Like most of the machinery that keeps the world 2.0 running, data centers are for all intents and purposes invisible amongst the fabric of our highly stationary, web-addled lives. That explains why we all oohed and ahhed when Google lifted the veil on its own data centers, and finally shared some highly stylized photos of what their massive server complexes actually look like.
A desire to illustrate that immense, power-sucking physical spaces make the digital ones possible also propels the work of Silvio Lorusso, whose ongoing project Data Centers Grand Tour (This Data Belongs Here) takes us on a sightseeing trip to the myriad, aesthetically unremarkable servers ‘round the world.
Lorusso will be purchasing domain names and hosting in each country across the globe. For each domain a single web page will be hosted showing a satellite view of the geographical site at which that particular domainʼs data is stored. The tour will start by clicking at a destination, one click will take you to the next domain in a different country where you will again be able to view where that domainʼs data is stored, and so on until all of the countries in the world are covered.
The number of stops on the tour is pretty limited as of now, but it’s supposed to expand. It’s already kind of interesting to see how some of the data centers reflect their host countries, even in small, marginal ways. Even if I'm totally projecting. Here, for instance, is a server farm in the U.S., in Utah: It’s square, sensible, flat-roofed, it’d be entirely inconspicuous in any of our great nation’s many identical strip malls or corporate office parks.
Meanwhile, the data center in Manchester boasts sloping roofs and a well-manicured lawn nearby. It’s almost charming. Almost.
Guess which country this one’s in. Hint: its name begins with the stuff that appears to be covering the roof here.
Yeah, Iceland. Greenland’s data centers are all Spartan and rugged and outfitted with a massive satellite dish; this thing makes our climate science possible.
And that's Luxembourg's data center up top; it's apparently outfitted with solar panels. Nice. Clicking through the images, for some reason I couldn’t help but feel I was perpetrating some voyeuristic taboo by peering at these nation’s data centers. Especially the smaller ones. Like, there’s Iceland’s internet. In that dull rectangle of a building. There’s Greenland’s.
That’s the point, of course, or at least part of it: Demystifying that boundless digital blanket that’s allegedly binding us all together as wired global citizens, enabling a freer transfer of information, lowering prices, increasing knowledge, bolstering transparency, ending despotism. All that. And all completely dependent on a collection of mosty unremarkable boxy buildings.
Take the tour for yourself here.