Diagramming Data Centers

Some work around mapping the spatial and temporal formations of data centers. The first series of images is based on a cartogram logic, where each data center is represented by a hexagonal tile. For instance, there are 8 Amazon Web Services Data Centers in Seattle, forming a zone with 8 tiles. Geographic locations are maintained in these images, placing Seattle at the upper left and Tokyo at the upper right. But each image also collapses empty space between cities and data center clusters, allowing Dublin and Frankfurt, for instance, to sit alongside each other. These images, while unorthodox in approach, allow for some immediate insights when comparing these data center “worlds.” Alibaba, for instance, clearly has a focus on China and the broader east Asian region, while AWS has far more centers in the United States and the West. There are also more subtle differences, such as the fact that …

The Internet Beyond Borderless versus Balkanized

When nations speak of the internet today, they no longer use the language of the virtual, but of soil. At the dawn of the internet, cyberspace was framed as a new realm decoupled from the state. This digital sphere stretched across the globe, making it essentially ungovernable. Yet over the last twenty years, this view has steadily been eroded, replaced instead by a vision of the internet as an extension of national territory. An array of technologies have arisen, both infrastructural and legal, that aim to align a nation’s digital domain with its geopolitical domain, to marry its network with its physical boundaries and political interests—to create a domestic internet in the shape of the state. How do these forces impose territoriality on a system that is supposedly global and ungovernable? And how does the architecture of the internet enable or frustrate these efforts at bordering? The internet was originally …

Simulating Data Centers

The work below surveys a range of software that visualizes or simulates data centers and their accompanying infrastructure. Data centers are highly complex systems where server hardware, cooling systems, and electrical networks intersect. This technical complexity and its opacity is not only an issue for the public, but also for industry insiders like technicians who must monitor these systems and maintain their operations. In recent years a range of software has emerged aiming to assist in this task. Visual tools give workers an visual overview of their facilities, while simulation tools provide flexible ways to test new configurations and evaluate performance without the costs and risks of doing this in the “real world”. Racktables Racktables is a “datacenter asset management system”. In essence, it s a browser-based application for keeping track of hardware, cables, and their current configurations. Racktables can be deployed for just one data center, or to track …

Capital Operations: Data and Waste

Borders are indispensable to capital’s formatting of the world. As social institutions, borders not only mediate relations of capital and state but also establish boundaries, limits, interfaces, and zones that register the profound transformations effected by capital’s operations across and beyond existing territorial demarcations. The town of Tseung Kwan O in the New Territories of the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (SAR) is a site that bundles and multiplies these changes and variations. This restless spatial reorganization is most evident in the borders that separate its data center cluster, waste dump, and the nearby LOHAS Park real estate development.

Island in the Net

Stefan Yong 1 The cultural history of the data centre in today’s Singapore begins with cyberpunk. But let’s be clear: it’s not that this marginal, paraliterary genre, pioneered by a handful of North American authors, succeeded in predicting the future — that is, our present. It’s instead that cyberpunk writing of the late 1980s and 1990s gave literary form to the uneven historical unfoldings of its own present, registering, with techno-Orientalist bewilderment, the contradictions between what was (even then) a novel application of state power and what were (not quite yet) the exigencies of a globalising, data-driven capitalism. Neil Stephenson’s ‘Mother Earth Mother Board’ (1996) is one of the first great meditations on Internet infrastructures. It’s framed as a travelogue in which the author, a ‘hacker tourist’, documents and historicises the laying of a hybrid undersea-overland cable of then-unprecedented length, the Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG). Singapore appears as …

Cloud cosmogram

Maya Indira Ganesh and Johannes Bruder At the end of a two hour-long tour through the bowels of their brand new ‘server hotel’ near Basel, Switzerland, the CEO brought us back to the meeting room and signaled that he would now take questions. Our colleague raised his hand and asked, jokingly, if they were afraid that some of us would break in at night, now that we know everything about the myriad security mechanisms that the company had installed. ‘We’re actually not afraid that someone would break into the physical building,’ the CEO replied, ‘the problem is that we are promiscuously connected’. ‘Promiscuous connectivity’ sits at the heart of the planetary-scale infrastructure that so many data centres now form part of: the cloud. Whether the servers in a data centre carry highly sensitive data of financial transactions or publicly accessible collections of holiday photos, they depend on promiscuous connectivity to …

How data centres produce new topologies of territory and labour

Brett Neilson and Tanya Notley When people hear the term data center architectures they are likely to conjure images of large non-descript box buildings or perhaps of converted manufacturing warehouses. Far less likely will they consider the more opaque and hidden interior network architectures that connect machines inside data centers, even though these topologies are, operationally, much more influential. The great allure of data centres is that their network architectures allow actors that operate within them to extend their activities territorially by establishing links with distant client machines. In doing so, data centres change the relationship these actors have with labour forces. To understand the client footprint produced by data centres as a form of territory is to treat these facilities not only as digital infrastructures but also as political institutions that influence the wielding of power across wide geographical vistas. By paying analytical attention to the forms of power …

The dispositiv of distribution and the geopolitics of data

Florian Sprenger With the rise of smart media, the internet of things, and ubiquitous technologies in the last decade, the power of calculation has been transferred from isolated, locally bound end-devices into environments on a large scale. ‚Everyware‘, as Adam Greenfield termed these technologies, operates spatially independent in a network and is at best context-sensitive on the basis of large amounts of sensorial data collected by end-devices. Beginning with the establishment of mobile laptops and tablets, popularized globally with the smartphone and projected with the rise of the internet of things, digital technologies gain more and more independence from geographical space and transform our environments into spatially distributed networks. At least this is what companies tell us and what users experience. The infrastructural foundations of this process might reveal another outlook. Computers evidently have not only become devices of daily use, but migrate into more and more objects that communicate …