Aliyun, the cloud division of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has built a new data center beside Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang Province in eastern China. Launched last week, the new data center brings Aliyun’s total to eight around the world.

The data center is cooled with water piped directly from the lake, which was created by a dam and is also known as thousand-island lake. Alibaba says lakewater cooling allows the data center to cool its servers for free 90 percent of the year, and cuts its cooling bill by around 80 percent. The data center is designed to achieve an annual average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio below 1.3, as well as a Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) ration below 0.2.

thousand island lake wikimedia
Qiandao ”thousand island” Lake  – ZHart / Wikimedia

Thousand island lake  

According to Xinhua News Agency, water at 17°C is piped up from 35m below the surface of the lake, where the temperature is stable and does not fluctuate. To prevent impact on the lake’s wildlife, the water is cooled before being returned there. For the present, this is done by passing the water through a 2.5km central canal across Qingxi New Town before before returning it, but Aliyun plans to eventually reuse the waste heat to warm nearby buildings.

The data center also uses renewable energy in the form of solar and hydroelectric power, as well as unspecified custom gear to squeeze more performance per square foot, according to a report in Fortune

The data center is expected to save tens of millions of kilowatt hours of energy annually, compared to a comparable data center that relies on mechanical cooling, according to Wang Jian, chief technology officer of Alibaba.

The move by Aliyun is but one of many in recent years to counter the environmental costs resulting from the huge amount of electricity that modern data centers consume. By relying on green energy or novel methods of reducing electrical use, such moves also help Internet giants cut dramatically down on their power bills.

Aliyun around the world
Aliyun around the world

Aliyun is planning to open a series of data centers around the world as part of a push to launch its cloud platform around the world. Outside of China, it has data centers in Silicon Valley, United States and Singapore, while data centers in Dubai, Germany and Japan are slated to be opened soon.

Qiandao’s hydroelectric power is very conveniently located - the 573 sq km lake is man-made, having been created in 1959 to feed a hydroelectric dam.

It genuinely has more than 1000 large islands, as well as several thousand smaller ones. 

The lake also contains an ancient submerged city - the Lion city dating from around 200 AD, which is now at a depth of about 30m.