Tech giants pump billions in virtual storage units

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Technology firms are investing in enhanced virtual storage facilities to cater for an expected rise in artificial intelligence (AI) tools and products.

Multiple global tech giants have been ramping up their AI offerings, designed to help users create content, operate appliances, run educational systems and manage public transport as well as security systems.

At the ongoing 2024 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, AI and its applications has been a key theme, with firms showing its use in varied fields as autonomous vehicle operations, urban management and content creation.

The growing use of AI has put a strain on the capacity of existing physical data storage facilities, pushing tech firms that have been competing on launching new AI products to shift focus to the provision of cloud storage facilities for developers and companies.

One of the tech firms, Chinese multinational Huawei Technologies, announced 10 new products for its cloud infrastructure, eyeing new markets and startups in Europe and Africa.

The firm currently runs 30 cloud regions around the world, including South Africa, and plans to open new ones in Egypt and Hong Kong in the coming months. William Fang, the chief product officer at Huawei Cloud, said that for instance, 80 percent of businesses globally will be using a form of generative AI by 2026.

Generative AI is a model that learns patterns and input data from a training model and then uses them to generate new data that has similar characteristics. The firm also estimates that by 2026, AI will produce up to 180 billion terabytes of data per year.

“There are increasing demands on various aspects of cloud infrastructure due to the rapid advancement of AI and foundation models. Customers want collaborative computing architecture, mass data storage, security compliance, lean governance, and flexible deployment,” said Mr Fang.

Other than Huawei, other companies such as Google, Meta and Alibaba, SAP and IBM have also invested heavily in expanding their cloud capacity and capabilities while partnering with mobile phone and computer makers to offer the service to developers who utilise their devices.

At the MWC event, which has brought together 2,400 exhibitors and an expected 90,000 attendees, both the storage space providers and developers are showcasing the latest innovations that utilise AI.

These include autonomous vehicles by Huawei, which are operated using 5G and 5G+ technology, smart schools that adopt AI in lesson and student management, and virtual marketers that can be customised to different languages.

Media production has also been integrated into the AI movement, where content creators are able to access virtual studios that help them produce at lower costs and less manpower.

Other firms such as Microsoft are also opening up their AI infrastructure to developers and, allowing them to utilise the platform to build their own models and customise them to suit various needs.

AI has become a key byword since US developer OpenAI introduced its free-to-use generative model chatbot known as Chat GPT, which has now evolved into outputting AI-generated images.

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