China Data Centers: Some Kind of Special

Published 11 May 2016

This is the third in a series of posts by me and a colleague on the China Data Center industry. You can find the earlier post to this series on my linkedin under my posts or via

There are few articles that writes about China data center facilities which are energy efficient or significant in a certain way. We hear of this and that latest and largest and greenest in Europe or US but seldom about those in the Asia Pacific. Given that this is part of our series on China Data Centers, we put together a piece about some special China data centers.

While many of those posts are either the latest, the largest thus far, the most energy efficient, but the criteria is seldom clear. Here is our attempt to shortlist and highlight some of what we think are significant.

First off, the focus is China Data Centers, so the facility has to be located within China mainland.

Secondly, it should be of sizable scale, above 2,000 racks or 10,000 sq meters. However, size alone is not considered if energy efficiency measure is not a major consideration by the facility owner when planning, designing or implementing the data center facility.

Most importantly, by special kind of data centers, we look at those data centers that have at least one of the following attributes:

  • Internal energy efficiency measures beyond hot/cold aisle placement of racks and hot/cold aisle containment, e.g. free air cooling
  • Taking advantage of renewable energy
  • Any design or build strategy that makes it more efficient
  • A new business model (it has to be significant and best if its unique to China like the way Alibaba breaks how we shop)

Amongst the selected data center projects that we highlighted here, a couple of common theme emerges

  • The energy efficiency flows to direct energy cost savings through renewable energy power sources in certain parts of China which is a central government/provincial government directed major energy projects. These are evident in the north-west and western regions of China.
  • Energy efficiency measures are taken on seriously by the big users (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent), and not by third party data center service providers.

For the second point above, the author has seen data center lease contracts whereby the design and implementation is dictated by the big users and implemented by the third party data center service provider (e.g. Watone for Alibaba’s QianDaoHu data center) in new data center build or retrofits. This is a significant trend towards cost savings or squeezing more power to go towards the IT compute/storage/network.

Let us begin on looking at these special kind of data centers, or in fact mega data centers in most cases.

1. Inner Mongolia Hohhot Cloud Data Center Zone (内蒙古云计算基地)



Hohhot, Inner Mongolia


He Lin Ge Er Economic Zone, Shengle distict and 盛乐园区和鸿盛开发区 (the latter has no English name that the author can find. 鸿盛高新技术产业开发区 is closer to the airport, about 2.9km)

Size, location, owner:

Three government owned carriers (China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile) took the lead in 2012 to build their cloud data center park in Hohhot city.  In taking advantage of cool climate to enjoy free air cooling, the problem of sandstorm is a challenge. Co-generation plant is a feature of this zone project. As part of ensuring speedy delivery of servers, Inspur, the state-owned server manufacturer, has built a server manufacturing plant in the zone. Another privately funded capital investment firm CBC also will build a cloud data center park within the zone. Investment amount announced to date is about 70 Billion RMB.


This is a central government sponsored project whereby the central government is pushing the three government owned carriers and government research institutions that uses cloud/data center to use Hohhot as one of their main data center hubs in China.

The central government is pushing more government entities to support this Inner Mongolia Cloud Data Center Zone, which seems to do so in support of economic and stability of Hothot and Mongolia itself. The take up by Baidu/Alibaba/Tencent is not significant in this zone, although we heard that take up of a suite or two by each of the aforementioned. The Inner Mongolian government has been said to take up 50% of the initial phase of the data center park built by China Telecom.

Having the three dominant telco carriers set up their network and data centers in this cloud data center zone ensures that network connectivity to the main hubs, in this case mainly Beijing, should not be an issue.

What’s so special, i.e. what are the energy efficiency measures?

Low electricity utility cost. There are large scale solar power supplies built by both government and private entities. At less than half of Beijing utility charges while fibre optics cables by these three telco carriers ensures that that network bandwidth and speed is ensured.

