By June or July of this year, according to Andy Price of Green Revolution Cooling, something strange will be announced by at least two of the companies that own the hundreds of thousands of computers that make the internet possible. In out-of-the-way locations, these companies—whose identities Price won’t reveal but, he says, are on a par with Facebook, Amazon and AT&T—are doing bizarre things to their infrastructure. Specifically, to their servers, the high-powered PCs that store, retrieve and process all the data on the internet and comprise the physical structure of the “cloud.”
In an un-air-conditioned shed in a location Price will not disclose, alongside bags of salt used to run a water softening system, sit waist-high tanks full of mineral oil. In their depths are tiny lights blinking like bioluminescent creatures from the abyss, and something even more unexpected: row after row of PC motherboards, craggy with RAM and CPUs and hard drives and cables. Each one is more or less straight off the rack—the same hardware that, in any other data center, would be cooled by an air-moving infrastructure that begins with gigantic air-conditioning systems and ends in palm-sized fans attached directly to the motherboards themselves.