Alibaba Cloud Enables Five Super Data Centers to Support Double 11

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The Double 11 Global Shopping Festival isn’t only about shopping. It’s also about Alibaba’s data centers. During this year’s Double 11, Alibaba engineers adopted advanced technology on a massive scale, which is the “bath cooling” of data center servers.

On November 3, at the technical communication meeting for Double 11, Zhou Ming, Vice President of Alibaba Group and Head of Alibaba Cloud’s infrastructures, made an important announcement. According to Zhou, “To support Alibaba’s record-breaking transaction peak in 2020, five super data centers in Zhangbei, Ulanqab, Heyuan, Nantong, and Hangzhou, will work together to provide computing power during Double 11. With support from five data centers, Alibaba can promise consumers a smooth shopping experience. In the Hangzhou data center, the world’s largest liquid-cooled cluster will have tens of thousands of liquid-cooled servers to handle the massive computing work of Double 11. The network cables of these servers can circle the globe.”

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Reportedly, Alibaba has reconstructed the rare cooling technology of “bathing servers in liquid.” Alibaba’s engineers soak the servers in a special insulating coolant to dissipate heat without the need for cooling equipment, such as fans or air conditioners. By doing so, the energy consumption of the data center can be reduced by more than 70%. The average annual power usage effectiveness (PUE) can reach 1.09, the lowest in the world. In addition to the hardware, Alibaba’s engineers have designed a monitoring and management system for this cooling technology, reducing the failure rate of cooling by 50%.

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Figure: Liquid-Cooled Servers

The cluster in Hangzhou is the only liquid-cooled cluster deployed on a large-scale in the world. As such, nearly one billion shoppers contributed to the most environmentally-friendly Double 11 in history. Based on preliminary estimates, compared with traditional data centers, the Hangzhou data center can save 70 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity consumption per year. It is equivalent to the power consumption of all of the street lamps around the West Lake in Hangzhou if they continuously shined for eight years. If all servers in China adopt liquid cooling technology, more than 80 billion kWh of electricity will be saved every year. It is close to the annual power generation of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In the future, Alibaba Cloud plans to establish more than ten green super data centers across China to support the development of the new digital infrastructure.

At the same time, technologies, such as AI robots and intelligent O&M, are gradually used in more scenarios. During this year’s Double 11 Global Shopping Festival, Alibaba Cloud data centers had its Tianxun inspection robot upgraded to the second generation. The second-generation Tianxun can work without human intervention and automatically replace any faulty hard disks. The whole replacement process, including automatic inspection, faulty disk locating, disk replacing, and charging, can be completed quickly and smoothly. The disk can be replaced in 4 minutes. Zhou Ming said, “Our intelligent detection system can achieve one-minute fault discovering and locating, as well as minute-level recovery. Now, we have realized a systematic and automatic process, including fault prediction, diagnosis, and repairing, using technical means. Maintenance efficiency will be improved as much as possible.”

Zhou Ming compares the development of the data center over the past decade to upgrading from traditional trains to high-speed trains in China in years past. He said, “After ten years of innovation, iteration, and openness in technologies, Alibaba’s data centers have completed a comprehensive technical layout from the self-developed server architecture to the intelligent O&M system. In addition to supporting Double 11, these technologies are also being provided by Alibaba Cloud to support the development of the whole society. They are serving as the infrastructure for the development of the new digital infrastructure.”

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