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[From the Scene] Naver opens massive data center to boost AI, cloud push

CEO boasts global competitiveness in exporting operational know-how

Nov. 8, 2023 - 19:04 By Jie Ye-eun

Naver's second data center, Gak Sejong, in the city of Sejong (Naver)

SEJONG -- South Korean internet giant Naver opened its second data center in the city of Sejong on Monday, speeding up its big push to secure supremacy in the burgeoning artificial intelligence and cloud markets.

Naver invited a group of reporters to its new data center, which it calls Gak Sejong, for the opening ceremony. The first of its kind, Gak Chuncheon, was set up in Gangwon Province in 2013.

Located on a 294,000-square-meter site, Gak Sejong is one of the five biggest data centers in Asia. The facility can accommodate 600,000 server units and store 65 exabytes of data, which is about 1 million times the total data of the National Library of Korea, in terms of its collection.

About 650 billion won ($497 million) has been invested in the data center so far, and Naver expects a total of several trillion won worth of capital spending will be injected to complete the sixth phase of construction.

Naver was confident about providing stable IT services from Gak Sejong based on its know-how of operating the first data center for the last decade without causing any interruption, disaster and accident.

The issue of data center safety has come under the spotlight after a fire last year at the data center of its archrival Kakao caused a massive server outage affecting the KakaoTalk messenger app and other Kakao services.

The Sejong site has a system in place to maintain service continuity even when disasters such as earthquakes, power outages and fires occur. A special earthquake-resistant design used on nuclear power plant-level buildings was applied to the site, so it can withstand earthquakes of up to magnitude 9.0, which is equivalent to the intensity of the Fukushima earthquake in Japan.

Naver CEO Choi Soo-yeon told the reporters at Gak Sejong that the IT giant named its data centers, Gak, after Janggyeonggak in Haein Temple, South Gyeongsang Province. It hopes to embody the spirit of the hall, which has stored the Tripitaka Koreana Buddhist wooden printing blocks for centuries, without damage.

"We believe that Naver was the first company here to realize that infrastructure preparation is crucial as much as the importance of data. We will take great responsibility to let Naver become the next Janggyeonggak of the 21st century," Choi said, adding that the firm had begun preparations for launching hyperscale data centers as early as a decade ago.

Naver Cloud CEO Kim Yu-won, who is in charge of the company's data center business, stressed that Gak Sejong has secured a competitive edge by adopting homegrown cutting-edge technologies, including HyperClova X, an upgraded version of its hyperscale artificial intelligence model, as well as robotics, autonomous driving and digital twin technology.

Compared to the first data center in Chuncheon, the new center has boosted its overall work efficiency by some 30 to 50 percent, Kim added.

At the data center's IT warehouse, SeRo, a server managing robot, and GaRo, a robot that transports heavy assets, carry out collaborative work automatically. The autonomous driving shuttle ALT-B connects major bases within the site, transporting workers between locations.

Although only some 120 workers are stationed at Gak Sejong so far, the number of employees is expected to double after the data center runs at full capacity, Naver officials said. These systems allow workers to focus on professional facility safety management by replacing about five to 10 workers and performing tasks that humans cannot do.

Another highlight at Gak Sejong was its eco-friendly design that utilizes natural energies. Naver developed an air conditioning system, dubbed Namu, or Naver air membrane unit, to cool the server room all day using natural wind. It also cools the server room and applies the discharged heat to hot water, floor heating and the snow melting system for roads inside the complex.

Naver looks to accelerate its global expansion to various industries centered on AI and cloud businesses through Gak Sejong's technology innovation.

"As interest in sovereign AI and sovereign cloud has increased recently, we've met clients from various countries and industries, and they have shown a huge interest in our AI technology, alongside the size and stable operation capabilities of our data centers," the Naver Cloud chief said.

The company is also eyeing building overseas data centers. Naver, which secured in October a large deal in Saudi Arabia to build a cloud-based digital twin platform for the kingdom’s smart city project, is considering the possibility of building there.

"The recent technology export deal is just the beginning. Various discussions are taking place in Saudi Arabia at the moment, including on digital twins, robots, sovereign AI and sovereign cloud," Kim said.

"With the country's strong interest in the scale and stable operation capabilities of Naver's data center, it may need data centers at some point."