From time to time For thousands of years, technology companies have spent billions to convey the persuasive story that the cloud—a word that many non-techies use to mean everything that involves the Internet—is limitless and weightless, that it’s “greener,” more sustainable, and more secure than storage systems. data for the analog predecessor. They will teach us how to upload, download, move, send, and share ad infinitum. Also, we have come to expect access to digital content anytime, anywhere, as if the data itself is impossible.
What exactly is the cloud? Where does it begin or end? Is it the fiber optic cables that send our data packets across oceans and continents? Are they mobile platforms and mobile phones? Are the servers running in the halls of the data center? Since 2015, I have been asking this question as an ethnographic researcher, shadowing experts and interviewing managers and residents who live near digital processing centers. I have found that the answer depends a lot on who you ask. For people with a narrow mind, the cloud is all information and communication technology (ICTs) networks. In the data storage industry, the cloud refers to a certain group of data centers called hyperscalers (which make up a third of the data centers in operation), which are managed by a few companies such as Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS). ), Microsoft, Tencent, and Alibaba. In any case, the cloud is a metaphor we use to summarize the complexity of the things behind the digital world.
That many ordinary people struggle to explain what the cloud is all about reflects the impressive success of Big Tech marketing, and the careful disintegration of the cloud’s legacy. Thanks to the recent chaos, gigafire, hot buildings, and hurricanes, however, the invisible cloud business scam is unfolding before our eyes. Thanks to the work of activists, scientists, and journalists, we now know that clouds warm the sky and drain our water. It pollutes our communities with electronic waste and harmful noise. It is a contributor to global warming, desertification, and the destruction of our environment, time and energy I call it I’m sorry (clouds and Latin for “cloud”).
The explosive growth of the cloud has not been achieved without resistance. In some areas, people are organizing, citing pollution, damage to the electricity grid, excessive land use, or lack of jobs as reasons to oppose the construction of new data centers. Even so, the massive growth of the cloud shows little sign of extinction, which raises the question: Is it too late to fix it? What changes can be made to reduce the environmental damage of clouds? Much work by activists has been devoted to answering these questions, but few are asking this: Is the cloud an inherently unstable concept? Does the cloud as we know it have to end, so that we can all survive?
Data centers are anything but the same. The first data center I visited was nothing like the gaudy cyberpunk technoscape depicted in movies or Google commercials. Instead, I ended up in the crumpled shell of an office building, where flickering servers were lined up in horizontal rows, and cold air was being pumped from the bottom of the air-conditioned plenum. A typical data center runs about 100,000 square feet, but I’ve been inside data centers as small or as large as universities. On average, a data center can use as much electricity as a small city to run and cool its computing equipment, drawing energy from the coal-fired power grid in most parts of the world. To maintain our expectations of uninterrupted availability, the data center runs diesel generators in hot spots to provide power in the event of a power outage. Carbon dioxide is thick if you look at the building site or the servers, electronics, and other equipment that must be continuously operated in the glowing halls of the facility.
In order to reduce operating costs and reduce carbon emissions, data centers are increasingly moving away from computer air conditioning systems (CRACs) as a cooling option. It takes a lot of energy to cool the air, so many workers are using the best liquid for cooling computers: fresh water. Like people, the thirst of the servers can be quenched with purified water, due to the damage caused by the sludge in the fragile electricity. Few places recycle their water, which consumes millions of gallons every day to keep the cloud from moving. Others use chemicals to clean the water that surrounds them by passing through their premises, and dispose of the waste water in local waters with unknown consequences for the environment, as has been reported in the Netherlands. In places like the American Southwest, which is currently experiencing severe drought due to climate change, data centers are flocking to the Arizona desert, lured by tax breaks and pro-business regulations and seemingly unfazed by the serious threat they pose. for local people and the environment. There, data centers are pumping water to cool servers in pressurized water, while farmers are being asked to distribute water. Arizona, where I spent six months researching data centers as an ethnographer, is not unusual but a large part of data centers that take root near vulnerable communities.
As part of my environmental research, I visited and worked in data centers in Iceland and, within the US, New England, Arizona, and Puerto Rico. Working as a novice technician, I helped decommission servers that had reached the end of their guaranteed life (about three years). I unzipped, unzipped, and pulled the cart on the giant server’s fast cart, shaking their drives to carefully erase their contents before piling them into the waste piles. A few weeks before the garbage truck arrived to pick them up, I saw my friends stealing precious chips or cards from these condemned computers, a shadow saving economy that was illegal but not punished, because of the future of electronic waste. The United Nations estimates that less than 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled each year. Millions of tons of toxic waste electronics are haphazardly dumped in electronic graveyards in places like Ghana, Burundi, or China, where rescuers (often women and children) melt them down to extract rare metals, toxic waste, dirt, and their own. bodies in the process.