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My Trip to the Internet

Alright, I know the internet isn’t an actual place, but this morning I got about as close as I could get to visiting “the Internet” when I took a tour of my website hosting provider’s data facility. By coincidence my hosting company houses all of their servers in a Scottsdale data center. When I received an invitation to a private tour of the facility, my curiosity got the better of me. So much of our lives, and certainly my business, takes place on the web, and yet it’s amazing how little most of us (especially me) know about how it all works.

I arrived at the data center building at the appointed time and had to pass through security to get into the parking lot and more to get into the lobby. I had to present my ID and have my picture taken just to get into the conference room where I, along with a dozen or so other guests, was briefed on what we were about to see.

I was quickly overwhelmed with some of the details: 90,000 square feet of raised floor data space, 12 Mega Watts of electricity into the building (enough to power a small city), redundant air conditioning, backup generators, ultrasonic humidifiers, etc. etc. Geeks (and I use the term affectionately here) love this kind of stuff, and I have to admit that I was impressed with how much engineering must have gone into preparing for every eventuality so that my site never goes down.

Once we went through the airlock into the actual server space I felt like I was entering some kind of temple. The walls, floors and ceilings were pristine white and the server rooms were laid out in precise geometric patterns. Cables and conduits ran in orderly patterns along the ceiling.

The tour itself consisted of a bunch more tech-speak: “Cloud-based virtualized instances,”
“Terabit blade drives” “SQL Servers” and who knows what else. All very impressive, and, surprisingly, very noisy. Standing in a server suite with all of the machines and fans running, it sounds like you are in a swarm of millions of bees. We had to raise our voices almost to a shout to be heard over all of it.  I guess I never realized how much machinery is involved in making it all work . . .

The most interesting part of the tour for me came when they showed me the rack of servers where my site resides. Very strange to think of my gallery site and all of its art sitting on a physical hard drive within my reach. Of course it was still just bits of data, but there was the machine that holds it all (or at least one copy of it anyway).

The tour ended with a little sales pitch from my hosting company (of course) and I headed back out into the desert heat and the real world. If you ever have the opportunity to take a similar tour, avail yourself of the chance – very interesting to get a glimpse behind the curtain and see some of the infrastructure that makes our online lives work.

As a side note, I happened to catch an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday on this very topic – worth a listen if you have a few extra minutes in the studio:

The pictures included here are stock photos provided by the datacenter – we weren’t allowed to take photographs on the tour.

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  1. Jean M. Judd
  2. Nan Burke
  3. Frank Korb

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