SenseTime opens massive AI data center, aligns with Beijing’s vision
SenseTime says its new Artificial Intelligence Data Center in Shanghai has commenced operations, significantly boosting its processing output. While the company celebrates the development, SenseTime sees new obstacles on the horizon in an environment rife with political problems for tech stars, according to a profile of Co-founder and CEO Xu Li in the Financial Times.
New data center to boost SenseCore for universal AI capabilities
SenseTime says the Artificial Intelligence Data Center (AIDC) in Shanghai’s Lin’gang free trade zone will significantly improve the capabilities of its SenseCore AI infrastructure, boost its innovation of facial recognition and other applications, and enhance its competitiveness across various industries.
“The launch of SenseTime’s AIDC is a major milestone in our continuous endeavor to build a universal infrastructure for AI innovation,” says Xu Li. “It provides the critical foundations and resources for us to drive digitalization and sustainable development in all walks of life with universal AI capabilities. Working towards our goal of developing a world-class AIDC, we will further open up SenseCore’s capabilities to both academia and industries to drive future AI productivity and foster a healthy, prosperous and inclusive AI ecosystem.”
The AIDC is said to have a designed computing capacity of 3.74 exaFLOPS, one of the largest data centers in Asia costing US$880 million according to state media, which brings SenseTime’s total computing capacity to over 4.91 exaFLOPS, according to a statement. SenseTime says its SenseCore AI Infrastructure integrates three layers of models, deep learning platforms and computing infrastructure, to accelerate industry-level AI model deployment and commercialization.
The statement adds that SenseCore will help enhance the company’s AI-as-a-Service offering to provide customers with computation resources and large-scale data management for training AI models at a low cost. SenseTime emphasized the security of its architecture and noted its certificates with ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 29151. SenseTime says the center is equipped with energy-saving power consumption systems that reduce line loss rate by approximately 50 percent which will save around 45 million kWh of its annual power consumption.
In addition to the massive new data center, SenseTime claims to have 23 supercomputing clusters located across strategic markets.
SenseTime aims to support its Smart Business, Smart City, Smart Life and Smart Auto sectors with the bolstered computing capacity, and strengthen its R&D.
SenseTime founder faces future challenges, Beijing’s expectations
Though a U.S. blacklisting of his company before a Hong Kong IPO may have set him back, SenseTime’s Xu is said to be part of the next generation of Chinese tech leaders who align with China’s ambitions to become a self-sufficient technology superpower in a more Beijing-friendly way, according to a profile of the CEO in the Financial Times.
After the U.S. Treasury blacklisted SenseTime due to claims that the company’s biometric technology has been used to enable human rights abuses against Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region, a $2 billion listing on the Hong Kong public exchange plummeted to less than half that amount.
But post-IPO earnings for SenseTime beat expectations in early January, surpassing many of its tech rivals on China’s public exchanges in a market surprise. The Financial Times reports that the company’s share price is up 86 percent since its debut and the company’s market capitalization is $30.6 billion.
The British newspaper profiles Xu’s rise from a background in computer vision and SenseTime’s beginnings as a company backed by Boston VC firm IDG Capital and staffed by computer science doctorates that resembled a research group more than a business. SenseTime is said to have been criticized as “an expensive academic endeavour with little hope of commercial success.” But Xu’s company attracted notable backers such as SoftBank, Tiger Global and Silver Lake. Even retired actor Ren Quan’s fund gave SenseTime a lifeline in 2015.
SenseTime managed to cultivate a wide network of customers that employ its facial recognition software in smartphones to security cameras, including China Mobile, HNA Group, Huawei, and the Chinese government.
Its partnership with the Chinese government is a large portion of its revenue, with the Wall Street Journal previously reporting that facial recognition and computer vision services provided to municipal governments and agencies comprised 48 percent of SenseTime’s revenue in the first half of 2021.
Government contracts can be fraught with challenges of tailoring for bespoke solutions, which companies tend to avoid. Yet the Times suggests SenseTime’s connections to Beijing are more valued by investors than its path to profitability as Xu becomes a part of a new generation of China’s tech leaders.