Free air cooling, both direct and indirect are used in the data center facilities by the data center facility owners.

The only issue is that take up by enterprises and the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) isn’t that “hot”. China Telecom’s Cloud Data Center Park in this Hohhot Cloud Data Center Zone is planned to be a 42 buildings campus. Phase 1 is 4 data center buildings. There is no immediate plan to bring up subsequent phases since the park has been operational since 2013.

The Central Scientific Research Institute has created a Cloud Research Project which not only will have a cloud data center in Hohhot, but also research projects such as how cloud will enable or grow farming industry etc.

2. AliCloud QianDaoHu (Qiandao Lake) Data Center




ChunAn county, QianDaoHu town, close to HangZhou, Zhejiang, China (青溪新城位于淳安县城千岛湖镇东面)


QianDao Lake district, 千岛湖风景区

Size, location, owner:

30,000 sqm building floor area, 11 storey building (quite rare for a data center building), meant to house 50,000 servers.

This AliCloud data center is built and operated by a third party data center builder and facility operator called Watone Cloud Data ( for Alibaba.


Alibaba headquarter is in HangZhou, ZheJiang province. It has multiple data centers in and around Hangzhou and elsewhere in China. It makes use of several energy efficiency measures to design and hopefully operate with a PUE below 1.3 which is previously thought impossible for the latitude of HangZhou.

What’s so special, i.e. what are the energy efficiency measures?

The choice of QianDaoHu is for its cool lake water at depth of about 60 meters, whereby the water temperature is around 13-17 Degree Celsius whole year round. This lake water is used via indirect cooling through heat exchangers. The heat-absorbed water is returned to the lake through a 2.5 km river special dug and with greenery features along its banks which is a good environmental consideration.

Another measure is a 3,000 sqm roof space for solar panels to yield average 300kW of power. Because solar panel generates energy in DC, it works well for Alibaba because their AliRack is meant to take in 240VDC which means more efficiency because they eliminate the need to convert the DC to AC. While this is insufficient for the whole facility, it contributes to cost savings on the energy front.

Alibaba’s Advanced Data Center Module (ADCM) technology is used, which uses DC power input to the server rack. Hot aisle containment is used, and the hot aisle air is scavenged to provide warm air for the office area during the cold season. The racks are mainly AliRack, meant to house 30% more compute power than traditional 19 inch racks. AliRack is one of the outcome of China Open Data Center Alliance, which is the new name for the Project Scorpio that is similar in nature to the Open Compute Project.

By using only DC power on one input to the servers and leaving the other input directly using utility, it ensures minimal energy loss compared to traditional 2xUPS input.

  3. Tencent Tianjin New District Data Center 腾讯天津数据中心


Description of the site:

Tencent, the owner of QQ and Wechat, has a Tianjin New District data center comprising of two data center buildings and two office buildings.


Tianjin City. Tianjin is a city directly under the Central Government.


Tianjin Binhai New District 天津滨海新区

Size, location, owner:

A data center compound owned by Tencent in the Binhai new district economic zone. The compound has two data center buildings (Phase 1 for building #2 and Phase 2 for building #3 ) and two office buildings. 93,000 sqm building floor area. It is said to be able to house 200,000 servers.


This site is one of the main processing hubs (the other one is in ShenZhen) for Tencent for its QQ, Wechat, QQ/wechat games, videos and financial transaction processing, especially for the northern half of China.

What’s so special, i.e. what are the energy efficiency measures?

Free air cooling. First phase was direct free air cooling, however given the smog plaguing Tianjin, Tencent has switched to use indirect free air cooling for phase 2. Phase 1 is more traditional cooling through raised floor, while Phase 2 is entirely Tencent’s Data Center modules with DC power input, thus having higher power efficiency as the input power only goes through AC-DC conversion and not the traditional UPS for Phase 1 (AC-DC -> DC-AC).

