Life among the ‘clouds’

People who live in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, a remote and relatively impoverished province in China’s southwestern mountainous region, like to quip that where they live “doesn’t have three feet of adjacent land. not even three days without rain in a row.” To understand this joke, you only need to look at the satellite images of this place, the land hidden among the mountains and seemingly forever covered by clouds.

Today, however, the city is being better known for a different kind of cloud. Last spring, Guiyang hosted the 7th China International Big Data Expo. It is part of the provincial government’s efforts to reposition it as the “cloud computing capital.” of China. And about 50 kilometers outside Guiyang, in the Gui’an New District, which was once a little-known town but in 2017 it became the site of Apple’s first data center in Asia, with The active partner is Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD). If you sign up for an iCloud account in China, you will receive a notification that your data is being stored by GCBD.

  Life among the clouds - Photo 1.

Image taken from Google Earth of Apple’s first data center in Asia, in Guizhou, in May 2021.

Apple isn’t the only tech company building data centers in Guizhou. In Tan An district, a series of data centers of a series of companies such as Tencent, Huawei and Qualcomm are also fighting. New capital inflows have been transforming the economy in this impoverished region. Lands that were only about a decade ago were still farmlands, now wide roads or glittering tall buildings.

While China’s rapid urbanization is no longer a new story, the scale of changes taking place in Guizhou is still impressive. Time-lapse satellite imagery shows slums turning into cities, hills being flattened and bridges and tunnels breaking down barriers once created by mountains and rivers. The world’s largest single aperture spherical telescope, FAST, was built in a natural sinkhole in Pingtang county, about 150 kilometers from Guiyang. And if you look directly down at this giant 500-meter-tall monster through the lens of a satellite camera, you will feel as if it is looking backwards.

And even satellite images may not capture the rapidly changing changes around Guiyang. As of late 2021, images from Google Earth still show that the GCBD data center – now complete as a new complex – is still partially surrounded by dirt. However, Guizhou’s rapid growth is only part of the story. Cities can be built overnight, but people move much more slowly.

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Mr. Wu poses for a photo, 2021.

At the age of sixty, the Wu brothers knew every nook and cranny of the labyrinthine cluster of limestone caves that meandered between the valleys of their homeland on the banks of the Getu River, with the main compass being the My whole childhood spent countless hours exploring.

“Nothing has really changed,” They said as they accidentally pry open a high stalactite, revealing the pink rock inside.

These rocky outcrops, and the caves that conceal them, are the inherent trademark of the karst forest landscape in Guizhou. This plateau was once a vast ocean, but the movements of the Earth’s crust caused tectonic plates to rise, and the sea receded to reveal flatlands and mountain ranges dotted with caves and craters. falls, waterfalls and underground rivers.

In 2021, a geologist passing through Guiyang’s Longdongbao Airport was surprised to discover that the stones used in the airport’s bathroom contained shellfish fossils with a different age. hundreds of millions of years. The same stones, littered with fossils as evidence of Guizhou’s distant past, are being used in construction projects across the province.

Booming Big Data projects, as well as data centers in the province, have found a way to harness the unique geology of the region, by nesting in caves and valleys to reduce energy and costs. construction fees. Tencent’s upcoming Seven Star data center is an example of this design aesthetic. The company dedicated an entire hill to its data center, taking advantage of the province’s mild climate and vast underground space below ground to keep servers cooler, thereby saving money on cash. economy.

But not all companies seek to localize their operations to such a high degree. Not far from Tencent’s data center, Huawei has built a European-style campus that is so popular. Designed to resemble a town in the West, its buildings are carved in the Romanesque style and other distinctive architectural features. The nearby Apple data center also reflects the company’s own aesthetic, rather than local conditions. It is a flat, clean, minimalist white cube that emerges from the surrounding limestone mountains.

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A view of the Huawei campus in Guizhou province, 2021.

The extent to which tech companies are localizing their operations is also limited. In February this year, the Chinese government officially launched the “data in the east, computing in the west” initiative. Its idea is to take advantage of the West’s rich natural resources – cheap land, abundant hydroelectricity and naturally cooler temperatures – to process the huge amount of data generated in the east coast regions. more people of the country. Guizhou, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia are expected to serve as the backbone of the project, but so far, most data-related work in these regions has focused on high-level sectors. as low as data cleaning and classification.

Similarly, despite the vast amount of data collected by the FAST telescope, there is little sign that Guizhou will soon become a center for astronomical research. Instead, most FAST data is sent for analysis to research institutions in Beijing and around the world.

  Life among the clouds - Photo 4.

A view of the Tencent campus in Guizhou province, 2021.

Guizhou is also one of the most ethnically diverse regions in China. A handful of Miao women in traditional clothes clean and sweep at a data center under construction in Quy An. At the end of the day, they can be seen making embroidered fabrics with traditional patterns. Their relatives in the countryside are now used to solar street lights and new applications run by GCBD.

However, not everyone is upset with Guizhou being “sidelined”. A young Miao ethnic university graduate says he is working in the Guiyang branch of a leading technology company. Although the company continued to locate its core business and R&D work in first-class cities, the slight disregard for the Guizhou branch gave him more time and space to pursue his interests. his likes. He believes that artificial intelligence should not be developed to imitate humans. So he often spends his free time playing with AI and writing a sci-fi novel about Big Data surveillance.

According to Bao Nam

Law & readers

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