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China empowers green, digital future with mega data project

Updated: February 22, 2022 09:17    Xinhua

BEIJING — China has started work on a mega project to build an integrated national big data system to improve overall computing power and resource efficiency, both crucial factors defining the country's future productivity and development sustainability.

The project involves establishing eight national computing hubs in the country's economic powerhouses and less developed yet resource-rich regions, plus 10 national data center clusters, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the top economic planner.

Among the eight computing hubs, four will be set up in economically backward regions including the northern Inner Mongolia autonomous region, the southwestern Guizhou province as well as the northwestern Gansu province and Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

The other four will be located in the more developed Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle.

The move comes amid a surge of demand for computing capacity as the country rides the digitalization wave, but shortages of energy and land resources have limited the expansion of data centers in the more developed regions.

"Computing power has already become an important infrastructure for the national economic development," the NDRC said in a Q&A on its website, expecting China's demand for computing power to surge by over 20 percent annually in upcoming years.

By creating a national computing power network, the project will support the less developed regions with abundant renewable energy resources to store and process data transmitted from the economically advanced areas to address the soaring demand and the regional capacity imbalance.

Specifically, the four hubs in northern and western regions will be built into bases to undertake the country's non-real-time computing demand such as background processing, offline analysis as well as data storage and backup.

In the meantime, the rest four hubs in more developed regions will serve businesses that require greater network capacity like industrial internet and telemedicine, but the data centers will be gradually moved away from metropolises to balance computing capacity and resource sustainability.

Sun Wei, an official with the NDRC's department of innovation and high-tech development, said the project was "an integrated arrangement at the national level," which, like past cross-regional mega projects, has given full play to the advantage of the country's system and mechanism.

China is adept at addressing regional resource imbalances with strategic projects. In past decades, the country has realigned the allocation of key resources like water, gas and electricity by building canals, pipelines and power grids across the country.

Apart from optimizing computing capacity, the mega project is China's solution to the dilemma of supporting the highly energy-demanding data centers under ambitious carbon goals, as one mega data center could consume nearly 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year.

In Zhongwei, a city on the edge of the Tengger Desert in Ningxia Hui autonomous region, the vast desert and biting cold weather used to restrict local economic development, but today such weaknesses have become ideal conditions for data centers.

With a high share of clean energy in its power mix and an annual average temperature of 8.8 degrees Celsius to help keep servers cool, the northwestern city has already built six mega data centers serving internet companies like Meili Cloud Computing.

Gui'an New Area, a national-level new urban area in Guizhou, is now home to data centers of tech giants Huawei and Tencent. The local natural environment has allowed Huawei's data center to save over one billion kilowatt-hours of power and cut 810,000 tons of carbon emission annually, according to the company.

Huawei said the data center in Gui'an will also serve as its global IT maintenance engineer base and employee training base, which would need the support of 600 to 800 engineers and provide training to around 10,000 people a year, facilitating local industries related to big data as well as the service sector.

"The construction of computing power hubs and data center clusters will effectively boost investment in upstream and downstream industries," said Sun, noting that data centers bring about long industrial chains and massive investment.

Moving computing facilities to less developed areas will prompt the relocation of related industries and boost inter-regional flows of data and value, leaving more room for development in the east while ushering in a new stage in large-scale development in the western regions, he said.

The NDRC believes sectors such as construction, IT equipment manufacturing, information communication, software and green energy supply will benefit from the massive computing capacity shift.

The mega data project has "innovated the east-west cooperation pattern," said Yu Jianguo, chief information officer of China Southern Power Grid. The company has decided to invest 10 billion yuan (about $1.58 billion) for an energy data center in Guizhou.

Yu said he expects the cross-regional project to strengthen industrial integration, the flow of factors and computing capacity collaboration across regions, thus unlocking the potential of regional cooperation and achieving win-win development.

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