Microsoft’s Project Natick in 2014 kicked off the trend of putting data centers in the ocean. Since then, there have been a couple of underwater data centers (UDCs) around the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. As reported by China Central Television (CCTV), China started to assemble what seems to be the world’s first commercial underwater data center off the coast of Sanya, a coastal city south of Hainan Island. According to CCTV, each data storage unit can process more than four million high-definition images in 30 seconds. The estimated performance claimed to be comparable to approximately 60,000 regular computers operating in unison.
The companies involved installed the first data storage unit back in April. On Friday, a team of engineers added another data storage unit on the sea floor south of the Hainan province. The units house racks of servers, although the exact number and specifications remain a mystery.
Watertight data storage units serve as the building blocks, and the companies plan to install a hundred units over five years. Each data storage unit weighs 1,300 tons, or about the same as 1,000 cars, so transporting it to the bottom of the ocean isn’t easy. Not to mention that the module has to travel 35 meters to the bottom of the sea, so it takes the unit around three hours to get where it needs to be. The data storage unit has a longevity of 25 years, so it’s built to last and withstand natural phenomena.
According to CCTV, each data storage unit can process more than four million high-definition images in 30 seconds. The estimated performance is comparable to approximately 60,000 regular computers operating in unison. You can imagine the data center’s overall processing power with 100 data storage units, equivalent to around 6 million PCs.
The upcoming data center is gigantic, measuring up to 68,000 square meters or almost ten soccer fields. A soccer field measures 7,140 square meters. However, one of the benefits of underwater data centers is that they can take advantage of the generous seabed. Therefore, the data center is potentially saving 68,000 square meters of dry land that can be used for other purposes, such as housing development or industrialization.
Other significant savings included 122 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 105,000 tons of freshwater annually. Submerged data centers can leverage the freezing seawater for natural cooling, which helps reduce operating costs. Furthermore, water isn’t consumed in the process, freeing water resources for the population. Pu Ding, the general manager of the UDC Hainan pilot development project, asserted that the completed data center would be between 40% and 60% more power efficient than land-based data centers.
The Hainan Undersea Data Center is a joint project backed by the Sanya government and the Hainan Provincial State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission with companies, including Offshore Oil Engineering Company, Beijing Highlander Digital Technology Co., Ltd., and Shenzhen HiCloud in the forefront for construction, design, and implementation. Meanwhile, Beijing Sinnet, a leading data center and cloud computing provider in China, will operate the data center. The ambitious Hainan project was announced in Q1 2021 with an estimated completion date of Q2 2025. The data center will cost approximately $879 million to build.
The Hainan data center isn’t the only Chinese underwater data center in development. A few other projects are scattered around China, including the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions.