September 21, 2011
This summer I had the honor to spend almost a month in Beijing, invited by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In return, I gave talks on Cloud Computing in different institutions and held meetings for establishing research collaborations.
Living in Beijing is a rich experience but bringing some clouds to Beijing is a richer one. Marco Polo tells us through “Il Milione” that Kublai Khan kept 1:1 maps of the whole China… if possible, was this probably the first virtualization effort led by the Asiatic giant?
Let me start saying that this wasn’t my first travel experience in China. The first time ever I put a foot on 中国 (note that the first symbols means literally “center of the world”) was 19 years ago while accompanying my father to a conference on Mathematics. And like Marco Polo who also made his first travel to China being a kid accompanying his father, I returned to Beijing. Instead of an official missive, I was bringing something more prosaic--a powerpoint presentation on cloud computing.
Beijing changes shape every year, just imagine if I could recognize it after 19! A Professor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences told me that every year, Beijing (re-)builds its equivalent size as of 1949. No need to say that this is a signal that the Chinese economy is booming, but an interesting fact is that many scholars who made their career in the States are now returning to China, where they see more resources for their research. Some even try to jump to Europe, in order to benefit from the 7th Framework Program calls.
My talk, which was adapted to the different institutions visited, started with an introduction to Cloud Computing. As I already commented in a previous article, I use to show the audience (specially students) that they are already using Clouds… or “Social Clouds”. I talked about RenRen and Weibo, which are the most used in China.
You may recall from a famous movie that “there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”, so I wanted to illustrate the use of the Cloud in examples that fall in two main blocks.
The first one is about how much the European Commission likes Cloud Computing by means of the funding given. Here I introduced the EU FP7 projects where our research group is (or was) participating:
- RESERVOIR. Its objective is to work at IaaS level, providing a powerful Cloud-like ICT infrastructure for an effective and reliable delivery of services as utilities. The final goal was not only to create an infrastructure supporting the setup and deployment of services on demand at competitive costs across disparate administrative domains but to increase the competitiveness of the European Union economy itself.
- StratusLab. The toolkit provided by this project is a perfect example of how the cloud should be transparent to the rest of computing paradigms and the final user. Basically, it complements the existing grid middleware services that continue to provide the glue to federate the distributed resources and the services for high-level job and data management.
- BonFIRE. Its objective is to provide researchers access to an experimental infrastructure, which will enable large-scale experimentation of their systems and applications, aiming the evaluation of crosscutting effects of converged service and network infrastructures.
- 4CaaSt. This project aims to create an advanced PaaS cloud platform that will support the elastic and optimized hosting of Internet-scale and multi-tier applications.
In the second block, I introduced some successful stories I have been involved in and that pertain to areas totally different one from each other. The idea here was to show that Cloud Computing has not only elasticity in its features, but also in its application, providing challenging scenarios for research and development flowing in totally different directions. These examples ranged from a Master Thesis project which breaks RSA keys to the applications pertaining to a Planet Mars Mission.
The talks were given at five different venues. The first one was the Institute of Computational Mathematics and Scientific/Engineering Computing (ICMSEC) of Chinese Academy of Sciences. This institute, a multidisciplinary research center for scientific computation, originates from the former Computing Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences which was founded in 1978. The institute is a multidisciplinary research center for scientific computation. The research of ICMSEC focuses on the construction, analysis and implementation of efficient numerical methods and algorithms for solving practical and complex problems arising from various scientific and engineering applications.
ICMSEC was my hosting institution, and I would like to thank again Prof. Yifa Tang for his invitation and all the great hospitality he provided me during this incredible stay. Let me add that Prof. Yifa Tang’s advisor, Prof. Kang Feng, was the founder of this Institute and a very prominent scientist. I had the enormous luck and honor to meet him personally 19 years ago. Every two years, two prizes are given to prominent researchers living in China and abroad. No need to say that the competition is very high.
The second one was the Institute of Software, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS). My host there was Prof. Jianwen Cao. This institute is a leading research institute in China, which focuses on the fundamental theories of computer science as well as software technologies and their applications. Through its research results and innovations, they hope to establish an international reputation in academia and to assist in the development and growth of China’s software industry. ISCAS has extensive academic exchanges and cooperation with foreign universities and research institutions. They have also been cooperating with a number of international companies like IBM and NEC in various ways.
