedent for technology companies around the world that offer cloud-based services in their response to helping organizations affected by coronavirus."

Microsoft and Google have both offered services for free as well, but it's unclear if Amazon has followed suit with AWS. Other tech companies in the US are offering free services as well, like Wi-Fi, unlimited data, and free online tech support to workers who are self-isolating at home.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has caused chaos for the tech industry, with retail stores closing around the world, major tech conferences such as Apple WWDC, Microsoft Build, Google I/O and MWC turned into virtual events or canceled, and markets around the world facing massive losses as the global economy slows to a crawl. 

China, with the help of free services provided by Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu, have weathered the outbreak and are on the tail end of it, but the rest of the world is still facing a rise in coronavirus cases and more social restrictions as the outbreak worsens. 

By setting a precedent for other major tech firms to follow, Chinese cloud giants are making social responsibility a requirement for tech giants that have the power to flatten the curve with a bit of corporate generosity. Here's hoping it becomes the model for future catastrophes as well.

Also see

The latest cancellations: How the coronavirus is disrupting tech conferences worldwide (TechRepublic)
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Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)
As coronavirus spreads, here's what's been canceled or closed (CBS News)
Coronavirus: Effective strategies and tools for remote work during a pandemic (ZDNet)
How to track the coronavirus: Dashboard delivers real-time view of the deadly virus (ZDNet)

Coronavirus with world map and biohazard symbol

Image: Peter Zelei Images / Getty Images