China is proactively pursuing digital transformation and the demand for data processing, computing and storage is soaring. China’s “East Data West Computation Project” aims to achieve much, from green energy goals to boosting development in the underdeveloped region of western China. It will contribute to the goal of “Digital China” and has the potential to build a high-tech military modernization infrastructure.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) approved construction of eight national computer hubs and 10 national data center clusters in February. China’s “National Computing Network” is implemented as the “East Data West Computing” project (also called “East Data West Calculation”).
The announcement was jointly released by the Central Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), and the National Energy Administration (NEA).
Under the East Data West Computing project, eight national computer hubs will be built, in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle , the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Guizhou Province in southwest China, Gansu Province in northwest China, and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
This is in line with the goals of the 14th Five-Year Plan, which aims to accelerate implementation of its initiative to transfer computing resources from East to West.
Why is this project crucial?
The importance of this project is apparent from the objectives set. First, it is expected to boost integrated computing power in China. Second, it is designed to contribute to the green energy goals.
Third, the project is important for China’s National Digital Economy Plan. The project is expected to boost development in the underdeveloped western region of the country.
Finally, it has unstated benefits that are likely to contribute to the Chinese military’s vision of building a high-tech fighting force.
Let’s look at these four goals one by one.
China’s computing needs are increasing with increasing digitization. The NDRC data suggest that China’s combined computing power has reached 130EFLOPS (1.3 trillion floating point operations per second). The demand for computing power in China is expected to grow by more than 20% per year. Therefore, this plan is expected to boost the integrated and coordinated development of computing power in China.
Second, there is an imbalance between the number of computer network hubs in the Eastern and Western regions, with most hubs in the East. Due to more population and concentration of industries, eastern coastal areas consume more data and there is a high demand for computing power.
However, the western region is rich in renewable resources and has the potential to meet the computing needs of the east by building data centers. This project aims to shift the load from east to west.
Related to the second point is the following. Moving data centers west, focused on renewable energy, will also contribute to China’s carbon neutrality goals. This is the result of the demand for computers and their enormous energy consumption.
At the 2020 UN climate ambition summit, President Xi Jinping . said announced that China’s CO2 emissions will peak before 2030, and that China aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The project is a step towards sustainable development without compromising the energy requirements of computing needs.
Fourth, the National Computation Network Project will complement Beijing’s five-year digital economy plan. This plan was released on January 12 of this year. Under the plan, efforts would be made to accelerate the establishment of information network software and a national-level integrated comprehensive data center system that coordinates computing power, encryption, and data. The National Calculation Plan lays the foundation for the plan for the digital economy to achieve its objectives.
Finally, the project will also be beneficial to the military’s long-term goals of high-tech modernization. As the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seeks to prepare for future “intelligent warfare,” the emphasis on integrated and enhanced computing capabilities will increase.
Military emphasis on the importance of computing power is evident in the writings of PLA scientists. For example, a article published by PLA Daily emphasizes that in the future “algorithmic warfare” will shift from the “human brain level to the machine brain level”. In such a case, fast computing power, solid machine learning skills and faster decision-making will become a top priority.
These capabilities are essential to the intelligent warfare envisioned by PLA scientists. Hence, the integration of computing power and projects such as ‘East Data and West Computation’ are likely to contribute to the national-level infrastructure needed to achieve PLA’s modernization goals.
The East Data West Calculation initiative is a massive infrastructure project that will open new perspectives for companies in the field. However, the implementation of the project will be costly and require major technological innovation to make data centers and transmission functional and as practical as possible.
The goals of the project are ambitious, but so far there is little practical evidence of committed implementation, with the exception of a few announcements this year.
But if all goes according to plan, the project will provide a low-cost, eco-friendly and highly efficient computing solution. The project is likely to contribute to Beijing’s vision of digital and technological evolution and military modernization ambitions.