China looks to massively expand data center footprint

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China is planning to build four “mega clusters” of data centers for cloud hosting, located in the country’s northern and western regions to support the growing data needs of not just Beijing, but coastal cities, as well. 

If all goes according to plan, Reuters reports, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu and Guizhou provinces will be the location of the new data centers. China chose these four regions due to their “energy and environmental advantages”, with the new facilities aiming to be green, with a low carbon footprint. 

Existing data center clusters, particularly those located in the country’s eastern regions, could not be properly expanded due to local government’s strict energy consumption laws. The north and the west, however, are rich in renewable energy resources, such as wind or solar, and already have data centers in successful operation.

The distance remains a challenge, though, as businesses on the coast need the servers to retrieve the data with as little latency as possible. Ningxia, for example, is 1,600 kilometers away from Shanghai, while Gansu is even further away (2,000 kilometers). 

Underwater datacenters

According to Reuters, China wants to make its big data industry a $470 billion business, before the half of the decade. To do that, it will need plenty of data centers. 

Besides latency, and carbon footprint, cooling and humidity are some of the biggest challenges for data center operators. That being said, it will be interesting to see how China solves it, especially knowing that it has plans to move some of its high energy-consuming data centers underwater, to reduce its heating bill.

In fact, plans are to have some of these data centers operational by 2025, as well. We don’t know the exact cost to build one of these things, but we do know that China expects them to use 30% less energy.

Underwater datacenters, although not yet a reality, are far from a sci-fi idea. In fact, In 2017, Microsoft's Project Natick team conducted an experiment where it submerged a self-sustaining data center off the coast of Scotland's Orkney Islands and retrieved it out of the water in 2020. 

With 5G already in operation, and 6G on the horizon, the Chinese expect cloud storage challenges to only grow bigger in the future. By building state-of-the-art data centers, consuming as little energy as possible, while remaining carbon-neutral and fast, the country hopes to prepare the infrastructure today, for the businesses of tomorrow.

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.