The data centre is a place where the cosmos that is the cloud materialises as an array of technologies. It is designed to provide optimal conditions for servers and profits from the absence of humans: a human exclusion zone, as it were.
Data centres “are better understood as a form of infrastructure designed to sustain itself at all costs” (Tung-Hui Hu); the human element in data centre operations is figured in supporting an infrastructural imaginary: the creation and maintenance of automated, logistically optimised, and ideally resilient machine landscapes. Here, human energies turn into a global variable and form part of the cloud’s system requirements, which determine whether a machine runs as expected, or turns into a useless amalgam of natural resources and capital.
This transformation of human labour into an operational resource may (still) generate resistance, yet it also shifts our understanding of what being human means.
Cloud Cosmogram does not reveal hidden (infra)structures or logistical relations of data centres, but considers these relations as speculative media of the transformations of labour and social relations.
Visualising a cosmogram is, like the cosmogram itself, how a map approaches territory; it is always only partial in its depiction of cosmic things within it. Nonetheless, we took inspiration from a variety of data centre visual and textual ephemera that emerged through our research and interactions on this topic.
A hike through the Swiss mountains-not far from where the data centre Mount10 is located-became the backdrop to the visualisation.
We discovered job advertisements for data centre technicians that opened up a new way to talk about of data centres as models of "post-human institutions" (Het Nieuwe Instituut). The requirement of technicians to work in challenging physical conditions became a curious point of inquiry into the data centre as a cosmic thing and what it might tell us about the cosmos that is the cloud.
Then, a friend working with a big tech company told us that he enjoys working in there as an engineer: there was a large, reliable network of other humans to pass work on to, and log off after a shift and go home. On smaller projects with slimmer budgets, a very small team of human managers had to be constantly available and reliable. He showed us photographs of burned-out cables–which, oddly, resembled geometric paintings when seen on his phone –from when a data centre in a rural part of the United States unexpectedly went down. And engineers-whoever was awake and on a shift- had to troubleshoot what the problem might be. The issue, however, was how they would get a new cable at that time of night?
Finally, we focused on all those elements that you would not necessarily have at hand, myriad computational and electronic components, from server racks to CCTV cameras, compressed in the central sphere of the visualisation.
These elements come together within the exploded view offered by floor plans and architectural drawings of data centres, in particular its security infrastructure, and patents for heating and cooling to maintain the best temperature for servers. This view takes the form of the firewire logo (an interface standard for high speed communication and data transfer). Outward from there emerge fragments of text and images about data centre technician jobs, details of heating and cooling, and the layers in a data cable not unlike what our friends have to painstakingly maintain.
Thus, the human “unfolds through technological layers that are based on the composition of undersea fibre-optic cables and data center architectures, to channel “the feelings of wonder at the complexity and immensity of the cosmos … into a tool for politics” (Ghosn & Jazairy)
Selena Savic, Johannes Bruder, Maya Indira Ganesh, 2019