What Does the Cloud Look Like? A Designer Takes Us Inside.

Slate’s design blog.
June 11 2014 10:21 AM

Pulling Back the Curtain on the Cloud  

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Internet Machine by Timo Arnall is a short film that pulls back the curtain on the cloud.

Timo Arnall

The so-called cloud has always been a nebulous metaphor for that abstract place where our family photos and tax receipts and rough drafts invisibly hover until we summon them from thin air to our earth-bound screens.

But as Fast Company reports, Timo Arnall, creative director at BERG in London and research fellow at the Oslo School of Architecture & Design, has made a six-minute film that takes us inside the intricate real-world structures that manage, house, and transmit our digital lives.

“In this film I wanted to look beyond the childish myth of ‘the cloud,’ ” Arnall writes on his website, “to investigate what the infrastructures of the Internet actually look like. It felt important to be able to see and hear the energy that goes into powering these machines, and the associated systems for securing, cooling and maintaining them.”

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Yellow diesel-powered back-up generators keep the cloud humming along in the event of a power outage.

Timo Arnall

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Internet Machine is being shown until Oct. 26 in an exhibition at Big Bang Data in Barcelona, Spain. Arnall says that the film documents one of the largest, most secure, and "fault-tolerant" data centers in the world, run by Telefonica in Alcalá, Spain. It’s a short story told with oddly captivating wide shots and deliberately paced zooms, set to a soundtrack of the ambient hum and buzz of rooms full of nothing but servers and routers, connected by labyrinthine corridors and concrete walls pierced with cables.

“In experiencing these machines at work, we start to understand that the Internet is not a weightless, immaterial, invisible cloud,” Arnall writes, “and instead to appreciate it as a very distinct physical, architectural and material system.”

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Inside one of the largest data centers in the world, run by Telefonica in Alcalá, Spain.

Timo Arnall

Check out the film's trailer below:

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