When it comes to storing stuff online, the options are endless: Dropbox, iCloud, Google Docs, MegaUpload (RIP), Flickr, the list goes on and on. But as the amount of data we produce increases – everything from tweets and calendar entries to Facebook chat history and YouTube videos – so does the amount of energy and resources needed to process and store it all in the cloud.
For today’s Internet giants, finding innovative ways to improve the efficiency of data centres is essential, not just for the environment, but also for the bottom line. Pike Research predicts that by 2015, investment in energy efficient server farms will reach $41 billion. Many companies have already begun to explore cutting-edge technologies to keep server farms costs down:
A group of Facebook engineers were given the challenge of building the mot efficient and economical data centre possible. With every aspect designed from scratch, the new Prineville, Oregon facility uses 38% less energy than other Facebook data centres and cost 24% less to build. To share their findings, Facebook created the Open Compute Project, an industry-wide initiative to promote an open-sourced approach to data centre engineering.
Google uses a variety of methods to keep its data centres around the world up and running. In Finland, they converted an old mill into the world’s first seawater-cooled data centre where cold water from the Baltic Sea is pumped through the building to cool it down. At its Georgia, USA facility, Google uses recycled waste water to keep things cool, and in Taiwan, air conditioning is used at night and a thermal energy storage system keeps the facility cool during the day.
Unlike other companies that use cold cooling processes to control temperatures, eBay runs its Phoenix, Arizona data centre at 115 degrees Fahrenheit (most data centres run somewhere between 65-80 degrees). With temperatures so high, they are able to use hot water to cool the facility, which significantly reduces the amount of energy used and the cost of operations.
Microsoft’s newly expanded data centre in Dublin, Ireland is cooled using air from outside of the building. The new facility doesn’t require any water for cooling, which make it 50% more efficient than traditional data centres.
The company’s data centre in Maiden, North Carolina runs primarily on renewable energy sources and utilizes chilled water storage and outside air for cooling. Apple says that new additions to the facility will include the country’s biggest end user-owned solar array and the largest nonutility fuel cell installation in the United States.
At the American Anthropological Association meeting late last year, Joshua Bell, a curator from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., presented his recent fieldwork on mobile phones in Papua New Guinea. While recounting some of his experiences, he digressed by sharing a particularly interesting story. As he was conducting an interview late one night, he received a call on his cellphone from an unknown caller. His interviewee warned him not to answer the phone, as unidentified numbers received at night were believed to be sorcerers trying to steal your voice.
In the West, technology’s omnipresence makes it a neutral means of communicating but, as this story suggests, it might be worth taking a more serious look at the aspects of our personal lives that technology allows us to so freely share, and what we give up in exchange.
Cellphones and the array of digital-based modes of communication, from hand-held computers and social networks to The Cloud, accelerate the sharing of information as well as increase its accumulation. Of course, often this gives us the feeling of being heard more than ever before: we can call almost anyone anywhere at any time and tweet free of charge literally anything we want to say to a potential audience of millions.
Yet it isn’t because we have more platforms to inscribe and articulate what we want to say that we are necessarily more heard, quite the contrary. Facebook is a platform where all of our voices are engulfed in this constantly evolving wall fed by other voices. And not only are they lost in cyberspace, far from collective consciousness, but they are stored in large data-bases from which our voices can be bought, traded, shared – even stolen – without our control.
In a sense, what makes us mute in the West is the swift technological evolution of larger storage, faster updates, growing platforms and billions of voices that steal our intonations: forces that are as mysterious and uncontrollable as what the Papua New Guineans may identify as sorcery.