The annual (i.e. 365 days running number) PUE is already 1.3 for both buildings and it is foreseen that Phase 2’s PUE will be even lower as the capacity gets used up (phase 2 is less than 2 years old while phase one was built in 2010). This is amazing when compared to many so called claim PUE figures.


4. Tencent Shanghai QingPu data center



Description of the site:

Tencent’s QingPu data center complex is built by China Telecom’s Shanghai Telecom subsidiary. It is not clear whether China Telecom operates the data center facility or not.




QingPu district, Shanghai

Size, location, owner:

A 4 x data center buildings plus 1 office building housing command center and IT support services complex. Each data center building is two storeys, each floor occupies about 6,000 sq meters. Each building is to house 900 racks, i.e. total complex is to house 3,600 racks. The racks are arranged in Tencent’s micro-module (微模块).


Beyond the Tencent North and South processing hubs (Tianjin and Shenzhen), Tencent has been planning and executing large data centers in ShanWei (汕尾), ChongQing (重庆), and Shanghai(上海). This QingPu data center is a sizable data center footprint in Tencent’s capacity expansion plan. And unlike its previous projects, which it have tried lease or self-built, it has adopted a collaborative development approach for QingPu with Shanghai Telecom (a subsidiary of China Telecom).

What’s so special, i.e. what are the energy efficiency measures?

The micro-module approach has the racks cooled by in-row cooling in a cold-aisle containment configuration. The IT racks are power by 1xutility AC and 1xDC UPS supply, which meant electricity energy loss is minimal.

On the roof of each of the data center building is a 3,000 sqm space which will have solar panels that will generate about 300kW of electricity that supplement the utility supply from the 35kV substation.

Furthermore, a 6MVA tri-generation plant is being constructed that will assist in providing lower cost electricity and chilled water during the day.

The target PUE by Tencent for this site (it has not operate for one year yet which is the requirement for annual PUE measurement) is 1.4 which is quite a challenging target, however should be achievable given the various energy efficiency features.


5. Ningxia ZhongWei City



Description of the site:

ZhongWei is blessed with lots of sunshine throughout the year and 5 x solar power plants (at least one of it is privately built and run) supplies power to the grid in addition to some wind power plants.  ZhongWei city and Beijing promised direct fibre connectivity between both cities for data center projects that make use of ZhongWei.


ZhongWei City, NingXia Hui Autonomous Region (same status as a province)


ZhongWei City

Size, location, owner:

Three different sizable projects are taking place in ZhongWei city.

The earliest data center project, announced in 2014, is a 3 x Amazon Web Services data centers (the picture with people in the foreground) which are located in a triangle fashion several kilometres apart in three locations within ZhongWei city. However, it is foreseen that it will become operational by 3Q 2016.

Another project is a China Mobile data center complex that was just announced in early 2016.

Last but not least is a Cybernaut invested data center complex, it was mentioned by news media that QiHu360 and Alibaba will lease the Cybernaut facilities. Cybernaut is said to have managed government capital.


For power, and connectivity, Beijing and ZhongWei city governments are supporting the Western Cloud district concept 西部云基地.

The new projects as announced by Cybernaut and China Mobile seems to indicate that ZhongWei has attracted sizable data center investments.

What’s so special, i.e. what are the energy efficiency measures?

While none of the data center have been fully operational, although the AWS data centers are the first to be constructed and its mentioned to reach 19,200 racks when all the AWS facilities fully occupied, nevertheless the data centers in Zhongwei will enjoy the benefit of cheaper power from renewal energy sources (Solar and wind power), and free air cooling opportunity given the cooler climate when it is not summer.


6. ZhangBei, Hebei Province


Description of the site:

Compared to ZhongWei, this ZhangBei town is fairly new in attracting data center projects. It got noticed because Alibaba has announced to build sizable data center facilities here.


