This article by Alan Wiig over on Medium is a long read – and the first few paragraphs throw around some jargon – but I found it a fascinating study of the connection between the “cloud” we use all around us all day, demand be available everywhere, and instantly whine at any slowness – and the physical locations where fiberoptic cables and cell towers live. And he shares some beautiful photos of typically gritty urban infrastructure.
If you are having any trouble explaining what this “cloud” thing is or how it works, this article may help – or it may just complicate things farther. However, if you are interested in urban infrastructure, economics, and policy decisions on where data centers are located, read on.
“…In daily life, we typically experience ‘the cloud’ as the latent potential of data and digitized information in general to do things for us: to tell us information such as the weather today or when a bus will arrive…While we experience this data through a screen, whether smartphone or a larger-screened tablet/laptop/desktop, ‘the cloud’ as this electromagnetic, immaterial but impactful thing resides in specific places.
The creation, maintenance, and transmission of data to and between users necessitates an immense, world-spanning telecommunications infrastructure that … Ingrid Burrington’s recent writing for The Atlantic has explored in wonderful detail. ‘The cloud’ is extremely physical and not at all ephemeral nor ‘cloudlike’. For ‘the cloud’ to function requires a distributed, interconnected system of servers, fiber-optic cables, and network equipment such as cellular antenna sites, wi-fi routers, and so on …”