This is the Internet Folks

Jonah Edwards runs the core infrastructure team at the Internet Archive. He gave an interesting talk that offers an alternative perspective to the world of using hosted services like Amazon Web Services.

His talk is an intriguing look at the effort involved in maintaining your own hardware and infrastructure to power a website as large as the Internet Archive.

While many aspects of his talk were interesting, one thing that struck me was his reminder of what the internet looks like in the physical world.

Throughout his talk, he shows the physical world objects required to make a website like work: racks of servers, cabling, interchangeable disks, forklifts in a warehouse, and more.

Additionally, he shows a time-lapse video walking through a couple city blocks in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco where the sidewalk was torn up to lay network cabling for their infrastructure.

When the Internet Archive has long-term outages, its not because AWS or their hosting company went down. They are the hosting company. For them, these kinds of outages are due to effects in physical infrastructure in the real world: fiberoptic cables being cut or power issues in the power grid.

Screenshot of a video presentation showing a drill that has dug up a fiber optic cable.

It’s this tangibleness of the internet I find fascinating. The internet in the physical world can be a lot more grimy than our perception of it in the digital world—neat, colorful pixels through clear glass. Jonah points out:

This is it folks. This is a 100gb fiber strand popping up out of a manhole. This is what the internet is made of.

Screenshot from a video showing a manhole cover with a fiber strand coming out of it onto the street.

[And] if you're a really cool organization like we are, you get custom-branded manhole covers.

Screenshot from a video showing a manhole cover with a custom glyph for the Internet Archive inscribed on it.

The internet is running beneath our feet or over our heads. There’s data whizzing by us all the time. I wonder how many times I’ve been out in the world and packets for go zooming by because somebody on the internet requested my domain? Like an acquittance passing, but I didn’t get to wave and say “Hi”.

Is there art out there exploring this subject? I would find it fascinating to contemplate. Take this photo of a company offsite I once had in Chicago. Beautiful sunset in the city—and yet, what data was swirling around us as a technology team that we were directly involved in providing and supporting?

Photograph of people on a boat at sunset in downtown Chicago with random characters mixed into the environment providing the illusion of data embedded in the physical world.