Guizhou: Big Green Data

For a long time, Guizhou struggled to balance economic development and environmental protection. In late 2013, Guizhou turned its eyes to big data. In February 2016, a national big data comprehensive pilot zone was established in Guizhou, slingshotting the province from lagging behind to a big data leader.
by Li Xuan
May 20, 2016: Journalists are invited to tour the big data center of China Mobile, one of China’s largest mobile telecommunications providers, in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province. CFP

People often describe Guizhou Province in southwestern China as a place with “80 percent mountains, 10 percent water and 10 percent flat land,” which vividly illustrates the province’s geographic tendency towards steep mountains. Green hills and clear rivers, as well as karst landforms, give Guizhou breathtaking scenery, but they also compose a fragile eco-system. The province ranks low both in total GDP volume and per capita GDP in China, and tops the nation in impoverished population. For a long time, Guizhou struggled to balance economic development and environmental protection. In late 2013, Guizhou turned its eyes to big data. In February 2016, a national big data comprehensive pilot zone was established in Guizhou, slingshotting the province from lagging behind to a big data leader.

Embracing Big Data

Guizhou’s relationship with the big data started with a crush. In July 2013, Zhongguancun Science Park in Guiyang, capital of the province, was established, and it attracted a handful of hitech enterprises from Beijing. While working with these enterprises, local officials frequently heard the phrase “big data.”

At the time, many Western countries were already beginning strategic layouts for big data industries. In March 2012, the U.S. government announced a research and development plan on big data with a total investment of US$200 million, elevating the big data development to the national strategic level. In early 2013, Britain announced the allocation of 800 million pounds to develop eight advanced technologies, with 189 million going to projects related to big data. In June 2013, Japan released its new IT national strategy for 2013 to 2020, with the development of open public data and big data as the core.

Seeing this opportunity, Guizhou quickly decided to invest heavily in the implementation of big data strategy in hopes of getting a head start. “Guizhou’s implementation of big data strategy not only made big data their strategic choice for industrial innovation, but also made it a strategic engine for the province’s overall development during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020),” remarks Chen Min’er, secretary of Guizhou Provincial CPC Committee. “We will use big data to promote social and economic development, better serve the public, and enhance the government’s administrative capacity.” While Guizhou dove head first into the ambitious project, most Chinese cities and provinces stayed with the wait-and-see approach. By the end of 2013, only a few Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Chongqing, and Nanjing, had proposed projects to develop the big data industry.

May 28, 2015: A girl takes pictures of robots at the 2015 Big Data Expo in Guiyang. CFP


Design to Implementation

Guizhou soon produced a blueprint for the development of big data business. By seeking answers to the three major questions —“Where does the data come from?” “Where should the data be stored?” and “Who will use the data?”— Guizhou plans to gradually set up the Big Data Content Center, Big Data Service Center, and Big Data Financial Center. They are expected to enhance the government’s administrative ability, promote industrial transformation and upgrade, and improve people’s lives through application of big data.

In terms of top-level design, “Guizhou on the Digital Cloud” is the first major project to cover the entire province. At first, the province planned to construct seven “clouds” for e-government, intelligent transportation, smart logistics, smart tourism, manufacturing, e-commerce, and food safety, which meant that the related provincial-level administrations in Guizhou would be first to share data on the “Guizhou on the Digital Cloud” platform. However, for the past two years, many more local government agencies began to participate in the project.

“Guizhou on the Digital Cloud” is the first cloud platform in China to accomplish integrated data management and sharing among provincial government departments, enterprises, and public institutions. Significantly, it empowers various governmental agencies to break bureaucratic barriers and exchange data.

Data exchange among governmental sectors will provide massive space for more efficient government management. For example, precise tracking of poverty-alleviation funds was an impossible task in the past. Although the fiscal department possessed detailed financial data, it couldn’t tell which funds had been used for poverty alleviation because it didn’t have access to the necessary contextual information held by the poverty-reduction department. If the two departments can efficiently exchange their data, precise tracking will be possible. According to Guizhou Poverty Alleviation and Development Office, at present, efforts to connect it to Guizhou Provincial Department of Finance have been made, and data exchange between the two will soon happen.

“Playing a lead and trailblazing role, Guizhou’s big data development will produce great experience from which others can learn and promote the working concepts in other places in China,” says Sun Zhigang, head of the leading group for Guizhou’s big data development.

October 11, 2016: People from ethnic minorities dance in Jianhe County, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province. Environmentally-friendly tourism has greatly promoted Guizhou’s development in recent years. CFP


Green Environment Compatible with Big Data

Because of its unique eco-system, Guizhou is generally recognized as the most suitable place in southern China to house data centers.

The most distinctive feature of a data center is its high energy consumption, with electricity accounting for 50 to 70 percent of the total cost. About half of the power cost goes to air conditioning for machines and equipment at data centers that produce a lot of heat. Guizhou’s climate is like spring year round. The data center in Gui’an New Area, between Guiyang and Anshun, doesn’t even need an air conditioner thanks to the abundant natural cool winds. At the same time, Guizhou features rich electric resources, which makes it capable of providing dependable power at a favorable price. And because of the good air quality in Guizhou, air only needs to be slightly filtered to meet the requirements of computer rooms. Because of these advantages, China’s three major mobile network operators, China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom, have all placed their southern China data centers in Guizhou.

Over the past two years, Guizhou has already taken the lead in big data application in China. Since it has become the national big data pilot zone, Guizhou is sure to have more opportunities for experiments and pioneering projects in the near future.