China speeds up east-to-west computing resource transfer project

By Wang Junling

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), among other government organs, recently approved kicking off the construction of eight national computing hubs and plans to build 10 national-data center clusters. The eight national computing hubs will be built in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle, North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Southwest China’s Guizhou province, Northwest China’s Gansu province and Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

The move signals that the country has officially started to implement its east-to-west computing resource transfer project for better development of digital economy.

The mega project aims to, by forming a new type of computing power network, send data gathered from the more prosperous eastern regions of China to the less developed but resource-rich western regions for storage, calculation, and feedback, and establish national computing hubs in western China, which can help the country improve its imbalance in the layout of digital infrastructure and maximize the value of the production factor of data, pointed out an industry insider.

China will make efforts to accelerate the implementation of its east-to-west computing resource transfer project during the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), when the country’s digital economy will enter a new development stage featuring further application, standardized development, and inclusive sharing, said a plan for facilitating the development of digital economy during the 14th Five-Year Plan period rolled out by China’s State Council not long ago.

In recent years, as digital transformation and upgrading in various industries pick up pace, the country has witnessed explosive growth in the total amount of data generated across the society, which has resulted in a substantial rise in the demand for data storage, calculation, transmission, and application, said Jin Xiandong, a spokesperson with the NDRC.

The computing resource transfer project, while solving such problems facing China’s eastern regions as insufficient energy consumption quota, high electricity costs, and limited space for the development of large-scale data centers, can make the best of the rich renewable energy resources and available wastelands in the west of the country, said Liu Miao, general manager of service solution business of Lenovo Enterprise Technology Group.

The project can also involve the vast western regions in the wave of digital economy led by intelligentization, and help them better unleash their latecomer advantage and realize rapid development, Liu noted.

Quite a number of companies have already deployed data centers in western regions,because of the advantage of helping lower costs, save energy, and cut carbon emissions.

In August 2020, a super data center established by Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in Ulanqab city, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, officially started to provide cloud computing services. The data center mainly uses electricity generated using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy.

Since the annual average temperature in Ulanqab city is only 4.3 degrees Celsius, the data center can take advantage of the natural environment to cool its equipment for nearly 10 months of a year.

Well-known Chinese technology company Huawei has also made deployments in Ulanqab, one of the important regions in China in terms of renewable energy development.

“Data center consumes a lot of electricity. With suitable climate and abundant and cheap energy sources, China’s western regions can meet the needs of data centers for green and high-quality development,” said an executive with Huawei Cloud, a cloud service provider affiliated to Huawei.

Huawei Cloud now owns two major cloud data centers, one in Gui’an New Area, Guizhou, and the other in Ulanqab, according to the executive.

Based on the natural environment of the locality, the company’s data center in Gui’an New Area has adopted air handling unit (AHU), liquid cooling system, as well as other devices and technologies to maintain balance in the load of servers, thus improving the efficiency of resource utilization, the executive said.

When operating at full capacity, the data center’s power usage effectiveness (PUE) can reach as low as 1.12, according to the executive. It’s estimated that the data center can save 1.01 billion kWh of electricity and cut carbon emissions by 810,000 tons a year, the executive added.

The rapid development of digital economy in China in recent years has helped the country accumulate a lot of valuable data resources. However, the country still has much to catch up on before it grows into one of the front runners in the world in the development of computing facilities.

The country’s computing power is currently not able to satisfy the huge demand for computing generated by the drastic surge in the amount of data.

An important reason is the imbalance between the supply of and demand for data centers that provide computing power, pointed out Wang Qing, deputy chief engineer with the Industry and Planning Research Institute of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT).

“Against the backdrop of the east-to-west computing resource transfer project, many digital economy companies engaged in such services as data storage and offline data analysis can buy cloud services from data centers in western regions to realize remote allocation of computing and storage resources, so as to effectively lower operating costs and gain extra profit,” Wang said.

Meanwhile, upstream and downstream industry chain of the computing industry attracted to western regions by data centers bears great significance for economic transformation and upgrading of these regions, Wang added.


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