North of ZhangJiaKo City, Hebei Province


ZhangBei county, North of ZhangJiaKo City

Size, location, owner

Alibaba is building at least two data center buildings here in Zhangbei county. The construction and operations of the data center facilities is by Shanghai Athub, a state-owned enterprise that specializes in building and operating data centers.


Compared to ZhongWei, which announced the AWS project in 2014 but will only become operational by 3Q 2016, the speed of construction and fitting out by Alibaba is fast. Alibaba announced in mid 2015 it will locate a new data center in Zhangbei and the latest news is that the first data center will be operational by end of 2Q 2016.

What’s so special, i.e. what are the energy efficiency measures?


The data center building is mentioned to be covered by solar panels where it is feasible. It will draw power from utility grid that has one of the lowest cost due to ZhongWei many wind power plants and solar power plants.

We are fairly sure that the Alibaba data center here will feature AliRack, with 1x utility AC supply and 1x DC UPS power supply to the IT racks, using micro-module cold aisle containment.

Furthermore, indirect free air cooling is likely to be used as well to cool the IT racks.


7. GuiZhou Big Data Hub Plan


Description of the site:

GuiYang City, Guizhou Province


GuiYang City, GuiZhou Province


Gui’an, GuiYang City

Size, location, owner

Three China carriers and some big data players have announced plans to build big data processing centers (which sits on data centers) in GuiZhou.


GuiZhou province is announced by China central government to be a big data hub for the western provinces. It received central government support in pushing for state owned companies to place one of their big data processing centers in GuiZhou. Incidentally, GuiYang city in GuiZhou enjoys pretty good climate whereby temperature are moderate in the mid 10s to low 20s in most time of the year which gives new data centers ability to use free air cooling techniques.

While GuiZhou has abundance of power generation capacity, the government still allows and support on-site power co-generation, which is a first. Another first is that Guizhou has a online power trading market that allows heavy power user to purchase power at lower cost, which triggers power generation companies to be more efficient and cost competitive.



One of the signature project is the Foxconn tunnel data center as shown in two pictures in this section.

What’s so special, i.e. what are the energy efficiency measures?

GuiYang city in GuiZhou enjoys pretty good climate whereby temperature are moderate in the mid 10s to low 20s in most time of the year which gives new data centers ability to use free air cooling techniques.

Furthermore, the air quality is good such that direct free air cooling can be used which is more efficient and less complex which leads to cost savings in implementing free air cooling.

The Foxconn data center uses containerized data center modules and fans to direct outside air from one end of the tunnel and extract the exhaust air from the other end.


Worth Mentioning

Wanda ChengDu ShuangLiu Data Center

This is significant more in the sense that a property company sees big data as beneficial to transform its physical retail business into online business, and not purely a property firm that enters the data center co-location service provider business. Wanda is the largest property company in China. It owns hundred of Wanda malls, Wanda housing projects throughout China. Wanda latest concept is to marry physical shopping with online shopping and to make use of big data analysis to create more value for its retail business through both Wanda itself and with partners. The Wanda ChengDu Shangliu Data Center will house Wanda’s own data center as well as serve as colocation service (total about 1,500 racks) for its partners that includes the 10s of thousands of shops within its mall and also online retailers. It is a gutsy project for a property company to take. This project was completed in end of 2015 and has became operational.


What’s in the series on the China Data Center Market

The China Data Center market series, not necessarily in the order shown, will look at the following topics:

  1. A view on the China Data Center Market – Part 1 of 2
  2. A view on the China Data Center Market – Part 2 of 2
  3. A look at China Data Centers: Some Kind of Special
  4. Technical Advancement in China Data Center Market
  5. China Data Center Market – Foreign Data Center Players
  6. China Data Center Market – China Data Center players
  7. Beijing Data Center market
  8. Shanghai Data Center market
  9. GuangZhou and ShenZhen Data Center market
  10. ChongQing+ChengDu Data Center market
  11. and other China cities that is considered promising growth markets


Reference (some of these links are in Chinese):



China Data Centers: Some Kind of Special

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