lost in a cloud

I’ve just finished reading ‘What You Really Need to Know about the Internet’ by John Naughton and the main thought ringing in my ears is about the physicality of the internet, especially with regards to cloud computing and what that might mean for the environment.

Naughton writes
‘if you had an idea of cloud computing as something engagingly wispy and ethereal, think again: this is an industry with a heavy, industrial-scale environmental footprint’

I suppose that is the thing that I don’t often appreciate when I’m blogging or fooling about on the internet.
Whenever we upload a picture to Facebook or a video to Youtube that video/picture has to be saved in some physical loaction somewhere in the world.
Or whenever I write this blog and post it, it will be saved (as well as the autosave versions, any pictures etc.)in some physical location somewhere in the world.

The picture I have in my head is of a giant PC box hundreds and hundreds of feet wide (like a mega version of the one I can see in front of me right now) in various physical locations throughout the world. It is something that has escaped my attention as I’ve blogged, sold stuff online, Facebook’d, digitized so much of my life and uploaded it. I haven’t just been using my computer at home or the library computer with the energy demands of using those, but using data farms in different mysterious locations throughout the world.

For example Facebook are building a huge server farm 60 miles south of the Artic Circle in Sweden.
The reason? To be close to a large hydroelectric electricity source and because the Artic temperature is ideal for keeping the building cool. So it’s not just a case of me plucking stuff beautifully from the cloud and using it, it’s not just a case of it being clean, easy and quick. No, there are hidden mounted racks in vast warehouses that had to be extracted from the materials of the earth using dirty fossil fuels and then powered (and kept cool in many locations) by vast amounts of energy (and how much of that is renewable?).

As our mobile devices seem to get more beautiful and powerful we can be seduced into thinking that there is no dirt and cost involved. But the cost is there, it’s just hidden behind the cloud.

Surprisingly (well at least to me) Ireland has quite a few of these data centres. Google are building a major one in Dublin, Amazon and Microsoft have ones already and are looking to expand them.
The last time I checked Ireland wasn’t exactly a renewable energy hub, but maybe things have changed in the three years I’ve lived up here.
Perhaps these huge data centres are using Airtricity or something, but I’d be surprised if they are or even could. And that means the more people put stuff on Youtube or use Google+, the more pollution is released into the atmosphere and the more we contribute to global warming. Which means that even as I finish this post about how we contribute to global warming I’ve juist contributed to global warming. Time to think.

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