Then, Peking University where my host was Prof. Zhen Xiao. This is a comprehensive and national key university, which has effectively combined research on important scientific subjects with the training of personnel with a high level of specialized knowledge, and professional skill as demanded by the country's socialist modernization. It strives not only for improvements in teaching and research work, but also for the promotion of interaction and mutual promotion among various disciplines. Peking University is the home of the first atomic clock in China (1965), China's first Million-Instructions-Per-Second (MIPS) integrated circuit computer DJS11 (1973), China's first multi-task operating system (1974), the first applicable Optical Fiber Communication System in Telephone Exchange office in China (1977), the first mobile satellite earth station for military use (1990) and the first voice and data integrated satellite communication VSAT network in China (2004) among many others.
And of course, Tsinghua University, hosted by Prof. Junwei Cao, was a must. Most national and international university rankings place this amongst the best universities in China. In fact, there is a continuous struggle between Tshinghua and Peking for receiving the biggest quantity of funds from the government. However, Tsinghua has an ace up its sleeve, as current president Hu Jintao, current vice president Xi Jinping, current head of the National People's Congress Wu Bangguo are notable graduates from this institution.
And finally, the Supercomputing Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences (SCCAS) (http://english.cnic.cas.cn/rh/div/sccas/sccasintro/), hosted by Prof. Xuebin Chi. This is the general center in the supercomputing environment of CAS, the Research and Development (R&D) service base of Beijing Municipal Capital Science and Technology Platform, and also nominated as the Operation and Management Center of China National Grid (CNGrid) and the north main node of CNGrid by the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China. The SCCAS focuses on operating and maintaining supercomputers, exploiting and supporting massively parallel computing, developing visualization software and other related services. Their mission is to drive the scientific innovations and industrial multiplications by applying leading-edge supercomputing technologies. Website:
I’m pleased (and honored!) to say that Cloud Computing and its applications caught the curiosity of my audience during all the talks and the later debate longed even during lunchtime.
Cloud Computing is not new to China, of course not, but the point is that the development of our favorite technology there is not like what the regular media tells us.
I’m sure that you, like me, have read many stories regarding big companies starting to offer Cloud services in China. For instance, I asked around about the latest statement from China Telecom introducing a great Cloud Computing strategic plan for next year (http://www.chinatechnews.com/2011/09/05/15605-china-telecom-publishes-cloud-computing-strategy-for-2012). The answer was almost the same: they use to announce something like this every year.
Additionally, I also asked around about the “City of Cloud Computing” that was a great buzzword in February, and almost nobody knew about it. Probably they will know once it’s built and provides services.
So it looks like there’s a divergence between company statements and reality. Some of you may think that I was just asking people from the academic community. Sure, but think that many of these Professors have worked in tech giants like IBM in the past. The Academia is only one Cloud consumer but a very important one, as it’s the source of much R&D done to this technology.
But again, China is not a desert for Clouds. Yet there are some Cloud providers offering services for prizes that are not very competitive. A Professor from Peking University told me that he was leading a National project for bringing educational contents to certain provinces using Cloud Computing. To accomplish this they needed to host Terabytes of data. Because of prices, National Cloud providers weren’t an option. They considered working with Amazon, but the problem then was bandwidth.
Many attendees already working on Cloud Computing claimed that one of the biggest issues was API standardization, critical when moving across clouds. They all agreed that choosing the right virtual infrastructure manager to interface with the different infrastructures is a very important part of the solution.
As a bonus, the Institute of Software of the Chinese Academy of Sciences is involved in a National project entitled “云计算”. The exact translation is “Cloud Computing” and it is the first Chinese governmental project related to this technology and the initial funds will fuel it for 10 years. This is a clear signal of how Cloud Computing stakes are institutionally high in China.
Summarizing, my experience in Beijing was more than great. I enjoyed the ancestral Chinese hospitality in a unique Academic environment, open to discuss the many ways that Cloud Computing would follow to boost Science.
Posted by Jose Luis Vazquez-Poletti - September 21, 2011 @ 5:44 AM, Pacific Daylight Time
Dr. Jose Luis Vazquez-Poletti is Assistant Professor in Computer Architecture at Complutense University of Madrid (Spain), and a Cloud Computing Researcher at the Distributed Systems Architecture Research Group. He is directly involved in EU funded projects, such as EGEE (Grid Computing) and 4CaaSt (PaaS Cloud), as well as many Spanish national initiatives.
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