Google has reportedly given up on a plan to open a special cloud region in China and other politically sensitive countries.

The move, reported in detail by Bloomberg, came in part due to concerns over geopolitical tensions and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Google Android
– Sebastian Moss

Google denied that it had abandoned the 'Isolated Region' project due to geopolitical or virus concerns, claiming that “other approaches we were actively pursuing offered better outcomes"- without disclosing what these other approaches are.

The spokesperson added: “We have a comprehensive approach to addressing these requirements that covers the governance of data, operational practices and survivability of software. Isolated Region was just one of the paths we explored to address these requirements. What we learned from customer conversations and input from government stakeholders in Europe and elsewhere is that other approaches we were actively pursuing offered better outcomes. Google does not offer and has not offered cloud platform services inside China.”

But Google's official comment comes after it gave misleading statements to The Intercept's Ryan Gallagher regarding its planned Chinese search engine, Project Dragonfly. Gallagher, now at Bloomberg, says that his report on Google's Chinese cloud ambitions is based on interviews with two employees familiar with the matter.

Separate reports in 2018 said that Google was looking to partner with either Tencent or Inspur for a cloud region in the country - per Chinese laws, it would need a local partner who would operate the actual data centers. Inspur has since been added to a list of Chinese companies with alleged ties to the military, which has been compiled by the US Department of Defense.

It is not clear which partners were considered for Isolated Region. Amazon Web Services made a deal with Beijing Sinnet Technology, while Microsoft and IBM have turned to 21Vianet Group. Apple uses state-owned Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry (GCBD), and previously had a contract with China Telecom.

Whichever partner was chosen, Google planned for the Isolated Region to operate as the name suggests - sequestered from the wider Google Cloud network.

But as US-China tensions grew in January 2019, the company paused its plans in China and instead looked at finding customers for the project in the EMEA region. New CEO Thomas Kurian is thought to have ended other Chinese projects around that time, with Project Dragonfly under increasing political scrutiny

This May, Isolated Region was definitively killed off. The company, however, has since explored smaller cloud offerings in China, possibly including Anthos.

The company also operates data centers in Hong Kong, which is increasingly facing the same level of censorship and control as the mainland. For now, however, Google does not have to operate in a joint venture in Hong Kong.

Every nation an island

Isolated Region is thought to have been part of a project known as “Sharded Google,” which aimed to develop walled-off data center 'shards,' to meet the needs of the more than 100 (and rising) countries with data sovereignty laws.

A similar, more extreme, isolated project was also proposed back in 2018 - this time for classified workloads. The company looked into building air-gapped facilities for high-security government networks, but faced internal opposition from employees that believed it would lead to military contracts, as well as those that thought it would be too hard to deliver.

The company ultimately dropped out of the $10bn military cloud contract JEDI, both for ethical reasons, and because it didn't have the technology. Contract winner Microsoft, and contract suer AWS, both offer classified Government data centers.