The Concretude of the Cloud

6/8/2023

The word “cloud” was adopted by the tech industry to refer to the large realms of scalable servers.

Thanks to it, any company, startup or individual entrepreneur no longer needs to bear the high upfront infrastructure costs to launch a service on the internet. The cloud allows you to start small (and spending little) and grow continuously, according to demand, fast or slow.

It’s a brilliant model. No wonder, the industry leaders — Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure — have become huge players and are very profitable.

Like all transformative technology, we are fascinated by the good side of the cloud and forget the risks of market concentration, eventual unavailability, security and collateral costs, hidden by the shadow of the optimism that technological progress impregnates in itself. Rare and/or incipient, but still present, these risks in general reveal the physical nature of the cloud, built with many limited natural resources, such as rare metals, silicon, and water.

This Bloomberg report (no paywall) caught my attention showing regions that suffer from historical droughts and, at the same time, house large data centers of companies such as Meta, Microsoft and Amazon.

These data centers, the physical addresses of the “cloud”, consume huge amounts of water. One of Meta in Talavera de la Reina, Spain, still on paper, is expected to spend 665 million liters per year. At peak times, it will be 195 liters per second to cool machines that support the digital cloud.

Not by chance, they have generated dissatisfaction and dislike of people who live in the places where they are installed or intend to settle. Suddenly, they are forced to share the little water available with computers.

It is ironic that the “cloud” of the titans of technology behaves in the opposite way to that of nature: instead of bringing water, it consumes it. Unless it counts as “water” that rain noise from streaming apps, possible only thanks to the digital cloud.

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