In a recent New York Times Magazine article by Tom Vanderbilt, he wonders how the Internet data centers we have built can keep up with our massive use. After reading the article, I felt like crawling into the fetal position, covering my head and eyes, and just waiting for the end of the universe to arrive. For surely, the end of the universe as we know it is near.
As an example, he points out that while at a friend’s house, he chose to play Call of Duty: World at War when he noticed a screen for Xbox live and he decided to check it out. The number of players on site at that time was 66,000. Imagine that!Sixty-six thousand people, enough to populate a city, online, all playing the game in an attempt to eviscerate one another with the hope to bring peace to the world. How’s that for a dichotomy?But that was only one of the interesting facts he quotes in his article. Consider the following:
- A typical Google search takes 0.15 seconds (that is less than 1/6 of a second…remember the days when it took, maybe, ½ a minute?)
- There are 233,041,000 cell phone subscribers (wow!I just keep thinking about those folks sending in a hundred a month to AT&T, Sprint, et al…do the math)
- 195,613 cell sites to help transmit the calls (Momma, that’s a lot of cell towers)
- The future calls for most software to be in the “clouds” (Good, that’s where my head is most of the time anyway, but can we really live without the nice looking package and the CD?)
- One MS Cloud site could house 6.75 trillion photos (Well, at least if they are in the cloud, it reduces the risk of fire)
- Hotmail alone supports 375,000,000 users (Good grief, I wonder where Gmail and Yahoo come into the picture)
- And Bing alone uses 80,000 servers (Bing is Microsoft’s new search engine)
Does any of this start to blow your mind?Does it start to give you nightmares about the possibility of all of us being strangled by millions of miles of wire?Imagine the technology and the brilliance necessary to maintain all this merely to keep you happy, as well as to keep it from crashing down around our heads. All of this magic is possible because of datacenters, and datacenters are nothing more than a place to house servers to provide you your merest electronic wish, whether it is a search for answers to a question, store a photo, simply to play a game or just send off an email.
I sit scratching my head, both totally boggled and completely pissed by the fact that I actually get email that is addressed to me that had its origin at some location with which I am unfamiliar, commonly sent by someone I’ve never heard of, merely to ensure that my supply of little blue pills never runs dry, or offer up some porn, some product, or whatever. It actually gets to me through that myriad of wires or simply through the air. Go figure. Is it any wonder I have crawled into the fetal position?
I only know about 10 people in the entire universe, but I get exciting offers from hundreds, maybe thousands. I am not a kid anymore, this stuff does not come naturally to me, I can’t take it for granted like you young puppies can. To me, it is magic. No wonder I periodically feel the need to fire up a first person shooter to create my own brand of mayhem.
The fact of the matter is that worldwide data centers alone consume more energy than the entire population of Sweden. The rate of use appears to be doubling every five years and the cloud alone is expected to consume 1-2 percent of the world’s electricity. Ten years ago, our searches were measured in seconds, today in milliseconds. When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, it amounted to nothing more than a couple of servers under the desk in his dorm room. Today, more than 200 million users have uploaded more than 15 billion photos, thus making it the world’s largest photo-sharing service. Do we really need all those photos floating about in the ether?
Enough already, I am still trying to get used to the idea that General Motors went bankrupt. While that scares me a bit, it certainly tells us what happens if we don’t keep up with technology. So, kiddo, it’s too late for me, but if you are one of the sixty thousand or so playing Call of Duty: World at War, you’ve got to hone those skills while even graduating to something a bit more testy, like physics, calculus or quantum mechanics. The next generation just might need such skills someday, to keep the world from crashing, or reboot it when it does. When you need a break from the mind numbing thinking that goes along with those exciting subjects, then fire up the first person shooter and start….well, you know. All I know is that life was a lot easier when I was a kid. Damn, I miss my cap pistols and my Lone Ranger mask. These days, of course, cap guns are frowned upon because they “make kids violent,” and chances are if you’re caught in a Lone Ranger mask grown-ups will assume that you’re a piece of performance art.
Heh, heh, good one, Tony. As Baudrillard famously said: we don’t live in the drama of alienation any more, but in the ecstasy of communication. Yes, it is scary and it is positively changing our societies. And us old people are naturally finding it intimidating. But… imagine the kids ten years from now…
For me, it’s entirely un-scary tbh (especially since most of those users don’t all log in at the same time – it’s why the mobile systems balk at Christmas when everyone rings up or text people on their new phone, or other major events when a lot of people say “Happy ..XXX”).
I do however groan at thinking about things I’d love to create that would need a massive amount of database storage (multiplying numbers just gets meticulous!), but only because I’d want it done dead cheap and not need multiple servers. Working in IT, you know there are massive RAID arrays, multi-core systems, virtualisations and “cloud” computing done in all businesses at a systems level, even in small places, nevermind an internet level, makes it seems a lot less impressive (Facbook for instance, never stores the original photo and cuts it down in size with servers working on static thumbnails too, but there is a certain size/picture there).
The numbers issue seems to get people – like the amount of debt simply is just “too big” to handle. Fascinating reading various articles on this. Usually it’s better to put the numbers in some kind of perspective, I wish I could find the article which did that really well.
Also, this reaction does remind me of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, for those who have seen it, where the lead imagined the population of a large stadium being more people then she’d ever seen before, yet calculating this as being a tiny, tiny fraction of the people in Japan, which itself was a tiny, tiny fraction of people in the world, makes her think her life is insignificant. Most people just ignore this however 🙂 makes life much easier.
Large numbers, how people (and systems) deal with them is pretty neat 🙂 at least in fiction.
PS: “Do we really need all those photos floating about in the ether?” Honestly, man, what a silly question. Of course we want photos. We’d look like cavemen to future generations if we decided certain things “were not worth anything” and binned them. Electronic data is pretty easy to store after all!