The vast nation of China is home to the greatest number of internet users – 700 million of them. This ancient land has quickly become a tech leader and, like other leaders, is shifting its focus from hardware to software and services. The impact of this shift, due to the sheer volume of connected citizens, will drive software growth significantly over the next two years.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Land of the Red Dragon is considered a key market for global technology companies and enterprises. Tech giants like Apple, Facebook and others are clamoring to establish a beachhead there, even when it means addressing unique challenges and making certain compromises.

In order to establish that beachhead and enjoy the Chinese market’s great potential, there are significant hurdles to clear. The truth is that entering the Chinese internet market is hard. There are the obvious culture and regulatory barriers, but there are also a number of technical barriers – specifically, when it comes to delivering applications to users inside China. Three of the primary application delivery challenges in China are outlined below. 

An International Traffic Jam

The Great Firewall of China is a system of filters and content inspection deployed via Chinese ISPs to control what content is available to users. Traffic moving between China and the global market comes up against this very real barrier. Behind the Great Firewall is a combination of legislative and technological actions taken by the Chinese government to regulate the internet domestically. Domestic and foreign internet companies are required to cooperate with these efforts under Chinese corporate statutes. A dominant technical effect of this Great Firewall is that it slows down traffic for Chinese users accessing content outside of China, and vice versa.

Various government channels have made it clear that The Great Firewall isn’t going anywhere. As a result, there’s great motivation to deliver applications from behind The Great Firewall to provide a better experience to Chinese audiences.

Trying to Make the Connection

To complicate the matter further, the big ISPs are poorly interconnected inside the country. To most effectively reach users on ISPs such as China Telecom, China Unicorn and China Mobile requires connectivity behind the Firewall to each network.

And the plot thickens. Offering users great performance inside China is also difficult. It requires distributing infrastructure across major metropolitan areas, because inter-city connectivity tends to be poor. Some of the most effective intra-China application deployments span dozens of infrastructure nodes, each connected to the major carriers in the country.

Decisions, Decisions

International providers are still having a hard time ensuring good connectivity and well-distributed in-country infrastructure. A number of Chinese cloud providers have emerged to offer AWS-like services inside the country, and there are some international providers with in-country offerings as well. That said, access to physical infrastructure is generally easiest when working with providers that specialize in assisting international companies in China. However, Chinese providers do tend to have significantly better presence in the country than international providers.

Another hurdle to overcome is the relative immaturity of what Chinese cloud providers can offer. Often, significant limitations exist in features or functionality that we’ve come to expect from major international providers like AWS, Google or Microsoft. Compounding the issue, language barriers significantly impact the usability of Chinese cloud offerings.

So, when choosing from among the infrastructure options in China while trying to balance costs, presence and functionality, trade-offs must still be made.

Localize for the Prize

Chinese audiences are becoming increasingly important. It is therefore critical to keep as many aspects of the application delivery stack in-country as possible so that developers and operators can overcome these challenges to improve delivery of applications. These aspects include:

  • Lowering the number of situations in which users encounter The Great Firewall
  • Using DNS networks that have a Chinese presence
  • Using local CDNs for Chinese traffic if content delivery networks (CDNs) are being employed

In light of the challenges regarding connectivity, the primary aim must be to keep users as local as possible, given the challenges. Optimizing delivery across distributed infrastructure in China requires careful traffic management. You never want your users in China to transit the Great Firewall when they can instead interact with application infrastructure inside the country. And, whenever you can, you want to ensure they’re serviced by infrastructure from a relatively nearby facility, with good connectivity to their ISP.

To ensure effective delivery, key online properties need to leverage traffic management technology delivered from within China to direct traffic across their in-country infrastructure.

The Tools for Success

The opportunity to make inroads into the lucrative market of Mainland China brings multiple technical and business challenges. Fortunately, the tools for addressing many of the technical issues—such as modern traffic management solutions and public cloud infrastructure—are becoming more readily available.

Because of the real potential that China represents, many companies are vying for a piece of the pie. What will separate the winners from the losers, ultimately, is their ability to offer great performance. To do this, companies will need to be able to effectively deliver applications in China. Creating a plan that keeps things local and makes decisions based on all available technology will form a solid foundation of success.

To explore how faster time-to-market, improved security and reduced risk are the biggest business drivers for rapid application delivery methodologies such as Agile and DevOps, check out this comprehensive research report by Aberdeen’s Derek Brink.


Kris Beevers is CEO and co-founder at NS1


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