How China’s Data Center Industry is Likely to Shape Up in 2021
Published 18 January 2021
The year 2021 could be termed as a “Year of Renewal”. The world is still in chaos with continuing uncertainties, while at the same time rapidly accelerating and transforming.
As a distinct growth pole of global economy, China’s rapid recovery from the Covid-19 has been commendable. Since the last two decades, it has benefited from fast economic growth, and the country has stood out in the developing world for its unique strengths in its market size, diversity and vitality.
Moreover, with the renewed emphasis on infrastructure in its Five-Year Plan and long-term strategy as well as the new policies boosted to empower the digital economy, new infrastructure development and significant increase in demand for data center is being seen on the ground. Case in point- the undersea data center in Zhuhai.
New Infrastructure Push
Fueled by a surge in demand for local demand for digitalization of business and consumer environment, the construction of new infrastructure including 5G and data centers has developed into a strategy, which enables it to meet the twin urgent goals of increasing employment and preparing for new changes in the global economy.
At the 2020 National People’s Congress, the CCP first emphasizes a digital infrastructure public spending programme. Now, building ‘new infrastructure’ has already become a top development priority for China. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, China has witnessed the potential of cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, and cloud computing.
Several tech giants in China have announced plans to scale up their data centers. Following China’s ‘new infrastructure’ initiative, Chinese internet giant Tencent revealed its $70 billion investment on key sectors over the next five years towards making advances in cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) while Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba announced to invest $28.7 billion into its cloud and data center infrastructure over the next three years. Also, Baidu, the leading search engine in China, has planned to set up 5 million servers in the next 10 years.
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) it is!
The National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China (NDRC) and the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) jointly issued the ‘Notice Concerning Work in Relation to Advancing Infrastructure Real Estate Investment Trust Trials’ in April, with an aim to channelise personal savings and private capital into infrastructure projects.
Then in August, NDRC announced that it had recently issued the ‘Notice Concerning Effectively Performing Infrastructure REIT Trial Project Application Work’, which indicates that the Chinese government will give priority to “national key strategic” infrastructure projects when receiving applications for REIT trials, as well as “encourage the undertaking of trials for new forms of infrastructure.”
The Notice further indicates that “national key strategic” infrastructure projects will include those associated with regional development plans for the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei (Jing-Jin-Ji) area, Xiong’an New Area in Hebei province, the Yangtze River Delta, the Greater Bay Area, and the Hainan Free Trade Port.
As per this new initiative, China expedites infrastructure REITs so that fresh capital could be converted into investment capital in the long term while reducing leverage. Dozens of companies have begun preparing for launching publicly tradable REITs since the trial released. However, the applications are still under consideration as the requirements are very strict.
In the next three to five years, such products are likely to provide about 6 trillion Yuan (around $900 billion) in financial support for China’s infrastructure construction, thus further improving the speed and efficiency of China’s infrastructure build out.
This is closely linked to new development and is being framed in new ways. ‘New Area’ has rocketed to ubiquity, especially when we consider the site selection. Government influence may steer investors’ location preferences here in China.
To promote urbanization and industrialization, and now digitalization, many new areas and zones have been established to concentrate investments and the labor force as well as resources within designated region with more flexible management systems.
For example, Xiong’an New Area, in Hebei province, was announced to be a National New Area as the “Millennium Plan, National Event” by the State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. It has become the third new special zone with “national significance” after Shenzhen SEZ and Shanghai Pudong New Area while the other two have already driven the rapid development of the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta respectively. Xiong’an New Area connects the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road with the Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macao Greater Bay Area, so as to drive the development of the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei economic triangle in Northern China.
Currently, China is speeding up its digital transformation of economy with a plan to build industrial ‘big data’ centers nationwide, enabling massive amounts of information to be used for developing more efficient industries. Supported by government, construction of data center is boosted in these regions such as the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei (Jing-Jin-Ji) area, Xiong’an New Area, the Yangtze River Delta, the Greater Bay Area, and the Hainan Free Trade Port.
Power Usage Efficiency (PUE)
The word ‘PUE’ never loses its power. The availability and cost of electricity are important factors influencing data center site selection in China. The energy consumption quota of data centers must be approved by governmental agencies including National Economy and Informatization Commission and National Development and Reform Commission.
Electricity resources in coastal areas and tier I cities are restricted as local electricity generation is insufficient to meet consumption, meaning that obtaining approval for large energy consuming businesses can be problematic.
In order to ensure effective control of energy consumption, improving energy efficiency in major energy fields and accelerating the application of energy-saving and low-carbonizing technologies have become the main goals and tasks of local government during the 13th Five-Year Plan period.
China’s Tier-1 cities, with their high concentrations of data centers and infrastructure, have been first to act, guided by the central government’s 13th Five Year Plan targets for energy use and intensity. Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have already applied strict PUE rules when approving new data centers, pushing the sector towards greener operations with higher energy efficiency.
Although Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and other coastal areas are the major data center markets in the country, areas like Inner Mongolia, Gansu, and Guizhou pop up to be players under central policy support. National-level big data and data center pilot projects sprout up in these renewables-rich provinces for they offer ample electricity supply and cheap tariffs. Local governments in these areas also offer discounts for electricity consumption by data centers, which can further reduce operating costs.
Built-to-suit Data Center
Data center investment continues to rise in China with growing interest. Larger population bases, more social media activities, data protection and cyber security legislation forcing users to switch to onshore data centers. Does it mean that to invest in this market never fail? Of course not. The consensus of ‘Customer-centric’ is being embraced by players in China market.
As a part of this, ‘built-to-suit’ data center was developed. Customizing a data center, ‘built-to-suit’, is a much different, more challenging undertaking for a certain type of business buyer, or even specific client.
Different from before, one-size-fits-all data center solutions are no longer a priority at a larger scale. More data center service providers are looking to be in tune with clients from pre-development and align with their expectations.
At the same time, built-to-suit also provides a cost transparency and speed to market. As it is specifically designed to fit the clients’ every need, built-to-suit data center can meet the goals with best practices. In 2020, Dictionary.com selected “Unprecedented” as the word of the year. In 2021, it could be “Transformation”.
For more insights on China, do check out our digital event China Datacenter Market Insights happening on March 5!