Mapping the metabolisms of cloud computing infrastructure

Authors: James Thatcher*, University of Washington - Tacoma, Nick Lally, University of Wisconsin Madison
Topics: Cartography, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Cyberinfrastructure
Keywords: cloud computing, critical cartography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom III, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


With the expansion of distributed, cloud computing over the past several decades has come the need for increased investments in the design, construction, and maintenance of a host of infrastructures that support networked computing. More than just wires, devices, and data centers, these infrastructures are produced through and include social, political, economic, and ecological systems. In this chapter, we argue that energy acquisition and cooling – two material processes integral to large scale data and computation centers – force us to expand understandings of what constitutes digital infrastructure to include surrounding ‘natural’ spaces such as waterways, coal mines, and even the wind itself. Following earlier research into the uneven accumulation of data, this research shows how the infrastructural needs of computing produces similarly uneven landscapes. Drawing on work in critical cartography, we provide a series of speculative mappings that connect data and computation centers to their wider infrastructural networks. By including so-called 'natural' spaces as infrastructure, we blur the lines between computational hardware and the environment, to chart out various metabolic rifts on which cloud computing relies.

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