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Cloud computing? How about Earth computing?

Whenever I look up a see a beautiful sky with puffy clouds I think, “That’s where my iTunes are.”

I read this tweet from filmmaker Albert Brooks the other day, and it made me laugh, because, really, what could be further from the truth? Anyone that’s been where the iTunes really are — the data center — knows that there’s nothing puffy or ethereal about it. Data centers are grounded here on Earth, made of earth and the grimy, heavy, dirty stuff inside it.

In reality, that iTunes song is sitting in some data center in the Pacific Northwest, parsed into ones and zeroes, sitting on a spinning platter made of aluminum alloy and coated with ferro-magnetic material. Actually, make that a bunch of spinning disks. And several solid-state memory caches comprised of capacitors and transistors made from dust and sand, i.e., silicon.

The road between that data center and the iPod is long and paved with copper and glass (network cables), and it passes through countless relays (servers) made of steel, aluminum, silicon and petroleum, fueled by electricity created by burning coal buried deep under the Earth’s crust.

Eventually, that “cloud-based” iTunes song will make it to the iPod, but there’s nothing lofty or airy about its voyage (well, unless you count traveling over radio waves during a Wi-Fi sync). But like a dancer that floats through the air like a feather, data center managers are tasked with making everything look easy and light (i.e., “cloud-like”). The dancer’s graceful arabesque betrays no sign of the countless hours of practice, sore muscles and bruised and bandaged feet.

Likewise, that cloud-based iTunes song plays at the click of a button or tap of a screen but betrays nothing of the countless hours data center professionals spent stringing cable, racking servers, monitoring packets and optimizing HVAC systems.

They talk about the cloud, but we know better.

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