I believe that most cloud and devops engineers will come across at some point in their career to manage public cloud for China. It must be confusing to hear Aliyun being mentioned when you thought it should be Alibaba Cloud. Today, I shall dive in a little to demystify the differences between both.

Essentially, they're the same thing but serve different markets:

  • Alibaba Cloud: This is the broader, internationally-facing brand of Alibaba's cloud computing services. It's geared towards businesses and individuals outside of mainland China. It's accessed through alibabacloud.com.
  • Aliyun:  This is the name used for Alibaba Cloud within mainland China. It caters specifically to the Chinese market and operates through aliyun.com.

Why The Distinction?

The main reason for the separation is due to Chinese regulations:

  • Data Residency: Chinese law dictates that data for users within mainland China must be stored within the country.
  • Licensing: Cloud service providers operating in China require specific licenses and partnerships with local entities.

Practical Implications:

  • Signing Up: If you're based in mainland China, you'll need to sign up with Aliyun. You likely need a Chinese phone number and real name verification for the account. Users outside of mainland China would use Alibaba Cloud and need a non-Chinese phone number and payment method.
  • Product Availability: Aliyun generally has a wider range of products specifically tailored to the Chinese market.
  • Marketplace: The Aliyun Cloud Marketplace is larger than Alibaba Cloud's international counterpart.

Understanding the Nuances

While the core technology underlying Alibaba Cloud and Aliyun is largely similar, there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences driven by their target markets and regulatory environments. Here's a breakdown:

Key Functional Differences

IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service)

  • Regions and Availability Zones: Aliyun, due to its focus on mainland China, generally has a larger number of regions and availability zones within the country compared to Alibaba Cloud's international offering. This caters to China's data locality requirements and disaster recovery needs.
  • Instance Types: You might find a slightly wider selection of virtual machine instance types specifically optimized for certain workloads on Aliyun due to catering to a larger and more diverse customer base within China.

PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service)

  • Compliance and Certifications: Aliyun likely holds a wider range of Chinese-specific certifications and compliance attestations relevant for businesses operating within the regulatory landscape of the Chinese market.
  • Integrations: Aliyun may feature deeper integrations with Chinese-specific software, SaaS offerings, and business productivity tools compared to the international Alibaba Cloud.

Big Data and Analytics

  • Data Processing Frameworks: Aliyun might offer specialized or tailored versions of data processing frameworks like MaxCompute and DataWorks to align with the preferred tools and data formats used within Chinese businesses.


  • Encryption & Key Management: Aliyun may have specific encryption and key management services mandated by Chinese regulations that differ from those available on the international Alibaba Cloud platform.
  • Threat Detection: Aliyun's security solutions probably have increased sensitivity and customization for threat vectors common within the Chinese cybersecurity landscape.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Documentation: Aliyun's documentation will primarily be in Chinese, while Alibaba Cloud provides English resources.
  • Support: Technical support options and response times might differ between the two platforms.
  • Pricing: Due to regional economics and regulatory factors, there might be pricing variances for similar services between Aliyun and Alibaba Cloud.