Last updateFri, 02 Jan 2015 5pm
eSun Energy

Datacenters: the heart of the Internet that Google et al prefer to keep secret

I really do love some of the questions thrown at me by friends, clients, and readers of this column.  A good one I recently fielded is “Where is the Internet actually located?”  Some people might be inclined to respond to that with a religious analogy, because it seems like the internet is everywhere at once; but that answer really does not work for me.  The internet is a physical reality made up of computer hardware in our world.

The hardware used to construct the internet differs not a great deal, in theory, from the computer sitting on your desk.  If you could add thousands of tons of memory chips, multiple connections to the communications backbone, and millions of hard disks to your computer, that would be a reasonable start for constructing the internet.  Of course, you would not be able to connect all those hard drives to one computer; so the logical thing to do would be to divide them up into rack-mounted servers (each one holding dozens of hard disks). You could then stack these in a chassis holding thousands of disks.

Housing all that computer hardware might take a warehouse the size of Delaware, and the requirements for electric current and cooling would most definitely make it infeasible to have all the hardware in one place.  In that case, you would want to distribute the hardware in various locations connected by high-speed fiber optic cables.  Those locations we call data centers and they can be found in hundreds of places around the world.  It makes sense to spread the locations around, so that an earthquake in California or a category five hurricane hitting the Carolinas would not be able to take the entire network down.  So, the internet is located in a lot of different places.

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