Where the Internet Lives: Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure

Too embarrassed to ask, “What is the cloud?”

The elusive “cloud” seems to have taken over our lives. But how many of us actually know what the cloud is? The cloud refers to software and services that run on the Internet, instead of locally on your computer.

The notion of the cloud as it is presented to us by tech companies renders the physical infrastructure of remote data storage into a palatable abstraction for those who are using it. For most people, the cloud exists in the background of our everyday lives. Most of us don’t really know what it is, and some of us have no idea when we are using it.

Holt and Vonderau cited a recent survey of more than one thousand Americans which revealed that 95 percent of those who think they are not using the cloud actually are–whether in the act of shopping, banking, or gaming online, using social networks, streaming media, or storing music/photos/videos online.

The same survey, conducted by a company named Citrix, also showed that most respondents believe that the cloud is related to weather, while some referred to pillows, drugs, and toilet papers.  51 percent of respondents said that bad weather affects cloud computing. These survey responses show there is a significant disconnect between what Americans know about the cloud and what they actually use the cloud for. It is a really interesting survey if you would like to take a look:

https://www.businessinsider.com/people-think-stormy-weather-affects-cloud-computing-2012-8

The infrastructure behind the cloud is controlled by a handful of technology companies. Their data centers are technically visible, but the details of their servers and networking capabilities are notoriously secretive. The fact that this infrastructure is so critical to the functioning of our society, yet so few people know about it, is astonishing.

The impact of the cloud is enormous; for example, the authors noted that if the cloud were a country, it would have the fifth largest electricity demand in the world. Furthermore, this level of impact is consolidated in the hands of a few major providers, which could lead to a highly concentrated and consolidated market that is unresponsive to consumer demands. It is important for us, especially as Davidson students, to think about this consolidation of market power because we are in the middle of the North Carolina data center corridor.

CLOSER THAN WE THINK

The article mentioned the North Carolina “data center corridor,” which runs through about seven rural western counties between Charlotte and Asheville. With major sites owned by Google, Apple, Facebook, Disney, and AT&T, among others, North Carolina has emerged as a major hub for cloud infrastructure.

Source: https://five9sdigital.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/map-north-carolina-data-centers-at-a-glance

This image includes nationally recognized data center projects in North Carolina, such as Facebook’s massive data center campus in Rutherford Country, Apple’s iCloud data center and solar farm in Maiden, and Google’s data center campus in Lenoir. It covers a handful of metropolitan markets, including Charlotte, and it also includes rural markets that are rich in tax incentives and locational advantages.

Just by looking at this map, it is evident that data centers are a very integral part of North Carolina’s economy. This is an interesting observation for an entity that most of us don’t really think about.

In order to understand the potential repercussions of this growing infrastructure, we must conduct intensive interdisciplinary analyses that will span the private and public sectors. Hopefully, the public will become more engaged with this topic before its interest becomes irrelevant.

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