An absolutely awesome talk about algorithms and how they shape our world by Kevin Slavin on TED.

Especially fascinating to me is how Kevin goes over exactly the things I was discussing in my thesis starting at 8:45 into the talk – the influence of computing on culture, the relation of our modern culture and algorithms, and finally – the trend to put data centers into cities because, financially, it makes so much sense!

Check out Kevin’s talk on TED by clicking on the image below.

Click on the image to watch the talk on TED

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exploiting-the-blackbox

NEWS: my academic work of the last two years has finally come to its end, concluding in a Master’s Thesis book called “Exposing the Data Center”. Done and done!

Abstract of the thesis is as follows:

“Given the rapid growth in the importance of the Internet, data centers – the buildings that store information on the web – are quickly becoming the most critical infrastructural objects in the world. However, so far they have received very little, if any, architectural attention. This thesis proclaims data centers to be the “churches” of the digital society and proposes a new type of a publicly accessible data center.

The thesis starts with a brief overview of the history of data centers and the Internet in general, leading to a manifesto for making data centers into public facilities with an architecture of their own. After, the paper proposes a roadmap for the possible future development of the building type with suggestions for placing future data centers in urban environments, incorporating public programs as a part of the building program, and optimizing the inside workings of a typical data center. The final part of the work, concentrates on a design for an exemplary new data center, buildable with currently available technologies.

This thesis aims to:
1) change the public perception of the internet as a non-physical thing, and data centers as purely functional infrastructural objects without any deeper cultural significance and
2) propose a new architectural language for the type.”

If this sounds interesting, make sure to get in touch and request a copy of the publication. I believe you can also find it in the Virginia Tech library. Please don’t hesitate to shoot me an e-mail if you want to help me take this work further in the form of lectures, talks, advance research or actual construction.

Cheers,

Ivan

 

P.S. A few snippets from the final “book”:

 

What is the "cloud"?

What is the “cloud”?

 

What we thought was ephemeral, is actually very physical: the rise of silicon materiality

The cloud – that we thought was ephemeral – is actually very physical. It signifies the rise of a “silicon materiality”.

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Data centers, spread out across the city, form a rhizome. They contribute to their surroundings via their unique spatial features, and become public spaces.

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They could be anything.

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A case study of a new-age super-dense data center on Broadway.

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As seen from Lafayette St…

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…and from Broadway.

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In section.

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In plan.

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Exposing the structure within.

So what is so ridiculous about it anyway? Why IS it impossible? Or why is it (un)necessary? Why does every professional I talk to about it react with such pessimism and a look “why in the world…?”

The more I think about it the more I realize that it is purely because no one has ever considered it…

Data centers are dull, cold, noisy spaces. They are infrastructure (Or are they? Is a car an infrastructure, or is it an object defining a “self”, a tool, a religion?) – why would you ever expose them?

First of all, “dull and noisy” is an issue of design and can be dealt with in design terms.

More importantly, though, it is a question of why do we hide what we cherish? Data runs the world (Kitchin, Dodge), but why do we hide it? More specifically, if the “Net” is largely a public space in its nature, and anyone has access to it – to parts, at least – why does it have to reside in bunkers?

The most intriguing part for me personally, though – architecturally – data centers are chunks of pure “matter”. If a data center is a Black Box (Milgram) – impermeable volume filled with “stuff” we do not see – why not exploit the spatial possibilities offered by it?

exploiting-the-blackbox

What is it about Black Boxes anyway?…

httpwww.promo-halal.comphotosPriere-devant-la-Kaaba-jpg_gp648194.html

Kaaba. Image: Promo-Halal.com

(The previous question was rhetorical; no irony in relation  to the above picture implied)

Today’s urban data center architecture (I am not talking about any non-urban data centers: a building in the middle of a corn field can look however; a building in the middle of a city might want to relate) is an architecture of leftovers and “re-purposement”. One gets a feeling that, just like the train stations of the XIX century or first skyscrapers, urban data centers “don’t know what to look like”: they try to accommodate a revolutionary new technology by squeezing it into known forms, not knowing how to deal with it.

Find a Data Center in this picture! Image: http://www.andrewblum.net/

Previously, data centers have not been designed to be public spaces. Concerns were many. Privacy. Security. But with the growth of both the pure bulk of information and resulting increase in demand for space, as well as the growth in the complexity of network structure, data centers are paradoxically becoming very secure. We used to hide them because we were scared someone would find that one critical node and blow it up, but by now there are so many nodes that even if someone tried, they would have a hard time doing it: most of them still remain securely hidden and backed-up. Rhizome at its  best.

Rhizomatic systems. Image: http://thinkingenterprise.blogspot.com

The only security concern is the security of the data itself, but that has nothing to do with the physical positioning of servers. Data is everywhere, fragmented and dispersed. Try find it.

In fact, it is pretty interesting that even the highest echelons of the data-producing and managing circles – mammoths like Facebook, Amazon and others are becoming more and more open about where and how their stuff is stored. Some make them into design marvels already now. Some even brag about it out right.

I guess the attitude is changing…

//to be continued