China forges ahead with high-altitude cloud computing
China is building the world’s highest data centre 3,700 metres above sea level in the ancient Tibetan city of Lhasa.
Known traditionally as the Forbidden City, the high-altitude capital of Tibet’s Autonomous Region is home to numerous temples and palaces, including the red-and-white Potala Palace, which once served as the winter home of the Dalai Lama.
Tibet became an autonomous region of China in 1950. Since then, the Chinese government, which deems the region critical for national security, has dealt with demands from many Tibetans Northeast of the Himalayas, who want greater religious freedom and human rights.
The 645,000-square-metre data centre project, which will be built in three stages and has a completion deadline of 2025, is the brainchild of the Tibet-based Chinese technology company, Ningsuan Technology Group.
The first construction phase of the mountainside data centre, which is set to have annual revenues of $223.5mn, will be operational in 2021.
Reports suggest the $1.7bn facilities located in China’s state-run Himalayan industrial park, will house more than 10,000 machine cabinets and will serve the data storage needs of customers in Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, China and South Asia.
However, the move has not been without political fallout, with the ongoing debate surrounding domestic user data protection and foreign, authoritarian, state-controlled enterprises.
China has argued that the Lhasa data centre will protect Chinese firms from the high costs of storing data in local facilities. However, confirmation is required on whether the hub will also enable Chinese firms to store foreign data within China’s jurisdiction.
According to the RWR Advisory Group, a Washington, DC‑based research, analysis, and risk assessment firm, Tibet is emerging as an essential bridge for the expansion of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to South Asia.
In a released earlier this year on the Lhasa data centre project, RWR said; “This role is perhaps most prominent with physical connectivity efforts under BRI that link China with Nepal and India via Tibetan road and rail infrastructure. It appears, however, that Tibet is also being positioned to play a critical role in the regional expansion of China’s Digital Silk Road.”
Big businesses in the region are already keen to work with the facility, with Alibaba Cloud signing a framework cooperation agreement with Ningsuan Technology in 2018. The partnership will integrate the data facility with Alibaba’s cloud computing infrastructure and other IT services.
The collaboration will also see the companies build an AI platform created for business ecosystems which are geared towards essential industries, such as finance, power, security, defence and network communications in the Tibetan marketplace.
But business opportunities and politics aside, the mountainous region of Tibet, and Lhasa's temperate, cool climate, make it a data centre compatible location. The low average annual temperature that doesn't rise above 21 Celsius in the region's short summer months are ideal for keeping servers cool and lowering energy costs.
The decision is in line with current thinking as globally, data centre developers are choosing to locate new facilities in areas where the natural environment can be harnessed to reduce running costs and lower carbon footprints. Experts estimate that 40-55% of data centre expenses are used to keep cooling systems operational. Therefore, cold climates naturally reduce these outgoings.
China continues to invest heavily in the data centre industry, with Tibet confirmed as a new regional hub. , Ningsuan's vice president and chief marketing officer, was quoted recently saying that as Lhasa is being given the approval to become an exporter of regional and international communications services, Tibet will become a big data industry base, creating three-dimensional network interconnectivity across the Himalayan region.
GTR and SEGRO agree first UK data centre facility
SEGRO, a property investment and development company, has announced it has come to an agreement with the European data centre platform, Global Technical Realty (GTR) to construct its first UK-based data centre. SEGRO claims that the facility, which will span a total area of 400,711 sq ft, will be located in Slough and is to become “the largest data centre campus in the UK’s premier data centre and communications hub”.
What will SEGRO’s data centre facility be used for?
Supported by the global investment firm KKR, Global Technical Realty says it will be using the facility’s space on a 25-year term to operate bespoke data centres for high-growth global technology companies. The new facility aims to support the growing demand for third-party data centre provision amid ever-increasing growth in data usage and cloud services adoption.
Franek Sodzawiczny, CEO & Founder of GTR, said: “We are excited to be back in the UK alongside our partner KKR and look forward to working closely with SEGRO to deliver this state-of-the-art data centre campus. The data centre space is a fast-moving one. GTR was established to support its customers in providing a data centre solution wherever in the world there is a demand for it. We are delighted that the UK will become home to our flagship concept”.
James Craddock, Managing Director, Thames Valley at SEGRO, said: “We’re pleased to welcome GTR as the latest data centre operator to our thriving estate and our team of experts look forward to developing a stunning new facility for them and their customers. “Homeworking, data streaming, e-commerce and businesses’ reliance on cloud services have all grown during the pandemic, meaning demand for data centres is unabated.
“Slough Trading Estate is home to Europe’s largest data centre cluster and data centres are increasingly regarded as part of our key national infrastructure given the critical role they play in our daily lives”, he added.
The facility is expected to be delivered in two phases with operations beginning by Q4 of next year. The first phase plans to provide 132,575 sq ft of space phase two will create 268,136 sq ft of space. “Vacant possession of the site delivered to the customer by early 2022”, SEGRO said.
The project is also expected to create around 200 jobs during its construction, and a further 80 permanent roles once completed.