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Telecom operators react vigorously to nation's east-west plan

By MA SI | China Daily | Updated: 2022-03-17 10:09

A China Unicom employee conducts an inspection at the company's big data center in Sichuan province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chinese telecom operators are moving fast to respond to the nation's call for an east-data-west-computing project by promising to build more low-carbon, high-efficiency data centers and ramp up their computing power.

The east-data-west-computing project refers to sending data gathered from the more prosperous eastern regions of China to the less developed but resource-rich western regions for storage, calculation and feedback, as well as establishing more data centers in western China, which can help the country improve its imbalance in the layout of digital infrastructure and maximize the value of data as a production element, experts said.

China Unicom, a major Chinese telecom operator, said the company has more than 880 data centers, which hold over a million servers. More importantly, the layout of its data centers is roughly similar to that called for in the east-data-west-computing project.

Its data centers are mainly distributed in regions such as the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Guizhou province, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta region, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle.

According to China Unicom, it will accelerate the construction of new data centers that feature high computing power, high security and low carbon ratings. They will be designed to take full advantage of natural resources such as energy and climate in western China, to improve service quality and utilization efficiency of computing power.

Tang Xiongyan, chief scientist at China Unicom's research institute, said an all-optical computing power network will provide high-quality connections with an ultra-low rate of delays, ultra-high reliability, ultra-large bandwidth, ultralong distance, flexible adjustment and green energy savings, which can quickly and efficiently transport data from eastern areas to western regions, as well as improve the cross-regional transfer of computing power.

Optical processors use light, instead of electricity, for lower power consumption.

Liu Guiqing, deputy general manager of China Telecom, said the east-data-west-computing project will help concentrate business demand and construction resources in the eight national computing hubs, which can compensate for the shortage of resources in eastern China while making full use of resources in western China.

Liu said China Telecom will closely follow the national layout of the integrated big data center system and concentrate more resources into the eight national computing hubs to boost efficiency. China Telecom now has 794 data centers across China.

The senior executive said China Telecom's layout is also roughly similar to that of the east-data-west-computing project. The company has its data center parks in Inner Mongolia and Guizhou as bases for national data storage backup and offline analysis. Computing hubs in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle are positioned to support high-frequency, real-time services such as video streaming and e-commerce.

According to China Telecom, the energy consumption of data centers has always been high. The power consumption of the company's data centers in 2021 reached 5.6 billion kilowatt-hours, accounting for 20 percent of the company's electric power consumption.

The east-data-west-computing project requires the efficient coordination of the energy network and the computing power network, which will help reduce operating costs to a certain extent, said Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Information Consumption Alliance, a telecom industry association.

The computing resource transfer project can solve problems facing China's eastern regions, such as an insufficient energy consumption quota, high electricity costs and limited space for the development of large-scale data centers, said Fu Liang, an independent telecom analyst.

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