Alibaba Buys Kanbox to Expand Cloud Computing Services

Alibaba Group today announced it will acquire personal cloud storage service Kanbox to expand its range of consumer-focused cloud computing offerings in China.

With more than 15 million users, Kanbox is one of China’s leading cloud providers, according to Alibaba officials. Similar to U.S.-based Dropbox, Kanbox offers an application that can be downloaded by consumers onto PCs or mobile devices, allowing users to upload, download and sync personal files including photos and other media across different devices. Some 3 million Kanbox users are accessing the service via mobile devices.

The price of the acquisition, the e-commerce giant’s first in the personal cloud storage arena, was not disclosed.

Cloud computing has been an area of intense focus for Alibaba Group since it established its Alibaba Cloud Computing unit in 2009.  The company’s acquisition of Kanbox is an indication of its interest in cloud offerings for consumers in addition to existing services for businesses and governments. Last month ChinaSoft International announced a strategic agreement with Alibaba Cloud Computing and the Lishui municipal government for a state-funded cloud project in Zhejiang Province.

The Kanbox acquisition could provide a piece to a puzzle as Alibaba seeks to provide consumers with comprehensive cloud-based storage solutions similar to Apple’s iCloud service, enabling seamless access to personal media and content across numerous devices such as computers, mobile phones, tablets and TVs. Recently, the company moved into the smart TV arena by teaming up with Internet TV services provider Wasu Media to make and sell set-top boxes that can stream television shows and movies directly from the Internet to living rooms.

Alibaba officials stressed Kanbox was seen as particularly important to the company’s mobile strategies.

“Personal cloud storage will be a fundamental service for mobile users in the future and will serve as an important touch-point to reach a wider user population,” said Florence Shih, an Alibaba Group spokeswoman. “We believe this type of service is synergistic with our existing suite of mobile applications and ecosystem,” Shih said.

A little more than two years ago, Alibaba launched a cloud-based operating system for mobile devices, later saying it intended to create a mobile ecosystem revolving around the OS involving telecommunication carriers, handset manufacturers and software developers. In the future, Alibaba hopes to make Kanbox a mobile cloud storage service, allowing users to back up their mobile data, such as contacts and text messages, on remote servers, officials said.

Kanbox is complementary to Alibaba’s existing online shopping services, Alibaba officials also noted. For example, it will give vendors on Taobao Marketplace, Alibaba’s market-leading shopping website, a safe and convenient way to store large numbers of product photos and other website images, the company said. 

In an effort to draw users, Kanbox is offering perks to those who sign up through their mobile devices and use other Alibaba products like the company's recently launched instant messaging app, Laiwang. For example, users who link their Laiwang account with their Kanbox account will get free storage of up to 10 terabytes of data, forever. That's vastly more storage space than any consumer is likely to ever use, so the company is effectively offering consumers unlimited cloud storage in perpetuity.