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It Was Raining in the Data Center
Stemming from a 2011 incident inside of a Facebook data facility in which hyper-cooled air formed a literal (if somewhat transient) rain cloud in the stacks, It was raining in the data center examines ideas of non-places and supermodernity applied to contemporary network infrastructure. It was raining in the data center argues that the problem of the rain cloud is as much a problem of psychology as it is a problem of engineering. Although humidity-management is a predictable snag for any data center, the cloud was a surprise; a self-inflicted side-effect of a strategy of distance. The rain cloud was a result of the same rhetoric of ephemerality that makes it easy to imagine the inside of a data center to be both everywhere and nowhere. This conceit of internet data being placeless shares roots with Marc Augé’s idea of non-places (airports, highways, malls), which are predicated on the qualities of excess and movement. Without long-term inhabitants, these places fail to tether themselves to their locations, instead existing as a markers of everywhere. Such a premise allows the internet to exist as an other-space that is not conceptually beholden to the demands of energy and landscape. It also liberates the idea of ‘the network’ from a similar history of industry. However, the network is deeply rooted in place, as well as in industry and transit. Examining the prevalence of network overlap in American fiber-optic cabling, it becomes easy to trace routes of cables along major US freight train lines and the US interstate highway system. The historical origin of this network technology is in weaponization and defense, from highways as a nuclear-readiness response to ARPANET’s Pentagon-based funding. Such a linkage with the military continues today, with data centers likely to be situated near military installations— sharing similar needs electricity, network connectivity, fair climate, space, and invisibility. We see the repetition of militarized tropes across data structures. Fiber-optic network locations are kept secret; servers are housed in cold-war bunkers; data centers nest next to military black-sites. Similarly, Augé reminds us that non-places are a particular target of terrorism, populated as they are with cars, trains, drugs and planes that turn into weapons. When the network itself is at threat of weaponization, the effect is an ambient and ephemeral fear; a paranoia made of over-connection.